For the past two weeks, dropping off and picking up my son from preschool has had a dramatic change in vibe since the school year started. My boy, who has been stuck to me like Krazy Glue from the moment he was born, has been sprinting into his preschool class like he’s the next Usain Bolt. He barely waits for me to help him to remove his jacket, snowpants and outdoor boots before he excitedly gets his day started with his little playmates. He still turns around when I ask him to give me a hug and kiss before I leave, but it’s no longer the extended, drawn-out, affectionate, neverending embrace that I’ve become accustomed to; rather, he gives me a quick hug and a peck on lips, and before I can say goodbye, he turns around as quickly as possible to march proudly into his class.
Although it tears me up a bit that I’m Chopped Liver as soon as we arrive to preschool, I couldn’t be happier or more proud of my boy, because I know the work it’s taken to get to this place. I remember the first day I dropped off my daughter to home daycare when she was a little over a year old, and her independence displayed itself quite prominently at that early stage: she noticed the toy trucks, books, and other babies, speed-crawled to go play with them, and didn’t bother to even glance back at me. As hard as it was as a mother to leave her on that first day back to work, it put my mind at ease that the transition to daycare went so smoothly, and it made my emotional transition back into the workforce considerably easier than I thought it would be. Fast-forward two years later to when I dropped my son off at the same home daycare, and I can still vividly recall the pout on his lip, the heartbreak in his eyes, and the crocodile tears rolling down his cheeks. His reaction caused me to cry uncontrollably after dropping him off – I knew he was in the best of hands, but I couldn’t shake that feeling of Mom Guilt that so many of us feel when we return to our careers.
My son eventually adapted to his home daycare, with a caregiver who loved him like her own children. We often call her a saint; she was not just a caregiver to our two children from the ages of 1 – 3, but she was (and still is) family. My son has had an exceptional amount of physical and mental energy from the time he was born; often so much so that he would get our caregiver kicked out of circle time when she took the kids to the local drop-in for playdates, because he simply refused to sit still in a circle. As he grew and developed, my husband and I saw what a sweet, smart boy he was – but his emotional demands were considerably high. His tantrums were more frequent and challenging, and his frustrations were considerably greater than what we experienced with our daughter at that age. Our caregiver, however, has an incredible amount of patience; she helped us to nurture and develop the areas where our son had challenges and still recognized all the great things about him.
When it came time to consider transitioning my son to preschool, our caregiver asked me out of kindness and concern if we thought he was ready. It was a question I’d wrestled with for a while; he was doing well with a small group of two other kids, but I wasn’t sure if he was ready yet for a more classroom-like environment. Given his high demands and the high student-teacher ratio in a larger group of kids, I wasn’t sure how well he would adapt. My husband felt it was time to try him in a larger environment, and after much discussion, I agreed. We wanted to see how he did with kids his own age, and we wanted to provide him with the experience of integrating into a larger group of kids before he started kindergarten.
On Day 1 of preschool, I knew it would be hard. We walked by my son’s caregiver’s house along the way, and he was confused with why we didn’t stop there, even though we’d been talking to him about preschool for weeks. He had tears in his eyes for the rest of the walk. When we finally arrived, he wouldn’t let go of my leg, or my hand. I walked around the class with him to try to entice him into an activity. He still refused to let go of my hand. The teachers were patient, understanding, and working to help him integrate into the classroom. After about 10 minutes, they managed to successfully distract him into an activity, and he didn’t notice when I quietly snuck out of the room. I was thrilled that there weren’t tears, but again, the Mom Guilt of leaving him in a new environment was pulling at my heartstrings.
Every time I dropped my son off after that, we went through the same routine of me extensively holding his hand and taking him around the classroom to find an activity he liked. My husband jokingly teased me for being a Helicopter Mom, but when you have a kid with high demands who’s so attached to you he climbs your leg, it’s not always as simple as “Drop And Go.” Each drop off became a little easier, but my son still had quite a few challenges with integrating into the program and following the rules. In the first month of preschool, we received four reports: two were physical accidents where my son was thankfully okay (the accidents were minor but not a surprise given his physical energy), and two were reports of him hitting or not sharing with another child. The teachers expressed concern that my son struggled socially as well: he would try to create a game in the playground, but had a hard time engaging the other kids enough to join him. It broke my heart to hear this. These behavioural challenges were my concern with him going into the program. I knew he was a good, sweet boy who struggled sometimes emotionally, but I didn’t want him to be labelled as a “bad kid.” As fate would have it though, we again got lucky with some exceptional teachers, who offered us an incredible resource in a special needs consultant.
After months of observation, we received a plethora of helpful information. It was determined that my son thrives at just as many things that he struggles with. He is at his best with routine and order. He has exceptional motor skills. He loves completing puzzles. He strives to be a helper. He struggles with social interaction. His speech is delayed. He tries to overtake other kids when they aren’t completing a puzzle or a task the way he would. He has a hard time with patience. He gets incredibly frustrated when his routine is changed. Armed with this information, we were equipped with suggested behavioural tactics that could be enforced both in the classroom and at home. We began speech therapy. We worked, alongside the teachers, diligently and patiently. And slowly but surely, we saw incredible changes in our son. Although conditions like ADHD have not been ruled out, we’ve been able to progress leaps and bounds to the point where we have an almost entirely different boy, and I can now confidently say he is thriving in preschool.
When I drop my boy off at preschool now, instead of slowly finding his way to a lone activity like a puzzle while holding my hand, he sprints over to the new friends he has made. Instead of fighting over toys, he’s learned how to share. Instead of being afraid to try new foods, he eats his vegetables at lunch. Instead of mentioning one or two names of playmates that he’s befriended at school, he mentions at least a dozen names. Instead of hanging onto my hand and leg at drop off, I have become Chopped Liver. When I go to pick him up at night, instead of sprinting towards me and crashing into me with a hug, he sometimes has sadness in his eyes, because he wants to keep playing with his friends. And I’ll totally take being Chopped Liver every time, if it means my son is happy and thriving in preschool.