All three of my kids have gone to the same wonderful preschool and as a result, my family has been there a long time. A couple of weeks ago, I went to Back to School night there. It was my seventh time going to this event at this school, and it doesn’t vary too much from year to year. I was not super excited to be sitting in the exact same meeting I’d sat in on six other occasions, but because all parents volunteer in the classroom it's part of our training and therefore required.
So there I was, trying my best to pay attention when I'd heard it all before several times, when I found myself trying figure out why it was all suddenly so confusing.
Because my beloved preschool director was saying things but she was also not saying things. And the things she was not saying were being conveyed (at least to me) with alarming and sudden clarity. I started to pay more attention. In fact, I started to translate what I thought the Director actually meant from what she was actually saying. Because she needs to be diplomatic - but she needs to get point across, too.
The first topic I tried to translate was the school's policy on illness. She said something like:
“It’s our policy to protect all of the children in the school from illness. The guidelines regarding fevers, colds and other infectious and communicable diseases are clearly outlined right here. Please review these guidelines again as no exceptions are made.”
But I believe this is what she meant:
“Here’s the deal, people. Don't even think about sending your kids to my school if they're sick. And if your kid is feverish and you dose them with Tylenol and then send them to my school to spread whatever they have to all my other students, I WILL KNOW. As far as this preschool goes, I am all-powerful and it’s my job to protect small people from things like strep throat and Croup AND YOU WILL NOT THWART ME IN THIS MISSION.”
She’s really good at her job because we were all automatically like "Yes Ma'am". Then one mom raised her hand and asked: “What about allergies?”
The Director gave her an appraising look, which said to me clear as day “Woman, please. I WILL KNOW. And I will show you no mercy.” But instead she said: “Instances of prolonged, severe or seasonal allergies should be accompanied by a doctor’s note.” SNAP.
"Our Kiss and Ride service is a privilege. Any persistent rule-breaking (speeding, passing other cars, or getting out of your car) may result in the privilege being removed."
Here's what I'm pretty sure she meant:
"Anyone who speeds or whips around other cars or does anything stupid to endanger THE TINY LITTLE CHILDREN WHO ARE TRYING TO WALK TO THEIR MOMS will be banished to Mordor and the fiery depths of Mount Doom and I'm not even f*cking kidding."
Then she started talking about safety and good behavior and the rules about keeping your hands to yourself and stuff. Time-outs, redirection, zero tolerance for bullying, pretty standard run-through. Then she started talking about when kids are having problems in the classroom. This is what she said:
"Sometimes, when you're volunteering in the classroom, you may observe children having a hard time following directions or behaving themselves in ways that you believe they should. If you're concerned about this, the appropriate thing for you to do is quietly mention it to the teacher. It is not acceptable to talk about children in the hallway, in front of his/her classmates or to chat about it with other parents. While you may not like what you see in the classroom, you do not know that child's situation. We have many children with changes going on at home. At least one kid in every class has either just become or is about to become a big brother or sister. Some children have deployed parents."
What I think she meant was:
"Don't just assume a kid is a brat and a menace because you observed them for an hour. Are you a licensed clinical social worker or child psychologist? What? What was that? NO? Then don't talk about a little, bitty kid that you don't even know."
Then it got interesting:
"We have several children with special needs in our school, some of which we know about and some of which we will learn about in the school year to come. One of these kids may be in your child's class. One of these may even be your child. Please know every child, of every ability, is welcomed and valued here."
A couple of moms raised eyebrows and I could see them going down the what-if crazy spiral: "What do you mean there are special needs kids in my kid's classroom? Does that mean my kid will get less attention? What if there's behavior issues? What if my kid doesn't learn enough to be ready for Kindergarten? What if they have a bad year in preschool and then don't get picked to be in the gifted program which would derail my entire life plan for my child?" And you could tell, in their hearts, they were pretty concerned. But the Director must have anticipated that, because what she meant was clearly:
"Every child, of every ability is welcomed and valued here. And if you have a problem with that, don't let the door hit you."
So while I was nodding in agreement, I began to notice that the reaction of the other parents ranged from total agreement to mild concern to one case of severe constipation. Then shit got real. The Director continued:
"Getting used to a thriving and diverse classroom environment is part of getting kids ready for Kindergarten and for life. We have excellent schools in our community and every single one of them contains children with different needs and abilities. At some point in the future, your child will have classmates who have ADD, ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorders, anxiety, sensory processing issues, or a learning disorder. That is part of life and our education system."
And having older kids, I knew that to be totally true. And what I think she meant to convey was:
"This may come as a shock to some of you, but there is no normal anymore. There are just kids and families dealing with their lives. And if the idea of having a kid with a difference or a special need in your child's classroom is a problem for you, you may want to consider moving to a parallel freaking universe. This is life, please be prepared to deal with it and be cool about it. Because these folks are part of your world and maybe part of your family. And that's me getting you ready for Kindergarten."
And not everyone may agree with that. But I do. And that's why I love our preschool.