at a crossroad and some hard decisions to make

February 26, 2009 |  Category:   life parenting

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If you’re a parent of preschool-age children and if you also live in NYC, then you’ve probably been dealing with preschool application hell and the all consuming ritual of waiting for acceptance/rejection letters, waiting lists, and gambling away tuition deposits. The preschool application process is truly the most ridiculous part of living in the city. Because demand outnumbers actual spaces, the whole daycare/preschool situation is way more dreadful and competitive than it ever needs to be, with parents waiting in line the night before to receive applications the following morning (yes, this really happens). Somehow, I avoided the whole mess with Mia and was extremely lucky to get her into the school she is now without any pain since we’ve been with the program since she was a small toddler. But Claudine is too young to attend in the Fall as she misses the cutoff date by a few months, so here I am, pondering what to do with her next year and discovering that I am late to the game for most places.

During the last few weeks, I have been waffling over whether to send her to school at all. If money was no object, I would send her 3 days a week in a heartbeat, as she could definitely benefit from socialization with other kids. But on the other hand, in this shaky economy, preschool seems like a luxury at best for us. But there is another big decision that we have to make one day – a day that is inevitable and one which I am really dreading: we’ve been employing our beloved PT nanny 2 days a week for 5 years since Mia was a baby, but I have been having discussions with myself about the best time to let her go. Is it better to send Claudine to school for longer and more frequent days instead of keeping our sitter? Or is it too risky to give up the stability of a sitter (who has never missed a day in 5 years!) when there are so many school vacations and holidays? We can’t really afford both, but lord knows we can use all the childcare we can cobble together. It’s been a crazy ride trying to cram full time work on such little childcare all those years, particularly when Mark had a full time job. We had to be strategic about both our schedules and I worked most nights, but it’s not really something I would recommend to anyone. I am, however, grateful and relieved to see the end of the light to some of these childcare issues as the girls approach school age (though I’m sure new ones will arise). In those early days, I just didn’t see how being a freelance working parent with no steady income worked, but in the end, like all things we find a way.

But back to Claudine. On one of my very worst sick days, I sat with her at the table when Mia was at school. It was just the 2 of us and she was eating blueberries. She sat there sort of in her own world popping each one in her mouth when she quietly said, “I miss Mia”. It struck me right then that when Mia starts full day Kindergarten in the Fall, Claudine will spend huge amounts of time by herself. The 2 girls are inseparable right now and they are best friends. I don’t necessarily worry about getting work done with Claudine around since she plays so well independently, but I do worry that she’ll spend even more time by herself without the company of other kids. Because of her shy personality, no one else knows the brilliance of Claudine except our immediate family and a few close friends (and maybe you guys). On the exterior, most people think she is clingy, not at all social and does not speak, but they don’t know just how funny she can be, what a great and goofy dancer she is, or the fact that she’s telling knock knock jokes already and having whole conversations with us. It’s not only the fact that she can talk, but it’s how she strings together words and enunciates them so clearly – there is nothing baby about the way she speaks (“hey mommy, I have a question for you. Hmm, well, actually I forgot what it is. I’ll tell you later when I remember, ok?”). She is a joy to be around and part of me wants her home so that I can enjoy my last baby a little longer, but part of me feels like it’s a bit selfish and not the best for Claudine. So what to do? After thinking that I was going to keep her home another year, I am starting to lean towards sending her somewhere 1 or 2 mornings a week, even if it makes our budget tight. I took her to a sweet little playgroup space last week and I saw her connect with the teacher. It was after hours so we were the only ones there, but as I was watching her play with the toys in the space, I realized that a little socialization at this age shouldn’t be underestimated, especially with her personality, and especially with an older sister, her main playmate, who will be around much less. We’ll try and sacrifice elsewhere to come up with the money. After all, isn’t that what parents often do?

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  • Andrew Thornton February 26, 2009 at 6:33 pm

    Azalea is at the age where we were taking her to various charter schools to see if she can get in. Like you said it’s pretty ridiculous.

    Cynthia hasn’t really left her with anyone except the immediate family and if she does, it has to be in the house. It’s hard to imagine what Cynthia will do when Azalea is in school and not around.

    They opted to keep her at home and skip pre-school. Although it can be frustrating and challenging at times, I think it has done a lot to strengthen the family bond. And I don’t think Azalea has suffered from it as far as socialization is concerned. She’s one of the most outgoing and friendly children I know.

    They’re supposed to drive up after we get back from Hawaii for a few days. Hopefully we can schedule a play date! I think they’d have a blast.

  • Lisa February 26, 2009 at 7:02 pm

    yes, we sacrifice a lot for our kids but i think you’re making the right decision. our little 3 year old is so rambunctious when she’s around us but really quiet and shy around others. so for us, we knew having her socialize more was probably a good thing. she’ll start preschool in the fall even though i’d like her home with mommy too. gotta let ’em go sometime. *sniff, sniff*

  • erinn February 26, 2009 at 7:26 pm

    wow. what a sweetheart. somehow all the pieces of the puzzle will come together.

  • woodley park-zoo February 26, 2009 at 8:34 pm

    I have a sort of baby crush on Claudine’s brilliance that makes me wish I lived nearby to be able to just meet her… hope that doesn’t sound creepy!

    I know you’ll do what you need to do and it will turn out ok. I feel like even if someone is shy, in the end they find their own way of getting close to people and forming bonds — her best friends in her lifetime will always know and appreciate her special brilliance and humor.

  • Claudia February 26, 2009 at 8:50 pm

    My two kids are at school since they were 5 months when my maternity leave was ended. It was very hard to stay away from them, but it was our only option, considering that here in Brazil is not so easy to find a trusty baby sitter. But nowadays, looking at their growth and social and intellectual development we don´t regret, ever. Your decision was the best thing to do for her, be sure of that.

  • Makayla February 28, 2009 at 4:53 pm

    Do you choose a favorite feature on your kids?

    I am totally in love with my little boys hands and all the crazy actions and things they can turn into, and yet they are still little tiny hands. I am mesmerized by them.

    Looking at this picture of Claudine, I think I would be totally in love with her little mouth and the sweet little pucker.

    My husband ordered some of your dulce brownies for Valentines. They were so divine. Thank you.

  • Jenna February 28, 2009 at 5:49 pm

    Andrew, that would be fun. Azalea looks like such a fun, sweet kid!

  • Annie From Seattle March 1, 2009 at 10:51 am

    You know the nice thing about this, Jenna? You truly can’t mess up either way. At this age, they just want to be safe and secure and loved. At home, at school. Doesn’t really matter too much. I really stressed these kinds of decisions when my older kids were close to the same age as C & M (the same time we were starting our business, BTW) but I now realize not too much matters before kindergarten. I spent all kinds of money we didn’t have at the time on preschools and lessons of various kinds, none of which they even remember now. And, absolutely…you are near the end of the tunnel for childcare issues! By school age, your cost plunges and your options are huge. Plus, they are just generally more independent and having them at home is almost no work at all….
    So I’d say do what is easiest on the wallet and provides maximum coverage for you and Mark, especially in light of the economic downturn.

  • Tumus March 2, 2009 at 10:03 am

    Aww. Sweet post. At least it’s not the most pressing issue in your life, right? This is a good problem to have, the whole not wanting to let go 🙂

    Just be nice to the Nanny when you let her go. I’m sure as with most caregivers (myself included) she loves your kids a whole bunch and will miss them as much as you will when their both in school.

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