We've been talking up Pre-K (aka Big Girl School, aka Thunderdome) for some time in our house now. We've discussed with Olivia how there's going to be a new schedule, new friends, lots of new and exciting things to do and the fact that Tina Turner may, or may not, be one of her new teachers. Last week we kicked things off with a 3-day shortened schedule (two 1-hour days and one half day) to get our feet wet and make the transition easier for everyone. Our feet definitely got wet, but I wouldn't necessarily call the transition easy. And that goes for more than just Olivia.
Short Day #1 (9:30-10:30 a.m.)
All that excited talk and build up leading to today decided to bite us completely in the ass. Olivia woke up and deemed the outfit she picked out the night before no good, and then turned down every other article of clothing we offered as an alternative. She refused to clean up after going potty, and then wouldn't put on her clothes once she found some that were worthy of adorning her regal skin. She was nervous and anxious, and all I could think about was trying to get her past those menial tasks so she could go play and relax before we had to leave.
My main problem was that I was frustrated with her refusal to help out, which did very little to help calm her down. It was hard to dial it back when we'd been working hard for so long to get her to a point where she could do some of these things with little or no help. Thankfully my wife was there to help remind me that she's still just a toddler, that this was a huge transition for her (she's been in the same daycare since she was 3 months old) and that what she really needed right then was our help to ease her anxiety. I snapped out of it, tried to be more mindful of what I needed to be doing, then went into the kitchen to fix up something that doctors have been prescribing since the dawn of time to help ease stress and tension: pancakes.
The pancakes definitely helped to bring things back to normal, but it was our time together at the breakfast table that sealed the deal. We joked, giggled and did everything we could to bring the mood back up. It was good to see Olivia smiling again, and it seemed like the tide was turning just as we needed to leave. Then Olivia said she had to potty, ran into the bathroom and peed through her clothes and all over our rug. I wish I could say it was a little bit, but this was more on the biblical flood side of potty accidents. We hosed her off in the tub while trying to remain positive, put on a fresh change of clothes (approval still pending) and dashed out the door to make our bus. Of course, true to fashion, the bus was late and we ended up not needing to rush after all. Sigh.
Upon getting to the school we learned that Olivia would be in the blue class (all of them are color coded according to rooms), and that one of her friends from daycare would be there with her as well. It was such a relief to know she'd have a friend there to help make the transition easier. The teachers (3 to a class) were super nice, welcoming and friendly, but it was the room itself that won Olivia over. Each classroom contains multiple stations to promote play, creativity and learning. There's space to paint and draw, a water table, a sand box and a laboratory for experimenting with plutonium and how it can facilitate time travel. Needless to say, these kids are going to be fully engaged and have a great time while doing it. The only problem we had was getting Olivia to leave once that day's session ended. I swear I heard her asking a teacher if they had on-site student dormitories she could live in.
By the end of the day Olivia was pretty exhausted, but still very anxious and willing to make things complicated before bedtime. She knew she was going back to Big Girl School the next day, but she decided she didn't want to be a big girl anymore. She reverted back to baby talk, wanted to crawl on the floor rather than walk, demanded milk instead of food and tore up her Big Girl Union membership card. She refused to go to sleep, but eventually caved after I threatened to not let her go to this week's movie night at daycare. Hopefully with some rest we could all have a better start to the second day of school.
Short Day #2 (9:30-10:30 a.m.)
Learning from yesterday's mistakes, I tried to make the start of Day 2 go a little better. It was rainy and dreary, so I knew Olivia wouldn't get up right away. I went into her room and sat with her, trying to gently ease her awake and let her know I was there for her. After waking up she sat in my lap and I asked her if she was nervous or scared about her new school. She nodded her head yes, and I did my best to console her. I explained that it's okay to feel that way, and that mommy and daddy feel that way sometimes too. I promised her everything would be ok, gave her a big hug and then basked in the warmth of the moment I was sharing with my daughter. Then she asked if it was raining, which I acknowledged, and she jumped off my lap and darted out of the room saying, "I want to wear my yellow rain boots!" Moment over, I suppose.
The rest of the morning went off without a hitch, thanks to the novelty of wearing those rain boots. We got to school on time and joined all the other parents herding their water-logged kids inside. The teachers request that children wash their hands before entering the classroom, so we decided to tell Olivia that the teachers also want her to try and potty then too (white lies, my friends). After doing both we entered the classroom and Olivia got a little hesitant, mainly because she knew we had to leave her alone with the teachers and other students that day. She called me over to come play with her and one of the teachers pointed out that a painting she made the day prior was now hanging on the wall. I asked her to show me which one it was, went over to inspect it, and when I turned around Olivia had found a classmate and was already off in her own world having fun. So I made like Snagglepuss and exited, stage left before she spotted I was gone.
Jodi and I sat in a waiting area and chatted with another parent who has 3 kids in the school system. She explained the logistics of how her mornings go, and I pretty much had to stop thinking that we have it so hard. When I speak to parents like that I sometimes feel like I'm merely in the JV parenting league, while they're working hard in the majors. At the end of the hour we were ushered out to the courtyard and proceeded to watch as the children arrived in a single file line at the exit door. It was only the second day, but the teachers already had them working at getting the routine down. We made visual contact with Olivia and, as we hoped, she was all smiles and waving. Success!
This day ended pretty much the same as the day prior, but with a little less baby talk and a lot more refusing to go to bed. It was a bit harder this time, because the next day we needed to start at the normal time (8 a.m.), which meant she had to get up earlier and we'd have less time to deal with delays over getting ready. But, try explaining that to a nearly 4 year old who knows better than you.
Me: "You're going to be really, really tired in the morning if you don't get rest. And we have to get up earlier for school."
Me: "You want to have enough energy to play with your friends at school, right?"
Olivia (with extra saliva this time): "Pbblllltttt."
Me: "I see your point. Enjoy your wet pajamas. I'll see you in the morning."
Day 3: Half Day (8:00-11:00 a..m.)
Unsurprisingly, it was a groggy start to the day. We let Olivia stay in bed for a bit, and in the end it came down to asking whether she wanted to give up movie night to get her motivated and moving. We made it out the door on time but, again, the bus was late. Luckily we made it to school on time, but we're really going to have to be careful with how unreliable the bus system seems to be. Maybe we can experiment with taking the subway, or find alternative modes of transportation like renting a pony, leasing a golf cart or hopping on a skateboard and skitching to school.
We went back, picked Olivia up and walked with her daycare friend and her dad. Both of them were all smiles, giggles and filled with energy. It'll be interesting to see what happens when they start going for full days. The emphasis is on learning through play, as well as time for physical activity, so I'm sure they're going to be spent until they get used to the new routine. As for Jodi and I, we need to get used to the new routine as well as being part of the school system. There are new rules to adhere to, school holidays that will require us to find alternative care or to try and work from home, and the two words that we haven't had to think about or plan for since we were in college: summer vacation.
Regardless of the initial stress and the changes that are happening, we are very excited to have Olivia be starting Pre-K. The facility is amazing, and the faculty seem like they will be just the same. We love that it is play based learning, and that she won't get too overwhelmed by being in school. We're also looking forward to the Fall and Spring parent-teacher meetups, where we get to learn more about how Olivia is doing in school. I for one am fascinated at the idea of learning more about how Olivia is learning, adapting and socializing in school.
I want to do everything I can to help our daughter enjoy this experience, as well as get the most out of learning. I was not the best student in high school or college, but I've grown to love learning more as an adult. This is mostly because I have a better understanding of how I actually learn (I'm more visual and kinesthetic, rather than auditory), so I take advantage of that. My hope is to one day help Olivia to find this as well, so she can excel and have the fullest educational experience possible. But, for now, I'm happy with her just being a kid and having fun in a school setting. She's got plenty of time to grow up, so there's no rush. Ok, maybe she needs to hurry up and figure out how to put her shoes on by herself. Is that too much to ask for?