Friday, August 30, 2013

Mother's Day Out and Middle Class Guilt

My oldest child is nearly five years old.  She just missed the kindergarten cutoff by several months (August 1st for Nashville schools), and will start kindergarten at five years old and promptly turn six years old.  She is on the cusp of reading, sounding out words to herself, and has a sharp memory for sight words.  Again and again, people ask me if she is going to a Mother's Day Out program, or Pre-school and the answer is always no.  All of her little friends have trundled off to school and our Facebook feed is awash every Autumn with "first day of school" photos.  Not us.

If our family was in a lower socioeconomic class, this wouldn't even be a topic.  She would either already be in a pre-school/day care situation because I would need to work to make ends meet, or she would be at home with me and everyone would know that it was not something we could afford.  Period.  But watching all of her little friends go off to those pre-schools, I wondered if I was depriving her of some advantage that her peers receive.

She would love it!  friends say,  and she would.
She would get great socialization! friends say, and she would.
She wouldn't be bored at home any more!  friends say, and it's true.  She wouldn't be bored at home.

I love all my well wishing friends, but my recently baby addled brain would like to come up with a succinct answer.  So my points are these:

1. Why rush it!  Come Autumn (or SUMMER, thanks, extended school year!) of 2014, my little big girl will go off to school, for better or for worse, for the next 13 years of her life while living at home and then hopefully off to some higher education after that.  Yes, she is a challenge at times when I am stretched thin by the new requirements of being a mother of three, and YES, she is bored sometimes, but she is learning how to be a friend to her little brother and to treat him kindly.  She is learning how to turn boredom into her own imagination and projects.  (I heard her leading her brother in a "camping adventure" this morning.)  She plays with her peers and neighbors and she is already "socialized".  In fact, she is friendly and far more well mannered with people she meets in the Kroger than she is at home.  I think she has got the "socialization" part down pat. 

2. It's expensive.  For lots of people $80 - $175 per month for a few hours sans kids is cheap, and it's not beyond our spending range, but honestly, I would rather spend that money on things we do as a family rather than someone else getting to watch her do all the things she does at home.  Playing, art, letters, monkey bars.  Even if money were no object, I still don't think we would do it.

3. She won't enter kindergarten educationally behind.  I am sure of it.  We do "school" at home several days per week at her prompting and she loves to learn.  In fact, she will go practice her letters and math on her own and then come show me. 

So I am going to set aside the middle class guilt and just enjoy her.  Enjoy our times when she wants to "have a conversation".  Enjoy our times when she invents a new form of art (for her) that I have never shown her. (Paper collage, spit ball sculpture...eww)  Enjoy her when she willingly helps me do laundry and has an impromptu ballet recital for me, or helps me crack eggs for breakfast, or talks to the baby while I run in the next room for something and he calms down and coos at her.  Enjoy her when she curtseys to her brother and says "May I have this dance." and he says, "yes!" Enjoy her when she is frustrated or downright pissed off and I get to lead her back to joy and help her practice the art of happiness.  Enjoy her when she is bored and comes up with beautiful imaginings.  Enjoy her when she does exactly what I don't want her to and creates crazy, yet beautiful, murals on her wall with a contraband crayon she sneaked upstairs and then cries for an hour while I make her scrub the wall.  Enjoy her while I referee toddler fist fights and screaming matches between her and her brother, her best Frienemy. Yes, even those moments.  I want to enjoy her.  It's her last year at home and she will be big soon enough.

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