Yesterday I went to the mailbox at the end of the street, leaving my toddler with his dad.
I returned 90 seconds later to an epic tantrum, flinging himself at me he wailed with relief “Mummy, you’re back, you’re back!”
After two and a half years spending every waking moment together, I think we are ready for some time apart!
I have been a teacher for 13 years, many of those years spent in Kindergarten.
In all those years I have found more Moms cry than children, especially on the first day. I have to admit I always found it quite pathetic. I wondered if they had much else going on in their lives, I speculated that they purposefully turned on the water works to elicit a response from their child, to make themselves feel needed.
Well, I just dropped my toddler off for his first morning of preschool and realize, I had it all wrong.
I know that he will be fine. I know that he will stop crying before I even get to the top of the street. I know he will become interested in a toy, a craft or a snack, and he will forget his sorrow.
I know because for so many years I was on the other side of the door. I was the one coaxing the little-bereft child off the floor, wiping their tears and finding a nice story to read together.
But knowing all this was not enough to save me.
When my toddler clung onto the door screaming “don’t go mummy- pleeeeeease!” I thought my heart might break. My training kicked in and I acquiesced to the teacher’s protocol, gave it my best of British pat on the back “I’ll be back later, have fun” I chirruped mock cheerfully and left.
On the walk home, I heaved great gulping, bone shaking sobs, I must have looked a right state, as I openly wept all the way home.
When I got back home I called my mum who commiserated with me and told me she felt exactly the same when she dropped me off for the first time, when I was a tot. After I pulled myself together, I told her I thought I would be different, how all the years spent watching other people fall apart would have meant I would deal with it better, and I wouldn’t repeat the same tearful performance.
Wise as always, she told me:
“You might have been a teacher for a long time, but you had never been a mum before”.
And that’s really the crux of it, just like only a Voorhees can kill a Voorhees when it comes to dropping Junior off at preschool for the first time, only a mother can understand another mother’s pain.
So here fresh from our tearful goodbye, but backed up by my years of experience on the other side of the classroom door, I give you my Top 10 Tips for the First Dropoff:
- Lots of prep
We read stories about school (I changed the word to “preschool” to suit our circumstances)
We talked about it for weeks before he started, we passed the building, we had him tell his grandparents all about it- do not make it a sudden surprise event.
- Make it special
I bought my son a new water bottle and snack box, packed it all up in his own backpack and gave him some stickers- try to create some positive associations right from the start.
- Make sure you know the rules
Does the teacher encourage you to come in the classroom, or stay at the door? Where do shoes/hat/backpack/snack go? How long can you stay? Make sure you know the protocol- any confusion on your part could make your child anxious.
- Make a quick exit
I cannot stress this enough- don’t prolong the inevitable, it will most likely be somewhat upsetting for your child (especially if other children are sad) so have a kiss and cuddle and then leave quickly.
- Never go back!
Obviously, go back at the end of the session, but never go back after saying goodbye, if you forget something- tough luck, do not go back– it will upset your child and cause a nuisance for the teacher.
- Don’t be nosy
Similarly staring through the window or blinds is disruptive, it could worry your child and it’s kinda creepy!
- Make sure you know the Teachers names and be nice to them
Childcare professionals are just that, professionals, but it can be difficult to be completely impartial with a child if their mother has just treated you like shit. Bear it in mind- these people are caring for the most precious person in your life- treat them right!
- Keep coming back
Even if the program is optional and your child doesn’t want to go back- start making a regular non-negotiable routine, you don’t want your child to think that opposition leads to change, especially as compulsory attendance is just around the corner, come Grade 1.
We made sure to tell our little man how proud we were of him, we acknowledged that he was sad when I left, but reminded him mummy came back and what fun he had!
Once you are over the trauma, try and enjoy your time apart. I got more done in those two hours than I do all week when he is nipping at my heels.
We both survived, he wasn’t that keen to return next week, but we’ll stick with it, and I enjoyed some time being Fiona and not just Mummy, once I had stopped crying that is!
I would love to hear how you dealt with this rite of passage as a Mum.