Monday, September 19, 2011

The Dark Side of Preschool (and Other Moments of Parenting Doubt)

I'm having a day full of parenting doubt. Don't get me wrong, I know that I'm a parenting work-in-progress. But I've just been hit with minor things relating to both kids that make me feel like a crummy parent.

Like the children of many other bloggers, Teddy started at our local co-op preschool last week. It's just lovely, and we're really excited about going into the classroom with him every 5 weeks. He will be going three days a week, but last week he only attended two days. Unlike the children of the other bloggers, though, we're run into a big hiccough. He has a lot of fun while he's there, the drop-offs are just awful. I am not surprised, but it just sucks. Today, he dragged his feet walking to school; he knew what was coming and was trying to delay it.

The all-out freakouts are unsurprising for several reasons:

1) He's done this before. He was not a fan of leaving my side all last year during my Familia sessions at our church, even though he was familiar with the setting and the kids. He warmed up as the year went on, but he was always reluctant to be left in the playroom. He was like this when Dave dropped him off at the home of his caregiver, too. He'd been going there for 1.5 years, and he would still get upset when Dave dropped him off. In fact, he started doing this well after he'd been there for a year. I imagine that there's a developmental component in all this.

2) He's no daredevil. Teddy is just a cautious kid and it takes him a while to warm up to new things. Yesterday, we were at the home of his friend Claire (and our friends Mark and Tania) and we started the movie "Rio". Teddy is no fan of birds. He tried to tough it out, but he just couldn't watch. Dave and I joke that this guy will not be in the Xgames. His sister, perhaps, but not him.

3) As much as it pains me, I was like this as a child. I'm pretty sure that Dave was, too. And all of our parents. (Full disclosure - writing about this is making me tear up.) For those of you who don't know me in real life, and even those of you who do, it may come as a surprise how much I struggle with trying new things. I have an innate desire to please people and a fear of letting people down, of embarrassing myself, of failing. And so any time I encounter something new or unknown, my very first thought is "I cannot do this." I'm often told that I am everyone's cheerleader. I am very, very good at encouraging people, and it stems from the massive amount of self-encouragement I've had to muster over the years.

Whenever I encounter new things, I convince myself that I can do it based on what I've done in the past. I'll say "Self, you may not have done this exact thing, but you've done x, y, and z - things which are similar and may have been harder". And in order to get to this point, I've had to push outside my comfort zone. And I see Teddy doing something similar. When he encounters something new, he'll try to talk himself down. "Don't worry,", he'll tell himself over and over, "It's ok. Don't worry." It breaks my heart a bit, but in a good way.

I know that he needs opportunities to stretch and grow, so that he, too, can gain self confidence. But it's hard, you guys. It's hard to see my tender-hearted, trusting little guy so upset. I mean - he's not upset for long. There are trucks and cars and slides there. But he's like his parents and grandparents - he feels things very deeply. I don't want him to become hard-hearted, to shut down because of the fear.

And it's causing a visceral reaction for me because it's the first time I'm seeing one of my less-desirable character traits in my children. Well - let me rephrase. It's not a less-desirable trait, per se. I think it makes me more empathetic. But it's a tendency with which I've always struggled and while I know that I can't blunt his struggles and suffering, I also know first hand how difficult it is to deal with this trait. I wish I could have given him all the confidence I've acquired over the years without all the work I've had to do to get it.

I can't do that. And truthfully, I'm not sure that I'd want to. Much of that confidence stems from actually having done the work, having overcome struggles. And it's so much more meaningful as a result. But I thought I'd have more than 2.5 years before I'd have to confront this part of parenthood. I guess not! I think this is a tiny sliver of what Mary felt at the foot of the cross. She'd have taken on all of his suffering, if she could. But suffering is necessary for something better, something stronger, something more beautiful and lasting. I need to keep that in perspective.

The situation with Veronica is less heart-wrenching. She's dropping on the growth charts - from 90th to 75th percentile. I know that it makes sense. We're not big people, and the last time she was weighed she hadn't yet started to move independently. She's constantly on the go now, so it makes sense that she's only gone from 21lbs, 8 oz to 22lbs, 10 oz in 3 months. She's grown 2.5 inches, too. But we went straight from preschool drop off to the doctor's office and it was just something else, you know?

But - it's a gorgeous fall day. After naps, we have a play date with one of Teddy's favourite buddies. And Veronica spent the first 3 minutes of her nap laughing in her sleep. Onward and upward, right?


  1. I can't believe that in all the years I've known you, I had *no idea* that you struggled with trying new things. You've always seemed very confident and are always doing lots of new things - whether it was musical theatre in high school, leadership positions in university, traveling, career moves, etc., etc., etc. I've experienced your excellent cheerleading firsthand many times over the years as I've embarked on new challenges, with you always there to support, encourage and celebrate it, but I always attributed it to your caring for other people and your incredible loyalty to your friends. I didn't know that it stemmed from the need for self-encouragement you've had to muster over the years. I can't believe I didn't know this before!

  2. Ugh Sarah I'm so sorry. I totally relate to seeing less-desirable things in your kids. Even though it's not really like a LESS DESIRABLE thing, it's just a personality trait you wish were different or whatever, or one you've struggled with. Anyway, I just wanted to tell you that Elizabeth/Princess Nebraska's Eli had a really hard time with preschool drop off for quite a while. I think she blogged about it a few times. Maybe that will make you feel better!

  3. My daughter goes through cycles - for awhile drop-off will be horrific with a lot of separation anxiety (usually when she has a new teacher), then she'll have no problems for awhile. Like everything else, I'm sure it's temporary. He just needs more time to get used to it.