When we first decided to move to Austin, finding a school - the right school - was a Big Scary Unknown. Cheeky, who is 4, was due to continue at an elite institution of lower education. Now of course I adore Cheeky but I was psyched for school this year - finally she'd be attending full time and I could reclaim some of my life. It was simple - I had to find something comparable (but hopefully and undoubtedly less expensive).
So I did some online searching to find a school in Austin. Following a brief episode of panic wherein I decided, emphatically, that a) no school would have an opening b) no school would offer a full day and c) Crouton would live and work in Austin and we would stay in Brooklyn, we found some options.
I made a bunch of phone calls and sent Crouton a-visitin'.
We narrowed the list down to two. Both felt, to Crouton, similar to Cheeky's old school in vibe and philosophy. One is located a quick and easy 5-minute drive from our home-to-be. The other is about a 15-minute drive through shopping mall- and traffic-infested streets. Ding ding ding, we have a winner.
I was happy to learn right from the start that Cheeky - and I - would have a full day. More, in fact.
When I asked the school administrator what time the day starts and stops, I got an interesting reply:
School: Well, we open at 7:30 and we close at 5:30.
Me: Really? Are you a daycare or a school?
We are a nationally accredited preschool (sounding slightly offended).
But you have no set start and end time?
We like to be flexible for the parents, but most of the learning-based activities take place between 9am and 3pm.
What??? Flexible? For the parents? Did she really just say that? Clearly we weren't in Brooklyn anymore.
OK, I thought, flexible is good. Weird and completely foreign to everything I know, but definitely a good thing. Imagine if, one day, I was - gasp - doing something for myself and wanted to take some extra time? No problem, just show up later.
But I also thought, really, is there so little structure to what you're doing there all day that it makes no difference whatsoever when the kids come and go?
I opted to give them the benefit of the doubt, deciding that maybe it's not that weird and abnormal for a preschool to be flexible, that maybe instead New York is weird and abnormal for not being flexible and accommodating.
Then school started, and I noticed a few things.
Cheeky, the World's Most Picky eater, was downright gleeful when she learned that her teachers would heat her lunch. Oh. My. God. She could have grilled cheese! Dinosaur nuggets! Kraft dinner! The possibilities were endless.
So imagine my surprise when I peeked into her lunchbox at pickup to see what was left, and her whole sandwich was there.
Um, Cheeky, you didn't like your sandwich?
It was cold. My teachers forgot to warm it up.
So you didn't ask them to heat it?
Oh, did I mention I also have the World's Most Passive child?
When I asked her teachers the next day, they sort of sighed and said, oh yeah, we were running behind and some stuff got forgotten.We'll try to remember tomorrow.
Speaking of food, let's talk about the bowls of snacks out at all times (really? a bowl of cold corn and a stack of paper bowls?) and the kids bellying up to the fridge (it teaches them independence!) to retrieve the remnants of their lunches at any given hour (usually 3 though, it seems). One of things I found most valuable about school was the distraction it provided our not-surprisingly but clearly-definitely snack-prone kid.
Then, there's the mayhem. I arbitrarily decided that I'd pick Cheeky up at 3ish the first day. The next day when I realized most of the other kids were still there and she had no interest in leaving with me, the time slid back until about 3:30. Today, Crouton was planning to be at his millionth fantasy football draft, missing dinner/bedtime chores, so I left Cheeky at school until 4 to minimize my parental responsibilities. What's my point? It's this: Chaos Reigns. It really seems, regardless of what time I show up at school (and I just walk right in, nah, you're not interrupting anything), the room is in complete and utter disarray, the children are in complete and utter disarray and, not surprisingly, the teachers are in complete and utter disarray.
So much so that the other day, I noticed a princess blanket-shaped lump in a corner by a window and asked the head teacher, um, who's that? A look of shock came over her face, she turned and race-walked to the lump, whom she roused, saying, wake up! You shouldn't still be sleeping, that's waay too long of a nap. The poor kid had no clue. She's a sound sleeper and was forgotten in a corner.
All of this is not to say that Cheeky doesn't love school or that I don't feel that she's completely safe, nurtured and happy during the day. I consider myself a pretty laid-back mom. But really, a feeding trough? Forgotten nappers? Flexible hours?
Maybe I just need to loosen up even more. Sure, this school doesn't have the celebrity spawn (I think this one or this one is best we can hope for) that her old one does. Nor does it have the sense of structure. Order. The resources of an elite private school. But at the end of the day (whatever time that may be), does it really matter? She's happy. I'll be happy too.