Westley has had mixed feelings about preschool ever since the subject first came up, back in January. I can't say I blame him. I've had mixed feelings, too.
I was so glad to find a little co-op preschool, just 12 minutes from home. Here, there were giant blocks, easels for painting, dress-up things, and a big wooden pirate ship to climb on. Rob, Westley, and I had looked at a couple of other places, but they seemed so rigid (not to mention expensive!). Here, the parents and teachers were relaxed and smiling. Everyone raved about how wonderful it was.
I floated in the same cloud of wonderful until last week, and then shit suddenly got REAL. There was set-up do to and meetings to attend and jobs to sign up for and lots of e-mails about vegan, allergen-friendly snack ideas. Westley has a little backpack that he uses to haul around books and toys, but I bought him a larger, sturdier one to accommodate a change of clothes and, once a week, a show-and-tell item. We read books about preschool. He still had mixed feelings. I volunteered to keep the preschool fridge stocked with vegan cheese, tried to be super-friendly via e-mail with all these mothers who seemed much more relaxed than I, and wondered what I'd gotten myself into.
This morning, Westley was eager to go out the door. He headed for the car with two backpacks in tow: the small one filled with miniature toys for the drive there, the other packed with a change of clothes. (That's when I realized that he didn't really need a new backpack. The little one, which he loves, would easily have held a change of clothes and a toy. I guess I bought it because I wanted him to have something new for school.)
Our route to school was a little slower than usual, with lots of construction still going on. Westley commented on the "long" drive, read his comic book, munched on grapes, and made requests for music ('Wet's hear "Judas"!').
When we got inside, he immediately clapped his hands over his ears.
"Is it a little loud in here, Westley?" his teacher asked.
I held my breath. Nineteen other children is a huge number for a kid with little peer-group experience.
He didn't answer, but peered into the art room where most of the children were gathered before the official start of the day. I helped him wash his hands at the big sink. "There's play-dough over there!" he noticed, delighted. Then he dove for the paints. He was already waving a green-paint-covered brush as I slipped a smock on him.
I stayed with him through the first 20 minutes of school, as I'd planned to do. After circle time, he took off to play with dress-up clothes and a large, dollhouse-sized castle. "How does this work?" he asked.
"I don't know, but you'll find out." I'd planned to stay with Westley for his first day, but he didn't seem to need me. "Westley," I said, pulling his attention away from a toy dragon, "it's my time to leave. I'm going home now, and I'll be back to pick you up in a couple hours."
He gave me a hug and a sloppy wet kiss—"Okay!"—and went back to playing. I smiled nervously at his teacher as I left. She smiled and gave me a look like, You're worrying over nothing.
I drove home. I called Rob: "I just dropped our son off at preschool." I folded a mountain of laundry, checking the clock every five minutes like a crazy person. It was way too quiet in the house. I vacuumed.
In an ironing-in-the-kitchen moment, I decided to bring Westley a bag of popcorn for after-school snack. (My mother always brought my brother a bag of popcorn to eat in the car after preschool.) I popped a third of a cup of popcorn kernels on the stove, sprinkled the popcorn with homemade vegan parmesan, and put it in a bag. Then I cleaned up the kitchen and drove back to the school.
From the parking lot, I could see Westley running around on the playground. He looked a little overdressed for the suddenly sunny weather, but he was smiling, dragging two big diggers around.
His teacher spotted me. "It was a good day," she said on her way to round up children and toys.
When I caught his eye, Westley beamed at me. He wanted to play inside some more. When we went inside to pick up his backpack and I explained that school was over for today, he burst into tears. I explained that we would come back on Thursday. The promise of cheezy popcorn and a milk sippy waiting for him in the car helped, too.
Later, as we were finishing up with books and getting ready to take a nap together, Westley concluded, "This was a good day."
And after a moment he added, "I like preschool!"