I just realized the summer that just started is actually also just about to end. Only, the ending of this summer for us means the beginning of a new journey, a new schedule, and chapter in our lives. In a few short weeks, preschool will be a thing of the past. Kindergarten is on the horizon.
For the past five years, I envisioned this point in time to feel so satisfying, like how it feels when you make your final car payment. I thought being done with the monthly expense of childcare would be so freeing. In reality, I don't feel that way at all.
It hit me recently when I came to pick up my daughter at her preschool at the end of the day. The children were outside playing and I went into the classroom to gather her things. Alone in the room, I looked around and took it all in—the centers filled with bins and categorized toys, the handmade art hanging on the wall, the seasons and birthday calendars, the books and little tables and pint-sized chairs and all of the bold and vibrant colors and charts...and I could go on and on.
This is early-childhood. I wiped away a tear from my eye.
This place has nurtured and supported my little girl's life in a million ways and until now, I hadn't really appreciated the sacredness of this space. This is the place where she has made her first friends, where she coped with natural losses and transitions when educators or friends would move away, where she learned about who she is in relation to others and the world.
This is probably the only, and last, place in time where play will be valued as much as aptitude and productivity.
You see, when I first found out I was having a baby, I was absolutely overjoyed. However, just a few weeks into my pregnancy, I was shocked when I started looking into childcare options. If I had known, like actual monetary figures, how much childcare would cost, sometimes I wonder if I would have had the guts to have a baby.
All of the options at the time were about the same, over a grand per month. I felt sick. I questioned if I was irresponsible to have decided it was the right time to have a child. I had student loans, and a mortgage, after all!
When the baby came and maternity leave ended and it was time to start at the childcare center, I would be lying if I said I wasn't resentful about the costs. In fact, I have complained a lot about that over the years. Childcare is so darn expensive.
In my state of sticker-shock, what I failed to see right away was the invaluable experience it had become not only for my daughter but for the family. I think back now to the early days, schlepping in the mornings with bottle bags and baby food, feeling exhausted and overwhelmed. Leaving my child in the care of nurturing people who had a routine, structure and patience was so vital. I was able to be a mom and go out in the world and do good, purposeful work, all the while knowing that my daughter would also be doing the important work of being a baby and napping, and singing songs and creating adorable toddler art. All of our needs were being met.
As time passed on, the value only increased. My 18-month old had a "best friend" and his name was Texas. Is there anything cuter than that?
When we moved to a neighboring town, and that meant changing childcare centers, I grieved so ridiculously hard for what that loss would be like for her. A toddler. Losing her Texas. But really, the grief was mine.
I didn't want to admit it, but this place that I had resisted in so many ways from the start, had actually become for me the one consistent element in our chaotic little lives as a new family of three.
And now, with a near 6-year-old, it's all about to wrap up.
The grief again is mine. I think about all of the women over these years who provide childcare and what absolute unsung heroes they are. There is no dollar amount I could pay them that would adequately compensate for the loving and tireless work they perform day in and day out for children they love as their own.
Preschool teachers have my utmost respect and admiration and I am committed, let it be known here, that if I ever win the lottery, I will be sharing my prize with the entire staff at the pre-school as a small token of my appreciation.
When my dad met my newborn for the first time, he looked at her and said to me, "You will blink and she will be starting kindergarten." Well, folks, I blinked and here we are.
It's a beautiful thing—growth and transition and change. My girl is ready for kindergarten and she is well-prepared. But as I stood in that empty classroom, flooded with grief for the loss of this precious period of time in our lives and shame for the pitiful complaints about the financial costs, I realized that all of this is part of the lesson. Preschool is about character development, and not just for the child.
So, as we bid this season in our lives farewell, I am allowing myself to feel all the feelings, but mostly embrace gratitude for what I once thought was an unreasonable expense, that ultimately became such an unbelievable value.