Monday, August 06, 2007

The Beginning of a New Era

On Friday it hit me - we're really thinking about this. Seriously. We're going to send our first and eldest baby off to school.

That may not sound monumental to you - written that way it really doesn't to me; most people send their kids off to school sooner or later. Most of our friends' kids who are Sweet Pea's age have already been in preschool for a year or two. We're the odd ones out here. The late bloomers.

But I have lived and breathed Sweet Pea since the day she was born. We have been so close, always. She started to become social later than most kids we know and the two of us have always been two peas in a pod.

So on Friday it began - the growing pains for me. Yes, all I had done was make an appointment for a tour of the school. But over the weekend we looked at the tuition and decided we could swing it if we redid our budget. From what we had read and heard from parents whose children attend the Montessori school we were going to visit, we pretty much knew that this was where we wanted to send her. The Montessori method fits Sweet Pea's personality and learning style like a glove.

I worried, of course, about the initial separation. In the past, most times I have mentioned school to her - even when it was just an offhand, "when you're older and you're in school," Sweet Pea would cry, "no, Mommy, I don't want to go to school! I want to stay here with you. I want to be with you forever, ever, EVER!" When I explained to her that there would be teachers, not Mommy, in charge at school she would invariably reply,

"I don't like teachers."

"Grandma and Auntie are teachers."

"Well, I like them..." and she would give the idea of teachers some more thought.

But I knew that once she started school, once she got over me walking away and leaving her there, which would probably happen pretty quickly, Sweet Pea would love school. I can tell she's ready. She adores learning and frequently figures things out by herself and then excitedly shares her discoveries with me. I teach her and Slipshod teaches her and everyone she knows teaches her new things. Those things always come back out, and Sweet Pea knows and is thrilled that she has acquired new knowledge.

Over the weekend I fretted about my baby leaving me. I had to remind myself again and again that it was only for 2 1/2 hours each day. Still, I thought, 5 days per week seems like a lot to start with right off the bat. But 2 1/2 hours is definitely a doable amount of time, for both of us.

Still, I spent extra time smoothing her hair out of her eyes. When she awoke one night and couldn't find me (I was still downstairs) and started to cry I went and laid down with her and spent extra time hugging her, even after she was back asleep.

And through all of that I reminded myself again and again that this is the best thing for her - this is good for her, and I cannot and will not hold her back to fill my own needs. Those things are obvious, of course, but I know that I tend to fall on the "hover mother" end of the scale so I try to be very conscious of what I'm doing so that I will know when to stay where I am and let her walk away.

But, since I am a mother, I also blamed myself. I feel a lot of guilt for how much time I have lost with Sweet Pea over the past year + since The Bug joined our family. I knew that would happen - of course both children need me, and the baby's needs are more immediate most of the time. But I often feel as if I have done a terrible job of juggling both of their needs, and as a result Sweet Pea has become almost as independent as she was not for the first two and a half years of her life. I feel that I have forced her to be a loner and teach herself because I'm not able, or don't know how, to deal with both children at once in the ways they both need me.

I knew we would need to send Sweet Pea to school next year if not this year, and with a great amount of guilt I felt as if I really needed to do that in order for her to keep learning, because of how much time the two of us have lost together during the past year - how little we have read and played together compared to the years before. While I never planned to home school, I obviously do teach my girls all the time, and I feel that I have done a very poor job of keeping that up with Sweet Pea - so school would be a substitute for what I have not been able to give her as much of over the past year.


This morning we went to the school for our tour. We sat in the Admissions counselor's office for quite a long time and she talked with us in detail about Montessori, that particular school, and she answered our questions. During all of this Sweet Pea played quietly on the floor with the toys provided. The Bug played for a while too, but it was her naptime so she came to me more and more frequently signing "milk" and trying to lift up my shirt. I nursed her several times and she tried, fruitlessly, to fall asleep on me.

The Admissions counselor showed us a short video about Montessori while she went to prepare an in-session classroom for our 20-minute observation. When we walked into the classroom there were chairs for Slipshod and I by the door and we were told that Sweet Pea was welcome to move around in the room as she chose during the time we were there. I figured she would probably hang with us for a little bit and then venture out into the room and explore.

Boy, did she surprise me! As soon as the Admissions counselor opened the classroom door, Sweet Pea walked right in like she knew the place. She walked to the center of the room, looked around, walked to the closest toy that looked interesting, and started playing. She looked at us once and then wandered around some more. She found something she didn't quite understand but that caught her interest - a tray with white papers with black outlines of shapes on them, a glue stick, and a bowl of shapes cut out of construction paper. One of the teachers was keeping an eye on Sweet Pea so as soon as she noticed Sweet Pea's interest she went over to her, asked her to identify each shape, and explained how to do the activity on the tray. Sweet Pea thought it seemed like fun so she did the activity and then brought the finished product over to us, pleased with her work.

Then she walked back to the same area and the teacher set her up to do a little bit of painting. She returned, proudly gave me her drawing of "an arrow," then went back to see what else she could find. Her next choice was a tray with a jar of beads and a string, and some cards showing ideas for different patterns of beads to string. As she did the first pattern she looked over at me and said, "Hey Mom, this isn't hard at all!"

Watching this, witnessing her complete readiness to immediately embrace this new environment (something I have NEVER seen her do before, by the way) and her thirst for learning in that environment, the guilt left me right then and there. I realized that this school was where she needed to be. Even if I was still able to give her the same amount of my time as before, she needs the new experiences that she will get there. She also really, really needs to be among a larger number of kids on a regular basis (and some girls would be nice - our neighborhood is very boy-heavy; boys are nice, but I want her to have some girls for playmates/friends too).

The Admissions counselor returned to retrieve us because our 20 minutes were up, but Sweet Pea was hooked. Slipshod had to encourage her to leave the activity because our time was up, and we left the classroom. We got an information packet and forms to fill out for admission. I asked Sweet Pea if she had enjoyed being in the classroom and if she would like to attend the school.

"Mmm - hmm," she said.

"A positive response is good," I thought, "but it's easy to respond to a question - not quite the same as expressing one's own interest."

Minutes later, on the way out to the car, Sweet Pea said, "I WEALLY want to go here, Mom."

I am so happy to see her reacting this way.

I am so excited for her.

I still don't know how the first week of drop-offs will go when school starts, but I now feel that Sweet Pea will be just fine, even on the first day, very quickly after I am out of view. I'm betting she won't even look back after the first couple days. I think that this Montessori school is the perfect environment for her right now, and I feel so very fortunate not just that we will be able to send her there, but that we just happen to live so close to such a great school right now, exactly when she needs it!

And now, our lives will change. Not just because Sweet Pea will have interests outside the house, and new friends, and will probably start bringing home new and disgusting illnesses on a regular basis. Now we will be beholden to a school schedule for the next umpteen years. Now we will have to walk our children around the block while they knock on doors to try to sell things as fundraisers for the school. Now we will have to form new relationships with teachers and administrators and of course other parents.

And now... now, I will have to share my baby with the world.



Christina said...

Oh, I know how you feel. Putting Cordy in preschool two days a week was tough, and she still has trouble with drop-offs. I'm sure Sweet Pea will have some tough days, too, but it's great that she had such a good time on the first visit!

And I wouldn't worry about the guilt. I've felt horrible guilt too that I don't give Cordy enough attention now that Mira is here. But the older kids need to branch out away from us a little, right? And school will help with that.

Lori said...

Kinda reminds me of Faith besides the fact that she ALWAYS knew she wanted to go... her ideal of course would be of course that I was there too but she had no doubt she wanted to go even if I didn't go with her. She started and never looked back and seeing how happy she was from the first day told me I was doing the right thing. I had the same feelings you had about not providing her enough education while trying to care for a younger one...

dana said...

Oooh! School! That's a big step. I dread the day I have to send my Doodlebug to school. It's going to make me cry!

QofS said...

Everything will be ok. And eventually I'm going to read a post about how HAPPY you are she's in school.

I swear.