he is three and i swear he shines.

this child i never imagined, my funny blond curly-headed boy who looks full-sprung from his father’s mother’s side of the family, the child who came into our lives in our deepest grief and whom my most secretbrokenself feared i might never fully claim…this Oscar of mine bursts me open with joy and is my heart with legs.

Thursday he started what was supposed to be his first preschool class, after 2+ years of mostly part-time care with a lovely home sitter whose daughter had become his little missus, bossing him around the house like a happily henpecked pint-size husband. but the other two kids his sitter cared for were much smaller, and he’s an acutely social kid, and we thought he needed a real peer group and maybe a little less tv and more learning opportunities so when a space finally came open at the preschool we’ve been years on the waiting list for, we leapt.

erm, leapt is a strong word. slunk would be more accurate. we slunk with heavy hearts, because we have loved this sitter and she has loved Oscar and her family has been his second family all through the craziness of last year’s bedrest and new baby sister and he cannot remember his life before her. but Dave & i both taught preschool once upon a life or two ago, and we felt that O was cracking for more and that he would thrive in this purported emergent learning setting in ways he simply can’t here at home or with a home sitter, and so we took the spot. which is full-time only, and this bit at my heart with sharp teeth because i’m home for another month and i like having him with Josephine & i on his ‘mommy days’ and it is summer and they will only be small awhile. but we took the spot, because spots are rare and precious in these parts and it is hard enough trying to find a job let alone nurturing placements for two kids at once.

i signed him up for what the new school’s manual call the 3-4 year old preschool class. last week, he visited twice. the graduating kids were all significantly older, of course…but he loved the classroom, engaged immediately with the teachers and the space.

Thursday he started. Dave dropped him off only to find he’s in a group with babies and non-verbal barely two-year-olds. in a room full of “learning materials” he mostly stopped being interested in a long time ago.

the teachers seem warm and engaged and kind, but there are no kids in that room with whom he can talk dinosaurs or play pretend, only crying toddlers suffering through the anxiety of transition.  they’ve apparently decided to shift from a 3-4 year old class, which they found didn’t work, to a 2-3 year old class. and O was left standing in the middle of the room plugging his ears.

Dave came home and said, “i feel kinda sick about this.” i walked by the play area an hour later on my way to a job interview, and saw him, his back to me, playing busily alone in the sandbox whilst toddlers milled about him.

the toys & manipulatives are age-inappropriate for him because the staff – quite reasonably – don’t want the little ones eating small, sharp things. but he outgrew their wooden block puzzles years ago; he’s been doing 48 piece puzzles for over a year now. by himself.  afternoon outside play involves the older kids, the ones who graduated from his room last week and took all the cool toys with them, but they aren’t really peers either and there is no scaffolding to introduce him to their play.  when i asked if they included him outside, he said “they don’t know my name.”

and i think a little coil in my heart came unsprung and did a whirlibird around in my chest cavity, tearing flesh as it went.

they tell me a few more three year olds will start next week, and i am heartened. they didn’t say much about the toys – which they don’t call toys because their pedagogy eschews the plastic crap our society is so enamoured with and dandy that but the stuff all over the classroom might as well be called something and it’s all too young for him no matter what rose you smell it by – but they did assure me, all of them, that in time as they get through this transition that there will be projects geared to his interests and all kinds of wonderful opportunities.

so i am hopeful. we will ride it out for a few more days, wait and see.  as i said, i really like the teachers, and the location is fabulous and this place comes highly recommended and i want – oh how i want – to make it work. but it has to work for Oscar. and it is taking all i have right now in this wait and see weekend to trust that they, as professionals, understand that and also have that as their priority.  if i am making a significant life change in my child’s world because you have told me you provide a 3 & 4 year olds class, then don’t go changing that to a 2 & 3 year olds class mostly suited to 2 year olds in which my child is waaaay older than the others without telling me, because frankly, he could have stayed happily at home this month and listened to his own personal baby cry for absolutely no charge whatsoever, and if you want me to bear with your transitional period please give me notice that it is coming and give me some sense that you care that it is my child you’re actually planning on using as your guinea pig to determine how the 2 & 3 year-old mix works out.

we have put him through a relatively significant transition in order to be there primarily because we wanted him to have a freaking peer group.  and turning him loose amongst the big kids for an hour a day does not make up for the fact that for two days this week he might as well have been stuck in a social playpen.  now, in the long run i don’t think that two days will harm him. but it is NOT what we prepared him for, it confused him and us both, and it has had consequences already in terms of how he’s acting out in relation to his sister and us: he’s gone from a stable social situation to an absolutely isolated one in which he has no capital and no social tools to integrate with either of the groups of children there, and given that we signed up for something different the lack of warning makes me terribly, terribly nervous.

i don’t want to be that parent. i don’t think he’s some widdle pwecious pumpkin who’s just too smart for the other plebian rugrats.  i do think that he – and us, as paying clients in this business of early learning & childcare, because it is a business and i understand that – deserve the respect of appropriate placements and advance warning of significant changes.  i don’t really care if he has carrots with lunch instead of potatoes, or if the wading pool activity is switched to Thursday.  i do care if he has no one to play with except babies, or if your idea of emergent curriculum means letting a little boy desperate for kids to talk to loose in a group of big kids without support or efforts to help him integrate.

i want to work.  between bedrest and all, i’ve been home now for well over a year, and was home or in hospital for another fifteen months with O before that. since January 2006, i’ve only spent nine months at a f/t job. and i look at this interval as a privilege, from one perspective – getting to have and be with these children i love – but for my physical and professional selves, it’s been house arrest, long seasons of forced invalidity followed by the craziness of colic and the never-enough-time of trying to balance a little freelancing here and there with parenting my children and keeping the cage house to a dull roar. i want the security of a steady job, much as the guilt of this wanting washes over me daily.

the guilt stays at bay much better when i feel like my kids’ care situations are positive. and so Thursday threw me for a loop, because not only did we drop O off into a vastly different setup than we’d believed we’d be doing, but by 4 pm that day i’d been offered the job i interviewed for in the morning.

of course.

i’d thought i’d only have to worry about finding a nurturing place for Posey.  by the time the job call came in, i’d picked up my boy and talked to all the teachers and had a pit in my stomach the size of a turnip, wondering if i’d done the wrong thing.

i suspect the essence of parenting for my generation, whatever choices we make regarding who cares for our children and when and how and whatever forms of schooling they receive or what they eat or whether they play soccer or try swimming or can’t do either because of financial constraints, is this: i wonder if i’ve done the wrong thing?

i want to do right by them, these small people with their sticky, pudgy, trusting hands.  but sometimes, no matter how i try, i end up feeling a little sick, like the options i’d bet on have slipped through my fingers, figments of a story i’m not writing after all.
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how did you make the care decisions – and schooling decisions, if your children are older – that you have? were the options you wanted – whether in terms of available placements or work options for yourself or finances – available?