with apologies to imiriam, I should admit that the Toddles has had a birthday.
Oh, yes, the boy is FOUR, people. A calmly certain, then bouncing-and-shrieking, then curling up and cuddling, then leaping on my back four.
(Actually, right now he's a coughing, febrile, self-hydrating and calmly vomiting four, but let's not get sidetracked. Four.)
And he's in preschool.
It's like wandering in a haze, a sort of improbable dream, but one with sad edges in it - but yes, he's in preschool. I bring him to school, and the lead teacher smiles at me. Thank you for bringing our boy today, she tells me. I pick him up, and one of the teachers waves good-bye. Thank you for sharing your boy with us, they say. And over and over, we're so glad to have you as part of our school.
No, really? Even if we roughly triple the costs of your food budget - and we know that you are on a shoestring, and one of the classrooms is pretty small this year...really? Really. And that's when they hug me.
I keep waiting for them to become human, to make a snarky comment or look irritated. To make a decision based purely on pragmatism, rather than on what is best for my child- and for all of their children. Hey, I wrote to the director. We're going to be away on Friday, we're driving to NY for the holidays. This might be a good time, if you wanted to serve non-Toddle-friendly challah at snack time. The next day, the lead teacher caught me on my way in the door. We had a staff meeting, she said, and we talked about your suggestion. Our concern is that the children might learn that some things can be had when the Toddles isn't at school, and that this is something to look forward to. We don't want them associating his presence with something negative, or his absence as something to look forward to. Oh.
Who are these women? How do they get this so absolutely, astonishingly right? Sure, sure, they're mothers and grandmothers, former health care professionals, people who think and care and dammit, build and design a lot of their classroom materials. But anyone can do that, right?
All of that?
(I'm admitting now that my astonishment and wonder is, yes, a defense mechanism. I'm very much hoping that the bar really isn't that high...because dang, I left my pole-vaulting shoes at home. Um, or something.)
Look what I have for you, kiddo! said the lead teacher one morning. The Toddles, fresh from a 35 minute car ride in which the backseat taught the front about basic addition (oh, me achin' head), grinned. She held up a lunch tray, and showed him the circle that she'd drawn on it with a marker. The Toddles watched, carefully. She handed him a handful of little duck erasers. Count them, she invited. And he did. Ten!
Okay, now toss them on the tray. And he did.
How many landed inside the circle? The Toddles counted: six.
How many landed outside of the circle? The Toddles counted: four.
So how many ducks do you have? I was tempted to whip out some fingers and count, but he Toddles beamed - this was a no-brainer: ten! And threw the ducks again.
The next day, he asked for dice, and the teacher offered him a bowlful. And a notebook. I left him, rolling dice, adding up the numbers and carefully inscribing his equations in the notebook.
So I ask again, who the hell are these people? We have an ongoing debate as to whether people can really understand chronic care from empathy alone. Whether you just have to walk it in our shoes - or some other pair of diagnosed shoes - to understand just how crucial a child's life is. How potentially fragile, how not ever, ever to be taken lightly. And then, once you understand the seriousness and scope of the challenge, how to grin and joke about it.
Sometimes, I think that you have to wear the shoes. Sometimes, I'm wrong. Sometimes, it just takes a person with enough caring to think about a kid on their own terms, rather than how the kid fits into a relevant silhouette, or pigeonhole. These women do just that: they think Toddle when they see Toddle, they think Adorable Girl when they see Adorable Girl.
He's got a brain in motion, they told me. Full of thoughts. He led circle time on the difference between what God created and what Man creates - ask him about it. And did you know, he'd rather write than draw? (I didn't) And we've noticed that he doesn't like loud noises. (I nod) Or transitions. (I smack my head, thinking of the umpteen impossibly irritating late departures, the Toddles running around, delightedly bare-arsed, despite having already been absolutely, firmly dressed for the day.) But even when he doesn't want to join the class, he's very cheerful about finding something that he will do. Like doing everything that the class does during music, while standing in the doorway. (we grin at each other, delighted by the idea of the kidlet finding a way to take part in the goings-on - but on his own terms. We pause to reassure each other that this is, in fact, just fine. That we consider preschool to be a good thing, even if the boy isn't in the middle of the room, clanging away on a tambourine or whatnot with the other tambourine clangers. We stop reassuring, realizing that we actually agree.)
Bloody hell, you'd think I built these people from a kit. A parenting, pedagogical, caring something that had me folding an intricate origami of preschool as I'd wish it to be. And yet, there it is, sans papercuts. Worth every bit of the 40 minute drive. And just as I'd started twitching, waiting for the other shoe to drop, the dream to pop, there it was:
the vast majority of the parent population appear to be Republicans.
I'm not kidding here, people, and let me tell ya: I demand caring, I demand that my child be accepted and adapted to (or else I'll leave, so there!) and I require open-mindedness. I do not appear to return the favor, however, to those who sneer about public options.
Bloody idiots. (But I owe them for providing that shoe)