For what I'm worth
I spent the morning in a meeting at Julia's school about preschool options for the coming year. Based on increased demand and the fact that their current system is an administrative nightmare, the administration has proposed a new schedule for next year that includes longer school days and far less flexibility. Under the proposed plan, instead of the current 2 1/2 hour school day with optional afternoon enrichment activities, the Pre-K program for next year will run from 9-2:45 -- nearly 6 hours long. A single class running from 11:45 - 2:45 will be offered for families uninterested in the longer days, but it was immediately clear that this class would be the forgotten stepchild as the teachers waxed eloquent about all that they could do with the longer day and then added a hasty "and we'll fit it all in somehow for the 3 hour class" at the end.
The school's enrollment has tripled in the past 6 years, so I'm not surprised that they're facing growing pains. I can appreciate why their system is no longer working for them and I can sympathize with the challenges of trying to keep 160 families happy as they try to streamline their offerings. While I hate nearly everything about the proposed changes, I am not self centered enough to believe that they can't work for the school simply because they don't work for me. I've voiced my concerns and my suggestions and now I will sit back and wait to see the final decisions. If they don't meet my needs, I can always look elsewhere.
What I can't wrap my arms around, however, is how differently a large portion of the parents in this morning's meeting seemed to feel. To be sure, there were a sizeable number of us opposed to the changes. But there seemed to be a nearly equal number of parents who felt that more was better -- that there was no reason to send a 4 year old to school for 3 hours if she could go for 6, no reason to keep her home a few afternoons a week if she could be at school instead. "Your child's a full year younger now," they told me. "Believe us, you'll want more for her next fall. She'll need it."
Need seems like a strong word to me. I can pretty much guarantee that my child will not need 6 hours a day in a school setting at the age of 4, particularly not when the following year, she'll attend our public school system's half day kindergarten for a mere 2 1/2 hours a day. Would she enjoy the stimulation? Probably. But is it necessary? In my opinion, absolutely not. It would leave no time for swimming lessons or dance or any type of learning or enrichment that might happen outside of the school setting. It would need no time for playdates that extend the friendships she's made in school or ones that enable her to stay connected with kids who attend different preschools. And most importantly, it would leave very little time for her to just be here at home, playing with her brother or reading with me or working on an art project or building a castle or simply hanging out and watching television on the couch.
Part of my issue, I suppose, is that Julia is my oldest child and I still have another little one at home to entertain. When Julia's home, my kids play together, so the prospect of losing that built in playmate for Evan next year is not all that appealing. But my real problem stems from the fact that I'm home in the first place. I'm home with my kids because I see value in my involvement in their days at this point. Yes, I am simply a chauffeur more and more often these days as I drive Julia to school or dance or a playdate. But I still spend time one-on-one with her every day, playing a game or reading books or doing an art project. And when I'm not interacting with her, my presence in the house enables her to be here, too. I don't think she needs stimulation -- the kind I provide or the kind she gets at school -- for all of those hours every day. Because I'm home, Julia can relax at home and enjoy downtime in a comfortable environment where she can imagine and play and dream. And I think that's damn important, maybe even more important than all of the chauffeuring and interaction I provide.
If Julia's gone from this house for 6 hours every day, my value starts to diminish, so maybe a lot more of this than I'd like to admit is about me and my own sense of self worth. But at that point, she might as well be in a daycare center 8 hours a day while I work. It's not a bad alternative, really. She'd thrive there every bit as certainly as she'd thrive in her current school and I could wear dry clean only clothing and talk to grownups again and get off the carpool circuit. But that's not what I want at this point, not for myself and certainly not for her. When I do choose to return to the workforce, it's going to be because I think I'm more valuable there than at home. And I simply don't think that time has come yet.
Over programmed preschoolers run rampant in this town, where parents have the money to enroll their kids in every activity their hearts desire. I know 3 year olds who do 4 or 5 extracurricular activities on top of preschool, so I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that there are so many parents who seem to want to send their 4 year olds to preschool for 6 hours a day. But when I made the decision to stay home with my children, I was assigning a certain amount of value to my daily presence in their lives. As I listened to all of these parents beg for more school for their kids today, I couldn't help but think that they must not share my opinion of their value. I wondered what all of these stay at home mothers were going to do while their preschoolers were gone for 6 hours a day. And I wondered why I seemed to think that the time my child spends at home with me was worth so much more than they did.
At the end of the day, there are many, many ways to raise a child. Kids thrive with stay at home parents and with nannies and in home care programs and in big day care centers. I wouldn't presume to tell any other parent how to raise their kids or how to fill their days. But I'm also not going to let anyone else tell me what's best for my family. I sincerely hope this will all work itself out, but if Julia's school doesn't end up scaling back its proposed schedule for next year, I'm going to stick to my guns and send her and Evan elsewhere. I hope that in the long run, my kids will thank me for it. And I hope that I won't feel too jealous of all of those Mommies with all that free time next fall as I find ways to fill our days together, as a family.