Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Bee Goes to School

Bee started nursery school at the beginning of September. Her school is a wonderful private nursery school loosely affiliated with the big private university within walking distance of us. She's there three days a week, two and a half hours a day. It's Reggio Emilia based and, miracle of miracles, Bee's head teacher is vegan, has a tattoo (at least one that I can see), has five cats, and is an AP-identified, babywearing, cosleeping, extended nursing mama to two girls. I love her already.

You may be thinking, as we were, that Bee is awfully young for school. She was 2.7 at the beginning of September, which really is the youngest this school will take a child. In fact, we were not actually planning to send her anywhere for another year. But when Teeny was born and Bee started showing signs of regression ("I want to wear a diaper too! I want to eat baby food too!") we realized it would be a good thing to have her socialize with other kids her age instead of hang with a newborn all day. We happened upon this school's annual spring fair and loved what we saw (petting zoo animals aside). Knowing how cutthroat the process can be in New York City and that most deadlines for the coming year had long since passed, I called their office the next day just on the off chance that they might have space. Lo and behold, there was room in the three-days-a-week morning 2s class for a girl. So we came in for an interview. This school does not, as a rule, meet the children as part of the interview process, so really it was a question of whether we liked them and whether we could manage the tuition.

So in September, we got rolling. First we had a home visit. Bee's head teacher, we learned, would drop by for fifteen minutes or so to meet her on her own turf, as it were. And she did - but she arrived more than half an hour early and found me unshowered, in my gym shorts and tank top, covered in breakfast and breast milk, tattoos all exposed and hair wild and crazy from the night before. I was not excited to meet her for the first time in such a state, but what could I do? What could this woman possibly think of me? But she smiled and said nothing, and sat with Bee, looked at books with her for a few minutes, talked about school, snapped a few photos of her for their home visit photo album, and was gone.

That night, we attended a welcome meeting for all the parents. We arranged for a babysitter (our very first, which could be a whole other blog entry) and by this point I was showered and dressed professionally, ready to take on the private school parents. We found our name tags and folder of materials when we walked in, helped ourselves to coffee and took a seat alongside all the other moms and dads for a lovely address by the school's new director and another by the heads of the Parent Association. We sat in the second row and tried to look serious, but couldn't stop whispering to each other. "We have a daughter! Wait, we have two! And one's in school!" I jotted down the info for the first PA meeting and snickered to my husband. "I'm going to be a PTA mom?! Oh my God. Who am I?" I felt like the kid in Freaky Friday, or like someone in costume, dressed as someone's responsible mother. I kept saying to myself, I am the mother of a school aged child. We looked over the class list. Bee was the only kid not from the Upper West Side. I scanned the addresses. Riverside Drive, Riverside Drive, Riverside Drive. No one else in Harlem. I amended my line to I am the mother of a child in school with very privileged kids. And I wasn't so sure how I felt about that.

Next we headed to her classroom, where we and seven other couples sat on tiny little chairs in a circle and ate grapes and sipped apple juice while the teachers talked about rules, policies and their educational philosophy for the twos class. If the first meeting was surreal, sitting in that room with all of the residents of Riverside Drive talking about our babies was even more surreal. We introduced ourselves and I couldn't help but notice that all the other parents were mixed-gender couples, most of them white. There was one family that spoke another language (Italian) and one bi-racial family (Caucasian and Asian). There were no other stay at home dads, no vegans, no tattooed mamas. But everyone was friendly enough.

Two days later, the "phase-in" period of school started. That meant that I too got to go to nursery school for as long as Bee needed me to. Her class is 8 two-year-olds with two teachers for two and a half hours. They started with one hour for four kids and their parent or parents. We all sat there, kneading Play-Doh, reading stories, painting pictures, diapering dollys, and having snack like it was the most normal thing in the world, while our two year olds looked on, very uncertain.

After a few minutes, Bee actually seemed pretty excited!

She got brave and made her way over to new toys, leaving me behind.

But she soon shrank back when she tried to touch something another kid wasn't quite finished with. He barked "No!" at her, and she crumpled into me, scared and unsure of what to do next. I held her, not sure of what to do either. The other kids seemed much more comfortable taking direction from the teachers and moving away from their parents, which led me to believe that Bee was likely the only child who had never been in a nanny or day care situation before. Once I calmed her and her tears were dry, she played happily for the remainder of the hour, but only in my lap.

Still, she is a resilient child and by the time we got home, she was chatting excitedly about school and how much she loved her teacher and how she couldn't wait to go back.

The following school day, which was actually nearly a week later because of the High Holy Days, was also an hour, but this time with all eight kids. Each kid had one parent or caregiver with them this time. This was the day that I learned that Bee can in fact sit at a table. She sat perfectly still, drinking her juice and eating her Wheat Thins and her pretzels. You would never know that at home, her meals are doled out one "drive by" mouthful at a time. It is almost impossible to convince her to sit at the table for more than fifteen seconds before getting absorbed in something else, that is it was, until I saw that she can and does do it at school.

The following week, the class jumped to an hour and a half. The second day that week, the teachers began to invite the parents to go get a cup of coffee. Loosely translated, this meant I think your kid will be okay without you, so you can go sit in the room next door and we'll see how it goes. Some parents were ushered back in five minutes because their kids had meltdowns and couldn't be calmed. One kid was so nonchalant that her mom left not only the classroom but the building itself and the girl barely noticed. Bee seemed fine by this point, not clingy or fearful, yet I had not been asked to get coffee. I was starting to think the teachers saw something in my kid that I didn't, some nervous tic or other deficiency that made them think that she would need her mama in school with her for the rest of the year. By the third day though, the teacher turned to me and said, would you like to tell Bee you are going to get a cup of coffee? I did, and she kissed me and said brightly "Goodbye Mama!" and that was that.

The next day the teacher said she did fine and that we were phased in. My nursery school days were over. Now I could drop her off and leave. But the day after that was a Monday. I quickly saw that a lot of the independence the kids muster up over the course of the school week is undone by a weekend with mama and daddy. Monday saw us starting the process all over again, and the goodbye was a tearful one. But I got a text and a call from the teacher and an email from the school's director, all letting me know that Bee missed me and said so, but that she engaged and played happily for the rest of her school day. And since then, she's been fine. We walk to school together, and by that I mean I push her stroller the entire two-mile, uphill most of the way distance, running because we're always borderline late and sweating from the workout of pushing a 37 pound child in a stroller up a steep hill. But we enjoy it. We count buses and trees. She snacks on Big Bird juice and peanut butter bars. We talk about the songs she will sing in class and the snacks she will eat. We name the teachers and the other kids she will play with. We talk about who will pick her up and what her afternoon will look like. And she knows as we get closer and closer to the school that our arrival there means mama will leave. She tells me she wants me to come with her and to stay with her. But she doesn't protest when I tell her I have to go to work, and she's always happy when Johnny picks her up.

The school's welcome picnic was rained out three times, so we've not yet had the opportunity to talk to many of the other parents, but that's next for us. The first Parents' Association meeting is next week, and the week after that is their annual bake sale. I've signed up to bring two dozen vegan cupcakes and I've volunteered to help sell in the morning. I am starting to see a future with playdates and other social events popping up on Bee's calendar, which is unnerving and exciting all at once, provided Johnny and I can connect with these parents and develop comfort with this whole privilege thing, which still feels very strange.

At the same time, Bee's growing up in other ways. She had her first dentist appointment, which went so much better than I thought it would. She's a diligent tooth-brusher (and an equally diligent toothpaste-swallower) but I couldn't see how her dentist would be able to keep her still enough to examine her, let alone clean her teeth. She worked her magic on Bee, who really seemed to have a good time with her. It helped that she gave Bee her own little mirror to play with and indulged every request to go up in the chair, and then down again, and then up again, and then down again.

Her vocabulary is vast and she is already reading a few words, like Mama, Bee, Daddy, Teeny, cat, car, and exit, to name a few. When we arrived at school one day to find all the cubbies labeled, she ran to hers and announced, "B-e-e spells Bee! What does S-a-d-i-e spell, Mama?" And then she proceeded to spell out the name of every single kid with a cubby. I couldn't believe it. She has mastered the art of "no" in a way she hadn't as a toddler. She divides the world up into people with penises and people with clitorises. Already! And her memory is so spot-on that it's a little scary. She remembers the smallest things and reminds us of them randomly, like which direction to walk in Times Square to find the tourist-seeking, money-grubbing Elmos she loves and we hate, or that she had a purple lollipop when she was on the airplane to Disney. "Remember that lollipop, Mama? Remember that?" she will demand out of nowhere, and I have to think back to what on earth she could be talking about. Sadly, she also remembers our car accident and will, a propos of nothing, randomly remind us that "Mama broke our car" or urge us to drive very carefully and not too fast. This breaks my heart every time it happens. If there were a way I could erase this memory from her mind, I would, but instead I acknowledge her concerns and Johnny and I both remind her that we are always very, very careful in the car. 

She is still such a little girl. Really, she's still a baby. She is going through an "I NEED you, Mama" phase that I admit I don't love. She has no interest in learning to use the potty, and still has big meltdowns when she's very tired. But she's growing up, and it's happening so fast!

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