My anxiety level heightened noticeably while I filled out the paperwork in front of me. My pulse quickened as I worked to keep my breath even and slow, despite the overwhelming urge to hyperventilate. I peered around nervously for a paper bag… just in case. The pen I was holding slipped a little due to the thin sheen of sweat that developed across my palms. I was doing my best to answer each question truthfully and eloquently, and I focused to make sure my penmanship was neat.
The pressure was on.
Three weeks later I stood in my living room, looking down at an envelope that was the direct result of those nerves and anxiety. The envelope in my hands was a business-sized one, not betraying what was inside. My breath caught in my throat as I slid my finger across the flap, opening it. I pulled out the first sheet of typed paper to find out whether or not my son had been accepted into the preschool of our choice.
Before I even looked at what was written, I wanted to laugh at myself. He wasn’t even three-years-old yet, and I was already knee-deep in anxiety over my son’s education.
That wasn’t in the manual.
With all of the unsolicited advice a new parent gets, I would have thought that the sheer panic and guilt over preschool would have been mentioned some place. I still remember all of the friendly warnings about sleepless nights and colicky babies. I have in my possession notes from friends and family with tips on how to calm my fussy newborn, why they prefer cloth diapers to disposables and the best place in the neighborhood to take a “Mommy & Me” yoga class.
Nobody explained to me that I would spend an entire month running around, my son’s burgeoning educational experience at stake. It really did start off innocently enough, with the simple notion that it would be fun for my son to hang out with other kids his own age a few days a week without me. We attended a few community groups and classes, but I thought that a preschool would offer a fresh and exciting environment for him, as well as a short break for me. I was not planning on sending him until the following fall, figuring I could begin finding a suitable place for him in the summer.
I was sorely mistaken.
My friends chastised me for being so naïve. They pitied me, because every decent preschool probably had a waiting list ten pages deep and would scoff at me for even attempting to enroll him at such a late date.
So, I did what any parent would do. I scrambled to set up appointments at a few different preschools. Of all the places we visited, my husband and I fell in love with one particular place. Of course, it was the school that only invited nine new students to enroll into their preschool program each year.
When we went on a tour there was a pregnant woman checking out the school with her partner. Another woman in our tour group leaned over and actually asked the pregnant woman if she was there for her baby-to-be. I gulped as I realized that we might have been out of our league. The nerves started to appear, crawling up my spine and settling in my brain. Something inside me snapped, and I wanted in now. For no coherent reason, I was determined to get my child into that school.
After touring the school and falling more and more in love with it, we were handed a packet of forms to fill out. One form included a list of open-ended questions that you had to answer about your child.
I did my best to “sell” my son, trying to figure out if they would be more impressed with the fact that he could take his own diaper off by himself with his pants still on, or that he could empty the kitchen cabinet of all my pots and pans in less than two minutes. In the end, I answered the questions to the best of my ability and hoped that would be enough.
The next three weeks of waiting were agonizing; I was calmer while waiting for my own college acceptance letter. Only a month earlier I didn’t even have a clear plan for my son’s education beyond which Dr. Seuss book we would be reading that day. Now I was panicking over whether he would be accepted into a preschool program for only three mornings a week. When did all reason and logic fly out the window?
It didn’t help that my husband joined me on this insane ride. He was just as invested as I was. After back-to-back days of asking, the phrase “Did we get in?” was banned from the house.
The most ironic part of the whole endeavor? My son remained blissfully unaware, continuing on with his carefree toddler existence, his biggest concern stemming from the fact that we might not have enough worms in our garden. While he plotted ways to “grow” more slimy creatures, I began checking the mail compulsively, internally cursing each time some piece of junk mail got my hopes up.
Finally, during the first week of March, a letter was delivered to our home bearing the return address of the coveted preschool. I lifted the envelope up, weighing it in my hand, as if I could magically tell what the answer was from how heavy it seemed. My husband and I held our breaths as I opened up the envelope. I quickly read the first few lines before pumping my fist into the air, shouting, “We did it! We got in!!”
After allowing ourselves a few minutes of celebration (there may have been a touchdown style dance involved), I looked down to see my son staring up at me with confused eyes, a book clutched in his chubby fingers. What exactly were we celebrating, he must have wondered. I sat down and pulled him up into my lap, giving him a huge squeeze.
“Just your future,” I said with a shake of my head as I opened up the book in front of us.
We had gotten swept away in this craze for the perfect preschool while he was more than content to build cities out of blocks and dust bunnies.
With little fanfare, my son shrugged his shoulders and instructed me to read, as if nothing earth-shattering just occurred. And in retrospect, he was right. We had gotten swept away in this craze for the perfect preschool while he was more than content to build cities out of blocks and dust bunnies. He has years ahead of him not only for schooling, but also to give us a few more grey hairs over stress-inducing moments such as these.
Today, my son is four-and-a-half, and just finished his second year of preschool. He has certainly picked up wonderful skills at his new school that he wouldn’t have otherwise. He can count all the way till… well, to be honest he just counts and counts and at some point I may tune it out. But it’s up there! He can successfully play hide and seek, gently play with a real live guinea pig, and can pour his own juice — all important life skills in my opinion.
Of course, now that he made it in and has been going for a couple of years, new doubts creep in. Did we make the right decision by sending him after all? Would he have been better off staying at home? Was there perhaps another school we overlooked?
However, the one thing that did sink in after this experience was that there’s never a right answer. What works for one family might not work for another. Will knowing that help ease the anxiety that accompanies all seemingly big decisions regarding our children? Probably not. But I can at least go into the next big decision with a sense of humor and the ability to know that whatever we choose will be just fine for us.