Friday, February 11, 2011

A learning experience

Earlier today I was having lunch with a friend when the subject came up of cooperative preschools. She commented about another friend who had sent her children to one and how that just wasn't for her. She needed time to herself after so many years of sleep deprivation and not being able to take a shower uninterrupted. I couldn't agree more. The chance at finally having a little freedom - who would trade that in for mandated stints of wiping noses and many other less than glamorous tasks? Me, that's who.

Both of my children went to a cooperative preschool where I was required to work in the classroom as a teacher's aide anywhere from once a month when I only had one child at the school to as often as every week when both children were attending simultaneously. Just in case I wasn't giving enough of my blood, sweat and tears to the school in the classroom I agreed to serve on the executive board for three years in a row. We spent a total of five years at the school, or as I refer to it *hard time*.

In order to gain admittance to the school you had to write a short essay explaining why you wanted to go there, and why a cooperative appealed to you. My essay consisted of the usual drivel about wanting to share the educational experience with my child, blah blah blah. At the time we applied I was pregnant with my second, sick as all get out, and could barely keep my one brain cell left working properly. I confess that my sister may have written some of my essay. Or maybe most of it. Besides, did they really need to know that my true reason for wanting to go there was because it was the cleanest of all the schools we had visited, and actually had natural sunlight in the classrooms instead of being buried in a church basement? And not only were all the mommies at the open house friendly, they had doughnuts (did I mention at this point I was 8 months pregnant?).

We were accepted into the school (not because of the essay) and so began our cooperative experience. After working in the classroom a few times I still had no idea how I got there. Was I crazy? But after awhile I came to realize that being part of a cooperative was the best thing that could have happened to me as a parent. Not because I got to be with my child and spend cherished learning moments covered in paint or shaving cream. Or even that it gave me an excuse to have three hours away from my colicky, refluxy infant at home. Oh no, I learned something even more valuable. Other children are just as annoying, whiny, needy, defiant, funny, clever, creative, helpful and exasperating as my own. I was no longer parenting in a vacuum.

I have a tendency to obsess about...everything. I worry incessantly about my children and their development. If left to my own devices I would probably have been institutionalized before they reached the age of three, worrying that they couldn't fluently speak a foreign language yet, or locate Egypt on a map. At a cooperative you get to observe the entire spectrum of children and come to realize that not only is your child normal, but let's face it, more brilliant and well adjusted then all the others.

One of the biggest rewards of a cooperative preschool is that after each time you finish working in the classroom you come home and think how much worse it could be if *insert name of child who ate the paint in class* was your child. Sure, your child may still be struggling to count to five, but at least they don't eat the supplies. But let's say your child is the one who eats the art supplies. No worries, since you don't have the child that will only eat orange colored foods for snack, and if there isn't anything orange on the menu, cries at the top of their lungs. I could go on, but you get the point. The grass is always greener on your side of the fence.

My favorite memory of being at the school was when my daughter was in the 3s class and her little friend bit her. Hard. It left a big ugly red welt on her calf. It didn't break the skin and my daughter recovered quickly. The other mommy was beyond mortified. To this day she occasionally apologizes for her child's transgression from five years ago. When it happened I was taken aback, but not angry. Biting is something 3 year olds do sometimes. But the beauty of it was that it wasn't *my* 3 year old. My 3 year old may occasionally still pee her pants. She may never pick up her toys, doesn't recognize 5 is a number and has meltdowns of epic proportions when she doesn't get her way, but she doesn't bite. It is those small measures of comfort that help convince you your child isn't one step away from the penitentiary. And for the biter's mommy - she could console herself with the fact that her child never peed her pants at school and could count all the way to ten. It's all relative.


  1. I totally get what you're saying about the grass being greener on your OWN side of the fence ... thing is, I don't care much for green grass. I care for peace and quiet and solitude and uninterrupted showers. Maybe even 5 minutes to flip thru the latest Ikea catalog, or get caught up on all my TiVo'd HGTV shows and back-episodes of TopChef.
    I can certainly de-code what co-op means: coop. As in, "cooped up" with children for too long without enough adult interaction. No thank you. If I sign a hefty check to the preschool, they sure better not be calling me to come teach the class or wipe anybody's nose.
    best (well, unless I'm feeling cranky and argumentative like now),

  2. I wouldn't trade my 9 years in a co-op for anything. Yes, there were days that were hard and sometimes it seemed like it would never end. There definitely were kids (and parents) I could have done without. HOWEVER, those 9 years I shared so intimately with all of the children and their parents helped me form bonds and friendships I will have for the rest of my life. It wasn't always easy, but it was definitely worth it.

  3. this is great! i went to a co-op preschool (in a church basement) and remember being so proud on the days that My Mommy was there helping out. it was special and exciting, and so much better than all those other weird mommies who don't know how to arrange the paints or help build the perfect castle. i found an alternative preschool that i'm in love with (yes, my babe is 6 months old, but this requires a lot of research). only problem - it's in australia. maybe we can commute...