From Chicken Soup for the Mother of Preschooler's Soul

Preschool Pangs

What children take from us, they give . . . We become people who feel more deeply, question more deeply, hurt more deeply and love more deeply.

Sonia Taitz

The door opened with a squeak, and I tentatively peeked inside the brick and concrete building. Once the carriage house for an estate, it now housed the preschool my three-year-old would be attending. I stepped in slowly, still struggling with the idea of leaving my child with strangers for three hours.

Could he handle the separation? I had only left him with family before.

Laughter floated from the upstairs classroom, seeming to gather steam as it bounced off each step. I clenched Nicholas’s hand, but he squirmed and broke my hold.

“Use the handrail, please.” I tried not to shout. The steps were steep, steeper than ours at home. Would the teachers be as concerned? Would they call me if he hurt himself? Could they comfort him? Tears threatened, but I sniffed them back.

As we drew closer, I secretly hoped we’d gotten the wrong day, or that his class had been cancelled. But as we rounded the corner, the room burst with preschooler energy. Ten children were playing dress-up, coloring, browsing through books—looking like they were thoroughly enjoying themselves.

“Mrs. Yankee, so glad to see you,” Ms. Linda, the lead teacher greeted me. “Is Nicholas ready to play?” She smiled down at my son, whose eyes had doubled in size as he took in the room.

Shelves overflowed with bright boxes of rubber balls, colored blocks, puzzles and games. Corners contained cars and trains, dolls and dinosaurs. Tables offered glue sticks, crayons, colored pencils and safety scissors.

“Nicholas,” Ms. Linda knelt in front of him, “here’s your cubby. You need to put your shoes here and then put on your slippers. Did you bring your slippers?”

“Yep. Look.” He pulled them from his backpack and exchanged them for his shoes. “Momma, look who’s here!” Nicholas headed straight for his friends—without a backward glance—and was quickly engrossed.

I saw my own friends standing in the back of the room, watching their kids. “Can you believe it’s time for this?” I strained to keep my voice level.

“Well, at least it’s not kindergarten,” one said. We groaned and rolled our eyes, knowing that this separation was only the start.

When it was time for the parents to leave, I spoke to Nicholas. “I’ll be back when school is over. If something bad happens, you go see Ms. Linda or one of the other teachers and they’ll call me. Okay?” I kissed his cheek and hugged him hard.

“Okay. I’ll miss you. You’ll be back after I play outside, right?”

“You bet.” I gave him another kiss and hug.

“Bye!” Nicholas ran back to his friends.

But I held back a few seconds more, reluctant to leave. It hurt more than I’d expected.

As I descended the stairs, thinking again how I hoped the teacher would bark out orders to hold on to the handrail, I felt at a loss. Now what? I stopped outside of the building and stood in the late summer morning. Birds chirped; a light breeze toyed with my hair.

Memories flooded over me: strolls in the park, pushing Nicholas on a swing, his first ride down a slide. I closed my eyes to see the smiles and hear the giggles. At last, I let the tears flow; they streamed down my face freely, and I wore them like a badge of motherhood.

“What are you going to do now?” Another mother stood near, her own eyes damp.

“I don’t know. Go home I guess.”

“We’re going to Starbucks. Wanna come?”

I looked up at the carriage-house window, heaved a sigh and nodded agreement. I’d be much closer to the preschool at the coffee shop than at home. I checked to make sure my cell phone was on. Just in case.

When I returned for Nicholas, a new fear settled in the pit of my stomach: Would he like his teacher more than me? But out he bounded, arms spread wide, and hugged me harder than ever before.

And I realized that the real value of preschool wasn’t in blocks and books, puzzles and playtime. It was in the learning: to be apart, to spend time alone. It was in the separation training . . . my own!

Kristine Yankee

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