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?