You just read that and thought, “Man, is Mary-Evelyn self-absorbed or what? She keeps taking her kids’ milestones and making them about herself.” (See the First Communion post.) But let me tell you why this really is more about me than about Woody. By the time Woody finishes kindergarten next year, preschool will be but a fuzzy memory to him. He’ll remember a few favorite friends and teachers by name for a while although their faces will start to fade. A few moments might stick with him for many years; a voice might stir a memory of a teacher, a song he hears will be familiar and his mind will reach for a memory just beyond his consciousness’s grasp.
I have one memory left of preschool. It’s just a blurred image of nothing really but it had to do with getting an art project out of the kiln. Maybe it was one of the Christmas ornaments that I still have from preschool, dated when I was two or three years old. Those ornaments started out as memories of something now long forgotten but morphed into new memories during all those childhood Christmases of which they were a part. The nostalgia is now there because this is a thing I made, a part of me, that has been here through it all, even though I have no memory of its inception. Maybe it was that ornament coming out of the kiln that I remember. But it could as easily have been an ashtray. (We used to make those for our parents back then, remember?)
This period of Woody’s life, and his graduation from it, will be as unmemorable to him as his infancy or toddlerhood. Not to say that it hasn’t mattered. The loving environment of his preschool, the amazing teachers he had and the friendships he has made have molded him, no doubt for the better, into the person he is now. It’s been such a major part of his life that I can’t begin to imagine how different Woody would be had it not been.
But I digress. This post is not about Woody. It’s about me. I first walked into St Catherine’s preschool in February of 2006 to register Ella Kathryn for the one’s class the following year. She was six months old that day – once I marked my place in line, I had to go out to the car to nurse her. The ones class only had a few openings and we got put on the waiting list. About two weeks before school started I got a call that someone had dropped out. We were in for two days a week. It’s hard to remember how I felt that first year. I remember being amazed by how big the older kids in the school were. The moms of the older kids got to pick them up at car pool in the afternoons. Ella Kathryn couldn’t even walk when she started at St. Cat’s so I couldn’t wrap my head around the concept that one day the teachers would just throw the kid in my car and off I’d go. My dear friend Teri was an “experienced” preschool mom, with one year on me. I basically followed her around and did what she did. I loved preschool. Ella Kathryn did too. The next year I signed her up for three days a week, the next two years after that she went for five.
Now Woody has gone for four years too. Seven years in all for me. Between dropping off and picking up for the past seven years, I figure I have driven Robinson Road over five thousand times. (That’s not even an exaggeration- I just did the math and don’t forget I am a CPA.) And of course I have made a few observations along the way. The first one that comes to mind is that women really are awful drivers. It pains me to say it but, as a group, it’s true. I bet if you’ve ever spent any amount of time in a preschool parking lot the same thought has occurred to you. I mean, ladies – when backing out your minivan or Suburban you MUST begin to turn BEFORE your car is all the way out of the parking spot if you want to avoid a fifteen point turn. I better stop on this tangent before I really get going.
An equally pithy observation to make is that there are different “types” of preschool moms. There are “cute moms” that are fit and wear makeup and have coordinating clothes with no snot or spit-up on them. There are “work-out moms” who come to drop off ready to hit the gym or the boot camp or whatever. They are also fit and wear dry fit clothes and matching visors. Then there are the “frumpy moms.” Frumpy moms can be fit, but aren’t always. They don’t wear makeup and their clothes, while they could be exercised in, were probably chosen because of the elastic waistband or because the baby is just going to barf on them anyway. Once I made these observations, I decided that I definitely did NOT want to be a frumpy mom. I really wanted to be like the cute moms that I knew. For a while, I made an effort to shower and at least put on mascara before going in to school. Then, after Woody was born and it took forever to get my terrible two EK dressed, I wouldn’t shower but I might put on my running shorts, tennis shoes and a hat to give the illusion of being a work-out mom. And the last few years, well, the last few years have been mostly frumpy mom years with an occasional cute mom attempt and many genuine work-out mom days thrown in for good measure. After seven years I am now comfortable just coming as I am that day or that season of life, frumpy or cute, made up or not showered. And what I have come to realize is that all of us fit in all of these categories during our time as preschool moms. That’s one thing that has been so neat for me over the years – to watch other moms going through the same things I was going through or would go through. Now when I roll in to pick Woody up at carpool, I often have to stop as some two-year-old darts out into the street, his mother right behind him with a baby, yanking the kid back. It seems like that was me yesterday and at the same time forever ago.
Preschool teachers must be wired differently- they have to be to choose to spend their hours with preschoolers. But very few of them were what I imagined preschool teachers to be like – I suppose I thought they would be some mix of Mrs. Claus, Julie the Cruise Director and Mother Theresa. Instead, they are all just wonderful women who have such special gifts. Miss Angela and Miss Suzanne continue to stick it out in the One’s class, definitely the job for a very special person. Sometimes the sounds and smells coming out of that classroom were enough to send me running for the door. Miss Pat took on both of my kids as “Young 2’s”. She had to make Ella Kathryn understand that you have to keep your shoes on at school. She tried to keep Woody from eating sand and wood chips on the playground. Miss Deanna and Miss Candy were probably my favorite teachers to talk to at a time when motherhood was really getting difficult. One morning I literally carried Ella Kathryn in kicking and screaming in one arm while holding Woody in his carrier in the other. She was having a tantrum over who-knows-what and I was literally at the end of my rope. Miss Deanna saw me coming, met me at the door, grabbed Ella Kathryn and said, “It’s OK now, I’ve got her. See you in a few hours.” When Woody hit the 3’s he got Miss Dianne. If I’ve met one person who embodies love, it’s Miss Dianne. She’s been loving on kids for a long time and I am so very glad that Woody was one of them. Ella Kathryn needs structure but also a lot of love in the classroom and that’s what she got with Miss Lisa in pre-k and it really helped prepare her for kindergarten. Woody needed someone to prepare him as well and that person was Miss Cathy, “The Boy Whisperer” as she is called. I think Miss Cathy was the first woman that didn’t melt when Woody flashed his $20 smile. It was a shock to him but just what he needed. It’s a God-thing, I think. I look back today and realize that not only did my kids get exactly who they needed, but I did, too. There are so many others too – Karolyn, Lynne, Barbie, Lyn, Christie, Tiffany, Page, Patsy, Anita, Carrie, Beth – I wish I could better put it in words what they haven meant to us.
I’ve done all the preschool mom things. I’ve made the peanut-free lunches. I packed “book bags” with diapers labeled “EK” and “Woody” and later bags with a change of underpants, just in case. I drew Elmo on EK’s brown lunch bag every day until I finally bought a Sesame Street lunch bag that we then used for years. I’ve been mystery reader. I’ve supplied snacks for the snack bags, items for the preschool auction basket, “side items” for the thanksgiving “feasts”. I’ve worked with other moms to throw holiday parties and end-of year parties for kids much too young to appreciate that the cookie snack was on-theme and homemade. I’ve ponied up $5 here and $10 there for various collections. I’ve signed permission slips for all kinds of things – the most unusual was to have Woody’s head inspected for lice when it was going around his class. (BTW, I bet every teacher and parent in that class had their money on Woody as the culprit but he came out of the inspection with a clean scalp.) The top right corner of my dashboard has had the number 85 taped to it for five years. I’ve watched two Valentine’s shows (I‘M A GREAT BIG VALENTINE FOR YOU!), two Mother’s Day shows (“there was a kid at St Catherine’s who loved a special person –M-O-M-M-Y, M-O-M-M-Y, M-O-M-M-Y, and Mommy was her name-o.”) and four Christmas shows. I think I can tell you the order of the Christmas show songs and even the remarks that the principal makes before each song right off the top of my head. But somehow I enjoy the show exponentially more every time I see it. We always have punch and cookies in the Parrish Hall afterwards. (After one performance, Woody told me we were going to punch some cookies.)
I made some friends at preschool and got to know some existing friends better. The moms in Ella Kathryn’s two-year-old class were great and we would often go to the park after school. Most of them had older kids and I would just soak up what they told me like words from a guru. By about four years in, I felt like I knew everyone at school, if not by name then by face or child’s name. Sometimes after dropping Woody off in the morning, I wouldn’t get home until after 10 because I had stood in the parking lot chatting. I bet over these last seven years, especially before Ella Kathryn started elementary school, if you took away the interactions I had with the moms and teachers at preschool, there would be days at a time when I didn’t speak in person to anyone besides the kids and Andy.
But this year Senioritis set in big time. On the first day of school I drove in and thought “man, there are a lot of nannies dropping these kids off.” Then I realized that what I thought were nannies were just young mothers. Did I look that fresh-faced seven years ago? I don’t know what happened but I blinked and all of the sudden I didn’t know everyone again. It was the same way with my sorority in college – I went from knowing everyone as a junior to no one when I was on the way out. But it made the friendships I still had there more important and instead of meeting the new people, I just concentrated on enjoying the old friends while we were still together.
And that’s how this feels. Bittersweet, just like any other graduation. Like a senior in high school, I have an almost irrepressible urge to jump up and down because the parts I didn’t love are almost over and exciting things are coming. And I know it’s time –I haven’t really even been a “preschool mom” for a while, but instead a clumsily balanced “mom of elementary and preschool kids”. But there’s a sadness there. I love the teachers here and I love my pals and I know that even if I see them in the future, the nature of our relationship will be changed. There’s such a sweetness about preschool, too. Woody climbing into the car, smelling of kid-sweat, with marker on his shirt and streaks of Cheetos orange on his cheeks, insisting on showing me his art (while I steal a peanut-butter-and-jelly kiss) before buckling his seatbelt. The hour before and after school when it’s just the two of us will be coming to an end, as well. I am so excited for the change and space that may come when both of the kids are in school for a full day. But, I wonder, when 1pm rolls around next fall, will I start to get up from my desk and grab my phone before realizing that I don’t have to drive down Robinson Rd again? I wonder if I’ll feel a little tug of nostalgia when I realize I don’t have to go. Or maybe I’ll just laugh hysterically. I’ll let ya know.
Until then, feel free to congratulate the graduate. I made it!