Alex loves kindergarten.
He doesn’t, however, love daycare.
More specifically, he hates going there first in the morning. It’s been…challenging…to drop him off without a long, dragged-out drama. He just doesn’t want to be there. He says he doesn’t like some of the kids, some of them tease him, there are too many kids…and that’s all true. In the mornings, before the kids are carted away to the local elementary schools, it’s loud and chaotic and stressful. There are "older" elementary school kids there too – just waiting for the ride to their school – but still, they’re bigger, they seem tougher, and they are – not always intentionally – intimidating.
And this is no different from how it was at Alex’s original daycare. The difference, I believe, is because Alex started going to that first place when he was three months old and left shortly after he turned five. Sure it was chaotic, but he had his place there. He was part of the fabric. He was family.
Here – he’s the new kid. He started going here in mid-July – and only three days a week, if that – and other friendships (and gangs of pint-sized thugs) had already been formed. He was the odd kid out.
And he can be shy in certain situations. Like chaotic mornings at a new daycare.
And – to add to the fun – Julia is picking up on his misery (oh yes, that’s an accurate word) and now SHE says she doesn’t like daycare.
Yesterday morning – both kids were in TEARS in my care before we even pulled into the daycare parking lot. I’ve had to peel my little boa constrictors off of me and hand them off to teachers and leave the buildings listening to the sobbing and the "Mommeeeeeeeeee" that chases me out the door. It sucks.
And yeah, I’ve read the articles. I know – I’m supposed to be brisk and upbeat and cheerful and quick about it. They may cry, but I’m not supposed to acknowledge that really, at least not with hugs or kisses. No, I’m supposed to, I don’t know, pat them on the head and shake their hands and march off. Somehow this will teach them not to be upset.
I’m not good at that whole thing. Very not good. I try. I have really tried. But yesterday – yesterday just about did me in. I was carrying Julia out of the building Alex is in (the pre-K and K kids are in one brick building; the pre-school and toddler and infant kids are in the other brick building) and he was clinging to me and sobbing and rubbing his runny-nosed, drooly, tearful face all over my shirt. Thank goodness it was a "casual day" at work and I didn’t really need to look perfect. And the snot blended well with my gray tee.
The worst of it was when I got on the other side of the little gate and gave him another hug and let him rub more mucus on my shirt – all the while lugging Julia in one arm – and I started to walk to the door – and he did a "STELLLLLLLAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA" kind of thing behind me – so loudly and so raw and tormented that other kids paused and stared and teachers stared and Alex’s face was red and wet and miserable, and as he verged on agonized hysteria I just wanted to wake up and look at the clock and realize it was all just a hideous dream.
But no. In the next moment, as Alex burst through the gate, the assistant director awoke from her trance and hustled over and took him back into the room and said firmly "No, we’re not going to do this every day."
And – I fled. I felt entirely rotten. I felt sick. I hated the whole episode on so many levels and for so many reasons. I don’t even WANT to have to bring them to daycare. I don’t WANT to be brisk and upbeat and cheerful when I’m NOT feeling that way. It’s fake. I don’t see that it’s beneficial – my kids aren’t stupid. And let’s face it, I’m really not a good actress anyway.
I carried Julia – who had started to whine – to the other building and tried to make a smooth transition there, but no, she was already primed and ready – tears, sobbing, the hand-off to the teacher – and I dragged myself out of that building and across the parking lot and into my car. I wanted to cry. And quit my job. And yell at people. And go home and curl up in a ball and pull a blanket over my head.
But no, I went to work instead. Joy joy joy.
And I stewed about it for a good chunk of the day. And I thought – dammit – I don’t see how a stressful, tear-filled morning is good for ANY of the three of us. I need to do this differently.
And I was figuring that after a while Alex is going to make friends. I’m not as worried about Julia – I think she’s following his example, and if I can figure out to ease this a bit for him, she’ll chill out too. I just feel this in my gut. And I’m trusting that gut – imperfect though it may look – more and more over time.
So I told my boss about the hell of that morning, and told her I wanted to come in to work later for a while. I’m going to bring Alex to kindergarten and the van can bring him to daycare for the afternoon. And in doing this, I’ll also be bringing Julia in later, and odds are more of her little classmates will arrive and she’ll have more kids to play with. And also, if he’s happy, she’s less likely to decide to be unhappy. My boss – who is also a friend – said to go ahead and not worry about the hours. And so that’s what I did.
This morning I got the kids ready to go by their normal leave-the-house time – about seven o’clock. Bill leaves before that, so if I get them just about ready by the time he leaves, things fall into place pretty well. Anyway, I got them ready, they waved out the window to Bill as he drove away, and then…
I told them the new game plan. I told Alex I was bringing him to kindergarten – not to daycare – and that he’d go to daycare in the afternoon. He brightened up at that. Score one for Mommy. And I told Julia I would bring her in later, so there’d be more of her friends to play with. She still didn’t sound enthused, but she didn’t get upset either.
BUT, I informed them – if you’re going to go in later, then you can do some things around the house. You can’t just sit around and watch a movie or annoy each other. You need to WORK!
And you know what? We got SO MUCH DONE! I emptied the dishwasher and re-loaded it and washed the other stuff and they picked up toys and books and put stray articles of clothing in the hamper in the bathroom and put their shoes in their shoe bins, and we went up to the bedroom they share and I put a load of their laundry away while they picked up stuffed animals and dolls and books and put them where they belonged.
And – even more thrilling – they were cooperative – not only with me, but with each other! It was kind of fun, even! Tomorrow morning we’ll attack the basement (the family room area – with more dinosaurs roaming the carpet than ever walked the earth) and after that – who knows? Maybe I can teach them to iron…
And the drop off? We brought Julia in first – and she cried a bit, but not…not with anguish, if that makes any sense – and I handed her over and left quickly – hurrying Alex along in front of me. One down. Then we zipped over to the elementary school, and I brought Alex into the gym where the other kids in his class were – all sitting along one wall, one girl eating a banana. The teacher and assistant teacher or whatever she is were there, checking kids off as they arrived. Alex wanted me to walk him all the way over to THAT side of the gym before saying goodbye – fair enough. I did, the teachers greeted him happily, and Alex and I did the hug and kiss and high five routine – and he gave me a little smile – he didn’t look perfectly relaxed, but he didn’t look tearful, either. Works for me. We said see you later – and that was it – I was out the door! Walking to my car! Waiting in my car for the other parents dropping off their older elementary school kids to move by so I could pull away from the curb! And on my way to get coffee! And an egg and cheese sandwich on an english muffin! And the newspaper!
I was kind of amazed at how well it went.
I know that’s no guarantee that it will always go well, but there are no guarantees, really, in life, anyway. So I’m not going to stress about it. I’m giving it a shot. I’ll see how it goes, and eventually if I can or need to make another change, I’ll do it.
At the very least, the house will get a good cleaning.