When we started Matthew in preschool last fall, we did it with many things in mind. First and foremost, he needed some serious help with speech and talking in general. That was completely to be expected considering he was a bit behind even in his native language and then at the age of 2.5, in the midst of a complete trauma, he had to learn to understand and speak an entirely new language. He has received speech therapy 2 mornings/week this year, and he has come so far!! If that was the only thing we gained from preschool this year, it would be enough, but preschool has provided Matthew–and our entire family–with so much more.
When we first began meeting with the preschool teachers, I had to fight back tears the entire time. Personally, I was nearing a breaking point. I can’t even begin to imagine where Matthew’s head must have been at the time. At home, he and I were going head to head 24-7. And when I say 24-7, I’m not kidding–this was before we discovered melatonin. Communication (in forms other than screaming and sobbing) was nearly non-existent. As I dropped him off the first day, I had to bite my tongue to keep from screaming the future of our family rests on the outcome, here. PLEASE HELP US!!!! I was personally convinced that before the first week was over, the preschool would be calling me to say that they would not be able to handle him.
That obviously didn’t happen, thank goodness, and while we still struggled at home, I slowly began to realize (through talking with Matthew’s teachers) that he was a different child at school. He is apparently one of the most cooperative, loving and joyful kids at school, and according to Miss Karen, he is fabulous in music class (I am so not surprised by that).
You see, in a way, I had been looking at preschool as almost a respite care for our family, and for me in particular. I needed some sort of a break from the tension, the guilt, the moods that I was powerless to control or even help.
What I didn’t realize was that preschool was also a respite for Matthew. He was a different child at school because he wasn’t trying to establish control over those adults. At preschool, he gave himself the freedom to have fun and be a kid. And the poor child needed it. He probably needed it even more than I needed him to have it.
Some afternoons at carpool, I would see him before he would see me. He was smiling and happy. As he noticed my car, his face would harden, and by the time the teacher opened the door, he was hostile and demanding. The teacher would always be confused and promise me that he had had a wonderful day. But I could see what was happening–he was putting on his armor for battle. He was coming home, and play time was over.
This happens less and less now. Mostly now, as he’s getting in the car, he says Mommy, I hungry! with a smile on his face. Everything about our home life and our interactions is better. Not perfect, but better. So much better. I can have a conversation with my son. I see a playfulness in him that wasn’t there for over a year. He can accept my help. Sometimes he even requests my help. I feel him relaxing into the role of “son”. And I rejoice for him, for all of us.
I honestly give his preschool, the teachers, and the experience in general a lot of credit for this. I believe that as Matthew went to preschool every morning and let his guard down, he noticed that the sky didn’t fall. The grown-ups were in charge, and they could handle it. He learned to be a kid, to let himself act like a kid. I returned every day as promised (slightly more refreshed from our break every time), and soon he even began to let his guard down at home.
And the sky still didn’t fall.
Preschool–sometimes it really is more than just fingerpaint.