To School or Not to School

I’ve been obsessing lately. It’s not unusual. I always seem to have some kind of bees in my bonnet. Lately the sujet du obsession is school.

Or should I say “school.”

Maybe this is just the way it is now, but here they call it “school,” no matter the age. “Day care” is practically blasphemy. And everybody puts their kids in “school” by the age of 2. Some real radicals wait until age 3. As my eldest approaches the age of 4, we are entering into an entirely new category of weird.

Which is fine by me, you all know. The prevalence of nursery school is enough to make me dig my heels. But even besides rebellion for rebellion’s sake, and despite all the bitching I do here, I love having my kids home. They’re little, they won’t be for long, it’s a distinct privleged to be able to watch them bloom on such an intimate level.

But my little girl has always been a gregarious creature. When we first moved here 2 years ago she was clearly suffering some clinical deprival (so was I to be honest). She would practically attack anyone her size on the street, holding their hand, stroking their face and gleefully announcing her new friend. I had to work hard to provide her with the socializing she needed. It took awhile, but I got it under control. Among other things I happened to meet a soul-mate mama at the park who had two kids of very similar ages. We started hanging out every afternoon. We were both going crazy and doing two outings a day anyway, so it worked.

But as time went on our kids grew out of their crazy rough patches, nobody was quite so desperate and our afternoon meetings dwindled. She lives a 15-20 minute drive from us, and it just seemed hard to coordinate. Lately we only hang out once every week or two.

And that was okay for awhile. But recently, my little girl’s been having a rebirth of social desperation. We have a few great friends now, even right in our own neighborhood, but they all have younger kids. She very obviously needs peers or older. In one sad scene last week she followed a random 5yo girl around like a puppy, drooling on her shoes and gazing at her with rapt attention. The older girl was less than amused by the attention. It was excruciating.

At least it beat it into my head that it’s time to take action. I realized that all the other 4yos (and most of the 3yos) were in school, and therefore casual exposure to kid places like the park and the Parenting Center wasn’t going to cut it anymore. If I wanted my girl to get peer interactions I would have to get back to work actively and specifically socializing with kids her age, or join the crowd and put her in school.

I am not opposed to school, even when it’s just day-care in disguise. I had looked into it once, back when I was going crazy. I would have considered it very seriously if there were any openings, but child care is tight around here, and mid-year was hopeless. I stuck it out because I had to and in the end, once things mellowed out a bit, I was glad I hadn’t found a spot for her. Glad she had stayed home with us.

Not that I think one mama cloistered at home with one or two kids, all day every day represents a perfect situation. It’s too much, for everyone involved. Too intense, too hard, too inbred. This work is meant to be shared. I think the ideal for most families would be that antiquated model of the feral kid pack, running around doing who knows what, entertaining each other and moderately supervised by the community at large. The parents would be generally around, and kids would drift in and out of their parent’s day. Parallel, nearby.

More modern possibilities are splitting the parenting, with both parents working part-time outside the home. Or childcare help from grandparents and families. Any kind of spreading out is good. But these ideals are hard to achieve or simply not available to most of us nowadays.

So we make do with whatever we can manage, basing our decisions on our kiddos’ and our own needs. I have perhaps higher than normal needs for time to myself. My girl has perhaps higher than normal needs for social interactions with kids her age. Some sort of group care makes a lot of sense at first glance.

But the more I think it through, the more confused I get. The options are so limited. The 3 hours a day/3 days a week option that was available when she was 2 has apparently expired. Now, at 4 years old, if she wants to go to “school” it’s pre-K, and it’s 5 hours a day, five days a week.

Just a little rant here. When I was a kid, kindergarden was 3 hours a day. For 5 year olds. Maybe I’m being too sensitive, but 5 hours a day seems like a long time to be entirely absent from my 4yo’s world, and vise-versa. I mean, I know lots of people do 8 hours a day, from 6 months old. And their kids grow up perfectly fine. But, for myself and our family, that just feels too long.

Then there is, quite critically, the issue of the 1.5 year old. He has every bit as much social need as his big sis, so I would still have to do a morning outing or playdate. Not to mention that the schools run from 8-1 and let out in the middle of his naptime. I’d have to leave sis in the “aftercare” for another hour I guess, which brings it to 6 hours away.

In my perfect world I could take the 4yo to school from 12-3. Then I would have the Babe’s naptime to myself, free and clear. But even if I could find a school with those hours (which I can’t) she kind of needs that quiet time in the middle of the day. She watches a movie or plays by herself, and it looks to be quite restorative. I don’t think replacing that down time with a manic kid environment would be helpful in the long run.

Lastly, it always comes back to money. Regardless of what would or wouldn’t work, we can’t afford it. The reputable places add up to at least $6,000/school year. That’s a lot of dough. I’d still have the little guy, so it’s not like I can go to work in the free time.

So after thinking everything through 6 or 7 times, I arrived at the expected conclusion of no, I don’t want to send her to school yet. I did enroll her in a short summer “camp” at the Waldorf school. Four hours a day, five days a week for two weeks. $200, which is on the low end around here. I think she’ll love it.

We have been doing a music class for a year now, which both kids adore. She graduates into the older kids’ session in the fall, which will be even better. I think I will sign her up for a dance class too, since there’s a ballet studio nearby. I don’t give a rat’s ass about ballet, but it’s 6 blocks away, and the prices are reasonable.

Apart from that, I’m just going to work harder to socialize. Make regular dates with my soul-mate mama friend and her eligibly aged, un-schooled son. And see if I can’t find a few more un-schooled 4 year olds in this damned city.

That’s when I had my epiphany. I remembered a friend telling me she’d heard rumors of an unschooling group in New Orleans. I had always thought school started at 5, but if everyone else’s 4yo is in school, then 4 (or even 3) is the new 5. So, if my 4yo daughter stays home with me while all her peers are in school, that means I am homeschooling her. There’s a name for it! And implicitly, possibly, other families like ours!

I searched online. It took some looking, but eventually I found them. 2 homeschool groups and an unschooling group. Oh joy! I signed up for all three and almost immediately got a sympathetic email from one of the coordinators, hooking me up with a woman who also had younger kids and lived in my part of town. I emailed her, and she emailed me and the long and short of it is that she lives–

One.

Block.

Away.

She has two boys, a 3yo and a 6yo, and she’s pregnant. I had her over this morning and we talked almost non-stop for two hours. Not a soul-mate perhaps, but darn good company. The kids took a little while to warm up, but eventually my girl had a wonderful time following the 6yo around.

What if I hadn’t joined that group? How long would we have kept passing like ships in the night, never knowing the other was there?

I’m telling you this story because you may know someone in a similar situation, or you may be in a similar situation, and if you’re in a situation like this there’s only one thing you can do (bonus points to anyone who gets this random refferrence)–

Never give up!

Some freak a lot like you might live just around the corner.