Into the abyss -- fear and loathing on the road to preschool.
By Kelley Cunningham
What is merely supposed to be an opportunity for our little darlings to break free of their sequestered plastic bubbles and interact with other creatures of the same height and lingering smell, sharing bacteria and ancient blocks (oops, I mean manipulatives), has turned into yet another humorless migraine-inducing educational opportunity designed to take the fun out of raising kids once and for all.
Check out some of these phrases from real-life ads for preschools in my area:
“Let us help your child develop an inner thirst for knowledge that will
last a lifetime.” That’s a lot to expect from finger paint.
“Designed to meet each child’s developmental needs and promote a positive, secure and accepting environment enabling each child to grow with a sense of joy and wonder.” Wow. I kind of just want him to stop picking his nose.
“Favorable student:teacher ratio allows maximum individualization. Children are placed in three classes according to ability.” What abilities are they talking about? The ability to grab toys from your peers deftly or the ability to belch the ABCs?
“Our highest priority is the development of self-esteem, creativity, and love of learning. We provide a cumulative program with developmental goals for all ages.” Jeez, I’m exhausted just reading this. We’re talking about three-year olds, folks.
All of this sounds wonderfully well-meaning and lofty, but can we take a step back here? My kid’s happy to keep his pants dry and they want to teach him irregular French verbs.
Of course, preschools advertise this way because parents have come to expect this kind of bullshit jargon, and they want the best for their kids. Would any parent sign up for a preschool that tells it like it is? “We’ll keep your kid busy for two hours with some homemade Play-Doh so you can go home and pee by yourself for a change.” Well I would, for one.
The registration process has become a quagmire of waiting lists, registration fees, and politics. The first time I faced this I stupidly showed up with my child's birth certificate and a checkbook, and told my husband to wait in the car. My jaw dropped as I entered a sweltering room swarming with hundreds of parents, crying children, and a registrar with a bullhorn. A registrar? For preschool? The first time I heard the word “registrar” was my freshman year of college.
I’ve heard horror stories about preschools actually interviewing the families and the prospective students. What in the hell can possibly be gleaned from an interview with a three-year-old? That girls don't have penises and race cars go really, really fast, zoom-zoom-zoom?
The whole idea of selecting just a few children to receive all the best, especially at so young an age, makes me want to throw up. How do they determine a suitable candidate from a gaggle of crotch-grabbing three-year olds? Is it something obvious, like one kid who breaks free from the crowd to perform a daring interpretation of Clymenestra? Or is the selection process more subtle? “Let’s see, we have to narrow this down. They’re ALL scratching their tushies. But the first one who smells his fingers is OUT.”
I think it was different when we were kids. Did you even GO to preschool? If you did, wasn’t it in a dingy church basement for four or five hours a week? Do you even remember it? Didn’t we all manage to grow up to be productive citizens? Hmm, maybe I ought to put that another way...
But that was then. Now, every decision parents make is fraught with worry. We're all nervously watching our children, paging through those stupid "What to Expect" books, making sure they are Hitting Their Developmental Milestones on time. Or, better yet, early. “Look, little Jared is throwing sand at the other kids and he’s only 18 months old! The book says that’s really early to show such sociopathic behavior!"
I think my kids are in big trouble. I purposely did not send them to the Best Preschool In Town (even though I suspect the only difference is that the sand table looks newer). I did this mainly because I couldn't stand the smug attitudes of the mothers who did. I guess I have a stubborn populist streak which asserts itself at inconvenient times. Perhaps I am dooming my darlings to a lifetime of menial jobs and shiftlessness. Oh well, I'd rather have a family discount at Burger King than a Phi Beta Kappa key that doesn't go with anything in my closet.
Yeah, yeah, I know a child’s potential is limitless, and that these are the years where their little brains are like sponges and will absorb anything. Maybe I’m not expecting enough of my children. Maybe the primo preschool experience really does lead to a lifetime of awe-inspiring achievement, and to show-off parents who proudly slap that Princeton decal on the rear window. But what benefit is it to have a child who grows up to be a Rhodes scholar if he still is incapable of sharing the damn blocks?
Need more Kelley? A hefty collection of her great essays, What's the Matter With Mommy?, is now available on Amazon.com.
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