When my daughter was a baby, I was one of those moms who swore my precious snowflake would be my top priority, my one and only, the perfect child of a perfect mother. For some reason, that lead me to declare that I would hold her back from preschool for as long as possible so we could soak up every last minute together and do all the important developmental things, like taking an infant on excursions to art museums and galleries. [Ew. Eye roll.] But 18 months later, when I found out I was expecting my son, I could not drive fast enough to the nearest preschool to register my precious angel for the following school year. I even begged them to enroll her, that day, mid-year, as an 18-month-old. I knew I would need help. Let me explain my about-face.
In my first pregnancy, I suffered from hyperemesis gravidarum (HG). From 4 weeks after conception until the day I delivered 8 months later, I vomited multiple times a day, every day. I was nauseous literally every moment I was awake, was taking more medications than I care to admit now, and was in and out of the hospital for IV fluids and anti-emetic drugs. At 9 months pregnant, I weighed only 3 pounds over my pre-pregnancy weight because I lost so much in the first and second trimesters. It was miserable. But I remember my superstar OB/GYN repeatedly reminding me that the sickest women end up having the healthiest babies. I don’t know if that’s actually true or if she was just trying to encourage me, but it worked. I clung to that hope for months, often from the bathroom floor.
This woman did not feel well. She asked her
husband to take this picture to remind her later
that she would carry no more children. Oops.
And then, at the end of the longest 9 months of my life, I gave birth to a perfectly healthy, beautiful, fully formed and nourished baby girl, as promised. But as a result of my previous HG experience, I panicked when I found out I was pregnant again. I, like, hard-core panicked. I knew that if I got that sick again, there was no way I could properly care for myself, much less an 18-month-old toddler. Thus my mad dash to the preschool; I just needed a safe and nourishing place I could take my daughter on the really bad days. But when it turned out that their 18-month program was already full, as was every other local preschool program I could find on Google, it began to sink in that it would just be me and her and the HG. As a stay-at-home mom and wife to a husband who worked full-time hours out of the home, it would largely be on my shoulders to keep us all in one piece.
Spoiler alert: We made it! Thankfully I was slightly less sick in my second pregnancy, though HG was still very much in the picture, along with some afternoons spent on the bathroom floor and a couple ER visits for fluids. But we started early, before I got too far behind on my fluids and nutrition, with a pump that delivered an antiemetic drug directly into my body through a needle in my belly. It meant I had to wear a medical fanny pack day and night (before fanny packs got cool again), but man, I loved that fanny pack. The Zofran inside helped so much and, along with a few additional oral meds, got me over the hump and through my second pregnancy.
Two months before my son’s due date, I dropped my daughter off for her first day of Preschool 2s. She was exactly 24 months old and had never even spent time with a babysitter who was not an immediate family member. I won’t sugarcoat it- those first two weeks were rough. She cried and clung to me at drop off every morning, while I cried with her from the parking lot. But the teachers and staff at her preschool performed miracles- by the end of the second week, my tiny daughter started looking forward to seeing her teachers and little friends. Within a month, she was coming out of her shy shell and singing her ABCs at top volume. I could see her blossoming before my eyes, and I was so grateful. Grateful for the love and guidance she was receiving from her preschool teachers and pals, and grateful that I was able to relax and rest, knowing that she was in good hands and having a far better time than if she were hanging out on the couch with a nauseous mother.
First day of Preschool 2s!
I started living for those two mornings a week. I was able to rest and concentrate on self-care, as well as prepare for the imminent arrival of my son. Those two mornings gave me life and a much-needed break. Soon I stopped feeling shame for “dumping” my young child off at preschool. I met other moms who also started their babes in preschool at barely two and, like me, they were always on the defensive and ready to defend their decision with a long list of explanations. But then I realized their reasons- and mine- didn’t matter. All I knew was that we were better mothers with that little bit of time away. So when my son was about to turn two, guess what I did? I registered him for preschool! His transition was smooth and flawless because he knew the preschool drill, having watched his big sister rock it since he was a newborn.
It turns out that in addition to being prone to HG, I’m also a closet introvert. Being a mother and experiencing an overload of togetherness winds me up tight, makes me cranky, and spreads me thin. Preschool days give me the time I need to decompress and recharge, even if that means spending my “alone time” at the grocery store. But it is enough, and I am able to more fully enjoy my children after their mornings at school.
I firmly believe that starting my kids’ preschool journey early has made me a better mom. I will never again judge another mom who makes time for herself to rest, recharge, and then return ready to face another day of wrangling their precious, darling, exhausting babies. This mothering gig is hard, sacred work, and we owe it to our children, our partners, and ourselves to be at our very best as often as we can. So you do you, momma, whatever that may be. I’ll be right there with you in the carpool line.
First day of Transitional Kindergarten and Preschool 2s!