There’s a place there..

by Mothership on July 21, 2011

Four started his new preschool this week and it has been extremely turbulent.

He himself has been perfectly fine and seems very stable, it’s me that is a neurotic, weeping wreck, racing like a silly clucker around the streets and internets with my head clearly left behind somewhere in the sawdust .Or perhaps I mean that my head was full of sawdust to begin with and this stressful event merely caused it to burst open and leak in an unattractive and very public way?

I had started out rather pleased with myself. Preschools in this city are notoriously expensive and difficult to get into with one having to put down the child’s name prior to considering conception and paying large application fees which you will never see again to fill out forms in triplicate that explain Junior’s little ways and how you see his strengths ( clearly!) and weaknesses (none, of course, except for some you make up for false modesty’s sake but they’re really little boasts disguised as foibles ” Four has a tendency to insist on working through differential equations before he will allow you to give him dessert but we are working on flexibility and allowing for the needs of others”).

I did my due diligence and phoned about 80 preschools back in October, most of which said they wouldn’t have space, then I visited 5 who said they might if I was very extremely lucky and they’d take my application fee anyway at $100 a pop, and out of those I applied to three, hoping very much that one in particular would come through. It was near our new office and was not quite as sickeningly expensive as the others (although still considerably more than we paid in Stepford) and had a charming arts-based curriculum and lots of nice grass and books and plenty of psychological theory that appeals directly to middle-class parents like me who are anxious and vaguely guilty about leaving their precious little flowers all day long at a nursery school. Come to think of it, I would quite like to have attended the school myself – they visited a carousel once a week, not just to have a ride, you see, but to study the animals and then draw them in great detail and create clay representations of what they had ridden. I saw Four becoming a contributor to SFMOMA.. It seemed perfect and they told me to call back in April to secure the spot. This was great.

However, I phoned again in April and to my dismay they suddenly sounded rather non-committal about the availability of a space for him. My heart sank – what on earth was I going to do with an active 4-year old when I needed to work, and by then there would be nowhere that would take him  and all my other applications had informed me that he was very low on the waiting list. I started scouring websites and school ratings sites and I randomly came across a YMCA preschool very close to the house we had by now rented that got fantastic reviews. I thought it extremely unlikely they’d have any space but I rang them anyway and to my surprise I got through immediately to the preschool director and she said that there might be a spot or two but I’d have to come to the open house the following weekend and sign up then, in the mean time all the other details were online. I read through their curriculum and it looked pretty good. Play centred yet still focused on getting them ready for Kindergarten which is exactly what Four would need. It sounded ideal.

As luck would have it Husband was teaching that weekend in San Francisco and I quickly arranged for the whole family to come up with him and I was pretty much camped outside the tiny YMCA, which serves only as a preschool and a senior citizen’s center as it opened on the Saturday morning for their open day.  As the first in line I managed to sign Four up for one of two spots for his age group starting in the summer, and I nearly fell off my chair when the administrator told me apologetically that I’d have to pay full price for August, which was already half the price of the other school, but come September a citywide grant would kick in and every child would get a further reduction of $250 per month. Oh, and they provided a free hot lunch for all the kids, too.


The tour was good. It wasn’t full of bells and whistles, but the classroom was set up in a similar way to a Kindergarten room and the play yard was well equipped. If the toys were a little older and more loved, they looked tidy and clean as were the loos and kitchen. I hoped it would work out.

So. Time passed. We went back to Stepford. We moved to San Francisco. We settled in. Monday morning rolled around and it was time for Four to start preschool.

We had had a little visit on Friday so it wouldn’t be a complete shock. He seemed to like it so we had high hopes for leaving him a couple of hours on his first day.

But he cried and cried. I couldn’t stand it.

And the staff didn’t seem prepared for it, or to pay any special attention to him. I was absolutely gutted and I had to leave Husband to do the final leave-taking and I sat in the car and sobbed. How could this be happening? The school suddenly seemed not ‘real and diverse’ but ‘low rent and substandard’. I thought of my precious boy there and the magical year of Four and I worried that he wouldn’t get any enrichment, that they’d just leave him there to wander around aimlessly.

I phoned my lovely carousel school and asked again if they had a space. By miracle they suddenly did! Husband and I zoomed over to get an enrolment packet.

We fetched Four from the YMCA where he claimed to have had a very nice day and a delicious lunch and took him with us for the tour.

We loved it

Four was unimpressed.

Husband and I oohed and ahhed over the artwork and the Reggio Emilio philosophy of creating the child’s sense of identity.

Four squarely told the director “I not coming here. I love my other preschool”

I laughed falsely, pushing Four towards some interesting looking trucks and said “Oh, I think he must mean his school in Stepford..”

Husband and I agreed that the program was superior and was probably altogether more educational. We tried to sell Four on the weekly carousel rides.

Four said “I love my new preschool. I don’t want to go here”

That night we worried and agitated. It was certainly more convenient for us to keep him 5 minutes from home a half the price with free lunch but what about his psychological development?

What about the self-portraits in charcoal and wire?

At the Y they might have been pratting about with some clay and glitter but there seemed to be quite a bit of general crowd control and a soupcon of benign neglect but maybe not enough attention.

Or did I mean not enough attention to parents?  I was unfortunately not completely clear on this.

Four reported increasing satisfaction with each passing day which added to my confusion. On top of this I began to consider how much poorer we’d be if I sent him to Elves and Fairies and how incredibly inconvenient it would be to have to take him on the bus or drive downtown every day and how I’d never be able to go to a daily dance class if I did that, and far from making this an easier choice, it made it harder as then I felt GUILTY at the thought that I might choose my happiness over Four’s wellbeing.

Bugger it! I’d be halfway down a bottle of scotch by now if I actually drank.

On Tuesday night I decided to send him to the expensive preschool so I sent an email to the director taking up her offer of a place.

But she didn’t write back to me.

So by this afternon (Thursday) I had reconsidered and I went down to the YMCA and spent a little time there  talking to the staff and asking questions and just watching how Four and the others were getting on. I couldn’t drag him away. He loved it.

And you know what? I’m coming around to seeing things his way.

Panic over.

It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty good. And as Husband pointed out, we can easily spend some of the extra money we might have spent at the other place on supporting the preschool that would benefit not only Four, but all the kids there and also help support the teachers. That would be a win for everyone.

How very San Francisco. We’re going native already


1 nappyvalleygirl July 22, 2011 at 4:39 am

Sounds as if you made the right decision. I know always really hard with these things. But I think if Four is happy there, that’s the most important thing.

I looked round several preschools when we first moved here, and was on the verge of going with one which had great facilities and an amazing playground. Then my neighbour told me her kids went to another one, which was smaller and older but was much more flexible with hours etc. and the kids loved the staff. So I switched – and luckily it was the best decision. It was a wonderful school – so much that I was virtually in tears when LB2 ‘graduated’ in June…….
.-= nappyvalleygirl´s last blog ..Camp visit, with Murdochs thrown in =-.

2 Barbara Harmel July 23, 2011 at 11:22 pm

All’s well that end’s well. Our children are so often our best teachers.

3 Geekymummy July 31, 2011 at 4:33 am

I’m so glad that 4 likes it, though I’m surprised they didn’t give him (and you) a bit more special attention on his first day. We love our Y preschool, they have a great, down to earth philosophy and also treat their staff very well (good benefits etc). Hope 4 continues to their there

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