“THEN I Go To School?”

When Maya first began daycare at three months of age, I loathed the idea. I knew realistically I had to go back to work for a variety of reasons, but I hated the thought of anyone other than me or Luis caring for our child. And though I loved my job, I hated the thought of returning to the demands and structure of the workforce. But above all, I hated the idea of being away from my sweet baby all day.

I knew it would be hard, but I had no idea just how hard it would be. Those early days back at work were hell, made only worse by the rigorous and stress-inducing pumping schedule I had coupled with normal postpartum emotions. Those first few weeks I wondered every day if I was making a mistake and the only thing that kept me going was knowing I could get a real-time view of her daily life through the webcam at school.

As time passed and we settled into our new routine, I started to feel differently. Though I still missed her to no end, I came to see how beneficial her school setting was for her, and how it’s OK to agree with the philosophy that it takes a village to raise a child. It doesn’t mean parents aren’t important (of course they are!) but there is a part of me now that is [finally] OK with knowing she has to take direction from/get comfort from/learn from someone other than just me and Luis — a complete 180 from how I felt at the beginning. Plus, I saw how loved she was (and is) at school and that helped enormously.

The things she has learned (like baby sign back before she could talk and now Zoo-phonics) have been indispensable and the socialization has been phenomenal. I love that she has traveled with the same group of kids for five classrooms now and she actually has real friends–friends she tells us about. Like A., who she told us she had cheese and crackers with today. L., who she plays babies with. B., who she rode trikes with on the Big Playground. D. who went into the office for pushing G. in the sandbox. And O., who lost his sunglasses at home and was apparently sad about it. I love the daily recap she offers; a glimpse into her life I can’t see via the webcam.

And while parents no doubt play the biggest role with things like a child’s eating/sleeping habits and learning … I’m not going to lie and say I don’t mind that school has helped with nap scheduling early on; helped with the transition from bottle to sippy cup (and now open cup); or the fact that school is helping with potty-training. And I love that between what she’s learning at school and at home, she knows lots of songs, knows her ABCs, her colors, her shapes and can count to 20 (and actually count out items — up to 15 and then she gets distracted) … plus lots of self-help skills. These are all things we teach and they reinforce, and vice versa.

School is pretty structured — even from her earliest days in the infant room. But it’s not all work and no play. Maya tells us every day how much fun she has at school. And when it’s time to go home, she often doesn’t want to leave. Of course, while this is a good thing — she clearly feels safe and happy there — it also is a bit of a blow to me. It definitely hurts to know that — even though she’s thrilled to see me at the end of the day and comes running over and leaps into my arms — she doesn’t want to leave.

Now she’s in the preschool room and there are two big playground breaks a day and individual free play (puzzles, blocks, books, toys, dress-up), but the rest of the day is organized by meal times, story time, nap time, art time, music time, etc. And while this might sound like too much structure for tots, I think it has helped her enormously. She knows what to expect and we try to model weekends after this — at least with respect to meals and nap time. Sure, we do things like play and read and go out and about, but there’s no “classroom learning.” There is the occasional Mickey episode, Skyping with family, playing, constant chatter … but nothing structured. And that’s totally OK; weekends are meant to have fun and recharge — to take a break from structure and routine. I thought that was good!

Which is why I was a bit hurt and surprised this weekend when, getting ready for nap time, she said, “I snooze and THEN I go to school?” with excitement in her little voice.

She had been talking a lot about the Red Room (her classroom) and her teachers and her little friends … but I hadn’t thought much of it because frankly she is rarely quiet (no clue where she gets that from! 😉 —  hint: my nickname in high school was Motormouth). Then I realized, maybe she isn’t just yapping to yap — maybe she really does miss her friends/school life? The thought hit me like a ton of bricks. We aren’t fun like school!

Instead of dwelling on it I mustered up a tear-pricked smiled and said, “No honey, it’s Saturday. You stay home with Mommy and Daddy today!”

She looked kind of sad for a minute (though can you blame her — the past few months haven’t exactly been awesome times with packing, the move, stress, maintaining two houses, unpacking … we’ve tried to make things fun but let’s be real: it hasn’t been a bowl of cherries) then said, “Oh. OK.”

She did perk up when I said we were going out for pizza later that night … but I couldn’t get the thought out of my head that she not only loves school but almost prefers it (or, note to Drama Queen self, preferred it in that moment) to being home.

While I know she didn’t mean anything by it and should be happy she loves being there (it could be SO much worse), my hormones are all over the place as it is, and this cracked me. Though I’m mostly comfortable with my decision to work, like many women, I question my choice from time to mine. It’s moments like this that shake me to the core and make me wonder, am I making a mistake? Should I have stayed home, like my mom did with us? Would Maya be better off if I was home? I have no idea and there’s really no way to know. Because as one of my favorite people would say, “It is what it is.”

Deep down, I have to believe I’m making the right choice for my family and for my professional life. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say sometimes — like after an incident like this — the grass seems greener on the other side.

Then I am reminded of the old adage, the grass is always greenest where you water it and suddenly I feel a little better about my choice. Now which box is that watering can in????

How about you? Have you experienced something like this with your child seeming to prefer school over home?


7 thoughts on ““THEN I Go To School?”

  1. Hey Melissa–you know I always read your posts, and this one was especially thoughtful and well-written. It really captures how, even a couple of years later, you can feel both comfortable and ambivalent with your choices. Maya is a very bright and well adjusted little girl, and your decisions have greatly contributed to that. What we don’t know, and can’t know, is how we ourselves would have had different outcomes if our mothers had worked. It’s even possible we would be even better at what we do and even better adjusted than we are (well, at least most of the time ;)). The most important thing is you are aware of what you are doing and genuinely try to do the right thing regardless of whether you work or stay home. Keep watering that grass Melissa–you have much to show for it!

    1. Oh Dawn you MADE my day. Thank you so much for your comment and insight. And you are totally right–we might be different people (perhaps better, perhaps not) had our moms worked–there is no way to know. Lots of hugs–thank you! I’m trying 🙂

  2. This post is especially timely because over the weekend, when dad and I were out to dinner we actually talked about this very subject. I had been telling him that from time to time, I second guess my choice to stay home and put career on hold. Then I think about the three of you and cannot even imagine not being able to have been there for all of your activities and social schedules, for after school snacks and leisurely dinners until you all became involved in those extra-curricular sports. Yet when I did return to work, I know how proud you all were of me and how you survived and thrived even. There’s no right or wrong Lis. Sometimes it just comes down to “it is what it is.” We can’t second guess our choices, especially when I see how incredible you three turned out and how incredible Maya is. Children only suffer when there is no love, when they are unwanted and ignored, whether mom is home or a working parent. Nothing could be farther from the truth in your choice or in mine for that matter.
    You are a terrific Mom and are doing the best you can for Maya – no one could ask for more. Funny how men, for the most part, don’t go though this mental anguish

    1. Too funny, Mama! I love those memories of being home with you — and also love the pride we feel for how your career has taken off. I also love how, though Daddy worked, he was at every game, dance recital, etc. Family was always first and we knew it.

      You are so right. Children only suffer when there is no love … wise words 🙂 Thank you. And I think part of why men don’t necessarily experience this degree of anguish is because in traditional society, the man works and the woman stays home — case closed. Nowadays things are different. Some dads stay at home, work PT, etc. And though many stay home, many moms work outside the home, too. But on the whole, more men work than don’t and I guess it’s just an expectation thing? Whereas maybe for women it’s more of a choice? (in some cases).

  3. This is totally why I was thinking of you as I was reading over the weekend! 🙂 We’ll have to catch up on this sometime soon.

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