Monday, September 12, 2011

The Clash of the Preschool Classroom

It's so hard to believe this day has come! Today was Eleanor's first day of preschool. Eleanor had been dealing with some new-experience jitters last night. But by this morning Eleanor's apprehension of the night before seemed forgotten, although Keith and I were more nervous than ever. Would she cry? When? For how long? Would she be that one kid that couldn't take it? Or would all of our fears prove unfounded, and she would join in right away, make new friends, and not even notice when we left?

The answer, of course, lay somewhere in the middle.

To start, it was the first day fantasy of every parent. We played together in the room for about 10 minutes, and then when she started a new activity we said our good-byes. She didn't want hugs or kisses, and couldn't even be bothered to look up as we left, she was so engrossed in her crafty activity. We retreated to the hallway bench, and waited for the fallout.

You'll notice I said "retreated" and I realized that, during my inner monologue, I was describing many aspects of the morning in terms of warfare. Those of us parents who were waiting in the hallway carefully watched every time the classroom door opened. We listened for screaming, and we waited for the reports from the "spy parents" who were just emerging from the battlefield. How's it going in there? What about my little 3-year-old soldier? How's he/she doing? Is she putting up a good fight? Is she victorious over the yearning for home and familiarity, or has she succumbed to the tearful enemy of fear?

Early reports on Private Eleanor were very encouraging. She was completely engaged and looked like she'd been going to Preschool all her life. She was playing dress-up, playing with dollies, sampling all of the delights a Preschool classroom has to offer.

And then, the tide of battle suddenly turned, and Eleanor was a casualty. Two other kids were screaming/crying. Keith told me the one kid started crying pretty much before he was even over the threshold of the classroom. And these were loud, determined criers. There were a few other stoic soldiers; they were crying, but more for their own personal anguish. But these two were loud and wanted everyone within earshot to know they were not happy with their marching orders. They surrendered 100% and just wanted OUT.

Eleanor could only resist the sounds of agony for 15 minutes or so before she decided they may have a good point. She started to remember that she had a mommy, too, whom she missed very much. A mommy that she needed to see right now. So that's when the field commanders called me in, the special Eleanor Relief Unit, to hold and comfort her. I stayed in the class for probably an hour (most of which time, the two original criers or a late addition kept the noise/angst level on red alert). We played quietly, but there's plenty of time where I just held her and she twirled her hair and looked around, shell-shocked.

I finally escaped again with a half-hour left in class. The crying had stopped, and the imminent delivery of rations (goldfish and juice) had revived the troops. She teared up again a little after I left, but rallied valiantly.

I rejoined the other civilian parents in the hall, awaiting the final battle outcome. When our children were dismissed from the battlefield, the word that actually came to mind for me was "hostage." Only one child came out of the classroom at a time, straight into the arms of his or her loving, caring family. It felt strangely like a hostage situation where the authorities had finally talked down the hostage-taker, and the tense situation was coming to a peaceful resolution.

Actually, the hardest part is that we get to do it all again tomorrow. She's only in a two-day per week program, but it's back-to-back days. Tonight, we tried to rectify our tactical errors by discussing some strategies for unforeseen battle circumstances.

"If other kids start crying, what can you do? Maybe you can offer to give them a hug or a tissue? Or, even if they keep crying, you don't have to cry!"

Eleanor overtly agreed with the situational analysis and, like a good little soldier, is prepared and excited even to enter the fray tomorrow morning.

Hopefully sometime within the next few weeks, the tears stop and I can start thinking of preschool in friendlier terms like "education" and "fun." Until then, once more unto the breach, dear friends!

No comments: