“Why couldn’t I go in?” My 3-year-old sobbed. My mom and I were driving away from Liberty Heights after I turned in the enrollment paperwork for his first year of preschool, trying to comfort an inconsolable toddler. Any other year, I’m sure he would have been welcome to join me to turn the packet in and maybe get the first glimpse of the room where he’d be spending 2.5 hours two days a week for the next nine months; but this year, masks were mandated and children weren’t allowed inside all due to COVID.
It isn’t the only change I fear as we begin this new adventure together.
From the time he was born, although my heart ached with the bitter-sweetness of seeing him grow, one thought that made how quickly it all went more bearable was the excitement of preschool! It’s one of my favorite ages of children, and I’m finding it’s no exception with my own son. His personality is blooming – his joy, vigor, and zest for life are infectious.
He is asking questions (quite intelligent questions, too) I might add. And the educator in me is all the more eager to answer him, knowing that his curious mind will eat it all up.
I am a very hands-on mama. Give me all the mommy and me classes, mommy/son dates, storytimes/ I am right there in the action, but when I read the reopening email from the preschool’s director, my heart sank. No parent volunteers. No parent events. These were the moments I had been waiting for. And COVID has taken this from me, from us.
I pray that perhaps since it is his first year in school, he won’t notice my absence in the classroom. That he won’t know anything different when there are no field trips to the pumpkin patch or the famous Thanksgiving dinner with mom and dad. He won’t miss the specials he was supposed to have the opportunity to participate in, because he doesn’t know about them yet.
After the enrollment-packet-turn-in meltdown, I told my little boy that we would go to church there that Sunday so he could walk in the building and see the inside. He lit up with excitement and when he walked in he said, “This looks awesome!” He got to peek inside the door where his preschool classroom was way down at the end of the hall.
And this coming Thursday, he will actually get to GO INSIDE his preschool classroom and meet his teacher!
This is the moment we are waiting for. And this is the one change COVID has brought to our first year of preschool that I’m actually more than okay with, except for the fact that only one parent gets to go to Meet the Teacher Day. Due to social distancing, each student and one parent get their own 15-minute appointment to go into the classroom and meet their teacher. This is actually a very good change for my son. Just me and him.
We will get to have that first meeting, and he won’t be overwhelmed with all of the other kids and parents. He can focus and have the one-on-one attention he craves from his teacher. That’s actually another change I don’t mind. Less students. There will be only 9 in his class, and classes will not mix with other classes. That means more individual attention and hopefully more patience from his teacher. Which I know, my son can be a handful, but given the right circumstances, and a generous helping of praise, I know he will flourish.
Perhaps the hardest change for me, besides not having the opportunity to volunteer or be an active participant in the classroom, is the drop-off procedure for 3-year-old preschool. On his first day, I will drive up under the awning and park my car. His teacher will come to the passenger side, take his temperature and screen him for COVID symptoms, help him unbuckle and get out of his car seat, and then my son will walk away and follow his teacher to his classroom.
I will not get to walk him to the classroom that first day, holding his hand, and giving him a hug and kiss before he walks in and meets his classmates for the first time. I won’t get to see him put his backpack in his cubby, hug his teacher, or sit down and settle down (or not!) for circle time. I won’t know if he settles in or if he takes a little time to warm up. I won’t get to look in the window and catch one more glimpse before I walk away, leaving him in his teacher’s hands.
Instead, I will just watch him walk away.
Into the building, and then I’ll drive away. COVID has taken away the first day of preschool memories I always thought I would have, but as I have made it my motto this whole time of quarantine and social distancing, I won’t focus on what the pandemic has taken from me, I will focus on what we still get to do. We still get to have a first day of preschool. My son still gets to go to preschool, in person, with an actual teacher and other children!
And even though I won’t get to have an active role through volunteering in his preschool classroom, you bet I will be an active participant in his education, by initiating conversations with him about what he is learning in the classroom and providing him with opportunities to extend the learning through our play.