Great Expectations

On Wednesday I had a little nervous breakdown at Ollie’s school.  On Thursday my sister recommended looking for a way to get some alone time once a week.  One cheap option was to find a mommy’s time out type drop off program.  I turned to my local moms facebook group with a tall order – a wholly secular mom’s morning out class.  Some mom’s wanted in on the suggestions, others offered nanny shares, some offered a simple trade, and a few knew of programs at schools in the area.  Good news fellow moms of toddlers: if you aren’t too picky there are so many options and so many kind strangers in your village.  

One mom knew of a 2.5 hour Montessori mommy’s morning out 10 minutes from my house.  I was hooked then and there.  Further research told me it would be $25 a class if I booked for the month and they welcome cloth diapers.  This was a dream come true!  I printed Ollie’s immunization records and filled out the application.  I packed the paperwork and my checkbook in my purse with a mental plan to make a quick stop Friday morning to register.  Basically I was an eager teen romantic showing up to a first date with our names monogrammed in a 4 ever heart on a sweater I knit from my date’s shed hair.  I don’t need to get to know you; I know you are my soulmate, Montessori mother’s morning out.  

We arrive 30 minutes after school starts on Friday to allow for a smooth drop off for them and hopefully a settled office so we can drop and run. 

Oliver is a bright eyed angel while I sign in.  He greets the Admin, Miss M, unprompted, sits in a small chair, grabs a book, and “reads” himself a story.  There is another family coming in to register so Miss M asks us to wait so she can talk to us all at once.  They arrive, 2 sweet kids in their Sunday best, a mom and a dad.  It’s amazing how we try to impress people with our children’s best clothes.  I put Ollie in a polo to drop off paperwork.  

We all venture into the empty playroom where the kids can explore and dump out toys to their hearts content while we parents get a folder of paperwork and the quick intro to Montessori and the school. The speech is the same for all of the Montessori schools, “We want the children to explore so everything is their size and safe for them.”, “We don’t have 18 month work and 2 year old work, and 3 year old work, your child can work with whatever they are ready for.  If it seems too easy we may invite them to try something more challenging.”, Most of our teachers have been here 10 – 20 years and the directors both work in the classrooms, they prefer to be with the children.”  I am that emoticon with the gaping mouth and the two hearts for eyes.  

“Now we’re going to go see another classroom.”  

This is where the unexpected 2 hour tour began.  

There didn’t seem to be an expectation from Miss M that the kids clean up at all, but I’m not undoing 2 years of work with Ollie today. I asked Ollie to put away roughly a third of the scattered toys with the enticement of seeing a new exciting space.  He was a trooper and cooperated nicely.  

We then visited a primary (age 3-5) classroom.  Oliver immediately chose some work with tongs from the shelf and brought it to a table.  Miss M immediately asked that we put it away because the small erasers he would be picking up with the tongs were “not safe for him.”  Oliver was confused because they were the same size as the beads he picks up with tongs at his other school.  It turns out we were there, with our toddlers, so that Miss M could tell us about the primary class and their work.  As I spent the entire time keeping my curious toddler from touching any of the him-sized materials on the him-sized shelves, I did not learn about their primary classroom.  Not in that classroom or the other two primary classrooms we then visited for the same experience.  Instead I have to pick up and carry an upset toddler whole still holding this folder of information I don’t need right now.

Next stop was outside to look at, but not go down the stairs to, the playgrounds.  We are getting to tantrum territory now – for him and for me.  We have to take the stairs down to the other rooms and Miss M offers to carry Ollie for me.  I assure her he’s been walking up and down stairs for about a year.  

Luckily we go to the indoor playground next and he gets a chance to run around for a while while Miss M shows me the neighboring baby classroom.  She follows it up with a trip to the kindergarten art room.  Fragile creations and vats of paint for looking at only.  

When we go to the toddler classes (plural) he is allowed to explore a bit and takes turns with the other kids on a small slide.  It would have been lovely if we stayed in there, but we apparently need to see each of 30 different rooms in this building before we are allowed to leave.  

I got to see all 30 of these rooms on a self guided tour when Ollie took off during a transition.  For at least 10 minutes I, the other two parents, Miss M, and every teacher we encountered searched the bathroom stalls, classrooms, play areas, and lunch room for my missing toddler. They kept reassuring me that he couldn’t get out of the school.  Maybe I’m a crappy mom, but I was less concerned with him trying to leave a secure building than I was about the impression we were making on the staff when I still really wanted them to agree to take my child once a week.  These sorts of shenanigans are exactly why I need a break.  

We found him in an empty classroom just hanging out by the fish tank.  I honestly think he just needed a break from the unpredictable whirlwind of being dragged from room to room and then restrained.  In this room he was king, he made his own rules, and he decreed that it was time to look at the fish. 

Everyone being relieved that he was safe, and me being relived that the tour seemed that be over, we headed back that that he office with the promise of stickers for the little ones.  I think I deserved a sticker, but life isn’t always fair.  These final moments were excruciating for me as Miss M separated the “girl” stickers from the “boy” stickers offering hello kitty to the little girl and stating that boys like “things that go” so they could choose cars, planes, boats, etc.  

As you recall I thought we were dropping paperwork and going home.  This is important now because my son had a poopy diaper from about 5 minutes in, but the diaper bag was in the car.  Stickers in hand, or placed on neck because my kid does what he wants, I thought we were home free to do a quick change in the car before heading home.  Instead we went back into the mom’s morning out playroom to wrap up.  

I should have just left; no one would have blamed me.  They offered I a spare diaper, so I borrowed wipes from the other parents and fought my diaper-change-hating crankopotomus on a wobbly changing table.  Once wiped and ready for a fresh diaper, we discovered there wasn’t actually a spare diaper. My kid went commando in his jeans while I ran to the car anyway for his diaper bag.  The other family was still lingering, so I let Ollie play again. There was no official end or send off for this extravaganza, so I got to do the classic 2 minute warning followed by dragging my kid, kicking and screaming, out of the place.  We went home and he threw blueberries at me in protest.

This is a tale about guarding your heart and setting realistic expectations.  Not all daycares, preschools, Montessori programs are created equal.  A daycare isn’t horrible because it’s a daycare; a preschool may not teach what you wish it taught.   When someone tells you they want to let children explore their environments, put them to the test and see if they actually do.  Were I looking for a full time Montessori school for Ollie, I would have needed that lengthy tour, and I’d have needed to take it with John and without Ollie. As it so happens, I am looking for a safe place to leave my kid for a couple hours so that I can get my haircut, read a book, clean out the nursery, watch West Wing, or call the gas company and listen to hold music then argue about my automatic billing.  I can swallow a few of my standards for this.   The school was well staffed, clean, and secure.  The teachers spoke respectfully and kindly to the children and each other.  The materials and educational approach was Montessori based, even if I found their expectations were set too low for what a child could handle.  I’m hoping Ollie amazes them because his strong will won’t allow for being told he is incapable.  I’m hoping they amaze me by finding his missing link of obedience in dangerous situations and working with him to respond to verbal discipline and commands.  

There I go again, getting my hopes up for something that’s almost too good to be true. I did make a monogrammed stalker hair-sweater after all.  

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