Some parents, notably those of the female gender, seem to have the instinctual ability to know what day it is at preschool. Their kids are always impeccably dressed for whatever special event is taking place with belts and bows in all of the appropriate places. The child’s hair is done, their laces are tied, the hats are super glued to the kid’s head, and the brand new costume is ironed. My child, in contrast, is not quite so together. Most of the time. Alright, almost never. I don’t know what it is; I have the same school calendar all of the other parents have. I get the same warning from the teachers the week before about the next event. And yet, when I show up with my child he is somehow out of place and I feel like a middle school student at, well, anywhere really. They always feel out of place.
When my second child was in the preschool Valentine’s Day was upon us. Every child needed to decorate a shoe box that the others kids could put their valentines into. I worked with him to decorate his box and deferred to him about what he wanted it to look like. Now, I know it’s my job as a parent to expand his awareness of what life could be like and who he could be in it. I know I’m supposed to support him in his dreams and provide the fodder for him to be creative. But, I had no idea that I was supposed to do this with the shoe box. He colored on it and put some stickers on the lid and called it good. It looked good to me. It was simply a box to hold valentines right? Wrong. We walked into the classroom on Valentine’s Day to an array of paper mache creations. These boxes had been transformed into robots, cupids, cars and hearts. The little girls were in brand new dresses with their hair in curls. The boys had slacks and belts, new shoes, and hair cuts. My poor son walked in wearing his normal school clothes and his stickered shoe box.
My first reaction was one of embarrassment for him. I, like every parent, want my children to fit in. Not that I want him to be like everyone else, I just don’t want him to be weird. My second reaction was one of embarrassment for me. I want to fit in too. Clearly, in this instance, I was the weird one. As a parent I had failed to perceive what preschool was actually about. I had mistakenly thought it was about the children and helping them to do the best that they could do. I’m not here to accuse anyone, but I’m pretty sure those kids did not make those boxes. Unless it was a class full of future Michelangelos, I think some of the parents made those things. Apparently, preschool is about the parents.
As a man I’m not terribly competitive. I always gravitated towards the individual sports like swimming and drinking wine. I’m generally not concerned with outdoing someone else or positioning myself to look better than anyone. Other people, apparently, are not as laid back when it comes to Valentine’s Day at preschool. To some, every day is an opportunity to show the world that they can outdo other people through their children. I will leave open the possibility that some of the parents were closet artists, but that still doesn’t explain all the bows and dresses. Unless we’re all looking to position for some early marriage proposals, which I’m not totally against, I’m going to relax about preschool.