I battled with this, constantly, for a long time. What if we moved and didn't find another good school for him? What if uprooting him from this school damaged him or set him back in some way? Sure, he's only three, but you just never know. There was so much around the corner, beyond where I could see, that I began to wonder if I could be sure of anything at all anymore.
But what was the alternative? To stay where it was familiar and predictable and stable... and where we were hemorrhaging money each month, with our reserves rapidly disappearing? Where he could only play outside for half the year? Where we'd be choosing to stay in the rut we were in, with no opportunities to better ourselves on the horizon?
Ultimately I had to take the plunge, but the anxiety and guilt involved was immense. I had a friend tour a couple of daycares for me ahead of time. I also learned that an old friend from high school had her kids at one of those two centers, and absolutely loved it. She gave me details about the place, the teachers, the atmosphere, and it all sounded perfect for us. Between those two very strong recommendations, I went ahead and paid a deposit to save a spot for him.
The plan was to arrive in the new city on Sunday night and to visit the new daycare on Monday to let him get used to it. In fact, we planned to visit each day that week so he would (hopefully) feel comfortable attending all day on our first day of work, the following Monday. As you know, that's not how things happened. I believe it was Wednesday before we got to go visit. We were invited to come for lunch time and stay with him while he ate. I loved this idea!
The admins at the new center were very friendly and welcoming. The classroom was clean and brightly decorated, which made me happy. The teacher seemed very nice. But within five minutes of walking in, we both felt uptight. The room was just in chaos. Of course, if you put 20 three-year-olds in a room together, you're going to have a lot of activity going on. But this was beyond that. They were just sort of running around like crazy people, with no direction at all, and the teacher didn't seem at all bothered by this.
We watched this same sort of thing continue for almost an hour. I noticed the kids were rough with each other, and there was one kid in particular who was downright violent. Within 15 minutes of sitting down in the classroom the first time, I saw him pull a little girl's hair, chuck a toy halfway across the room, shove another kid down to the floor, and club a kid over the head with a plastic airplane toy. My stomach knotted.
Aidan was nervous and didn't feel comfortable jumping in to play. This was a red flag, of course, but as I always seem to do, I second guessed it. "We can't compare this to the room back home because that was a two-year-old room and this is a three-year-old room." "We need to keep an open mind." "We're just extra anxious because of all that's happened with the housing situation." "He's just thrown off because of the move."
When it was time for lunch, the kids all scurried to the tables and sat down. The teachers donned plastic gloves and passed out paper plates and cups. Then out came the food. I was excited to see what the food was like. I found myself displeased with the menu. That first day, it was bologna sandwiches consisting of white bread, a slice of bologna, a slice of cheese (the Kraft singles, individually wrapped type). There were also baked beans straight from a can and pineapple rings.
Once again, I forced myself to try to have an open mind. "It's only one meal a day." "I grew up on food like this, it's fine." "We're saving over $150 a month from the old school, they have to cut costs somewhere." But I just never quite got over that. At the very least, couldn't they use a whole wheat bread and some sort of real meat?!
I spoke with both the teachers in the classroom as well as both of the center's administrators about the aggressive child's behavior. The teachers acknowledged there was a problem and said they would talk to the child. The administrators only offered an explanation of, "well, his mother works here..." I didn't see how that was relevant, and I also thought it was inappropriate to use that as an excuse. But again - we were sort of stuck without any other options for a short time at least, so we reluctantly decided to go ahead and enroll him, and see how it went.
The next two days' visits went very much the same as the first... including extremely similar lunch menus. I noticed that the food being served was not the same as the food on the menu that the school sent home each month. The menu suggested there were hot meals being served, but I never saw anything like that in the classroom.
We eventually made it to our first day of work. Much to my shock and relief, Aidan didn't cry when we dropped him off. He seemed a little nervous, but the teacher was ready to help and he seemed okay.
That would be the very last time he willingly accepted being dropped off at that school.
To make a much longer story short, we started seeing red flags all over the place. The biggest problem was that the violent kid we had observed in the first visit was actually even worse than we had seen. Over the next few days, in just the few minutes we spent at the school picking Aidan up, we saw this child:
- Throw another child on the floor, climb on him to pin him down, and hit him repeatedly in the head
- Chase another child around the room until that child gave up and stopped, then make a fist, rear back on one foot, and throw his full body weight into a punch to that child’s face
- Follow a child around the room kicking his legs
- Grab a child’s wrist and hit the back side of his elbow repeatedly, trying to bend it backwards
- Throw a child on the floor, place the child in a head lock and hit him repeatedly
That wasn't the worst of it.
We found ourselves particularly disturbed by the fact that the way these incidents were handled – if even seen by teachers – was a simple, distracted, non-emphatic, “don’t do that.” We never once saw this child engaged in a conversation with a teacher about his behavior, nor in a time out or other disciplinary action.
Once again I expressed concerns to both teachers and administration. One teacher did inform me that there are problems at home. She went on to tell me that the child’s father was absent when he was born, then came into the child’s life, then left again recently. While we had sympathy for this child and what he must be going through, the center appeared largely uninterested in actually addressing this very inappropriate and unsafe behavior which, to us, was unacceptable.
Meanwhile, Aidan was in a constant state of agitation and anger that we'd never experienced before. He stopped sleeping well and cried out in the middle of the night a lot. One evening during his second week there, our barely three year old told us, "my new friends not nice, my new friends hit me. I want a new school." That was much more direct and articulate than he'd ever been before. We were stunned. And then I couldn't stop it. I lost it. The guilt was ridiculous. I'd known better, and I'd shoved my gut feeling to the back of my mind instead of listening to it. And it was having a negative impact on my kid.
Parental guilt is the absolute worst.
The morning after he told me he wanted a new school, I began frantically calling all over town looking for new places. We drove by three different centers after we picked him up that night. We both instantly got a good feeling from one of them. We toured it the next morning and enrolled him that afternoon, a Thursday, for a start date of Monday. The new place reminded us a lot of the school he attended back home, which was a very good sign!
The guilt struck again as I realized that he would have no transition period at all. We were both in our second week at our new jobs and I knew that taking time off would not go over well. So that day and the next, we raced to pick him up after work, then raced to the new school to hang out there for the 15 minutes prior to closing so that he could at least see the place and meet his new teacher ahead of time.
Monday morning came and, once again, I was a ball of nerves and guilt. I remember repeating to myself, "this cannot possibly be a step down from where he's been for the past two weeks." I remember reassuring myself that at least NOW I was following my gut, which had to be a good thing.
Right!! We dropped him off that morning and he was happy as a clam to be there. The relief was almost as powerful as the guilt had been. At pickup, same thing. Happy boy! The sleeping problems, attitude issues, hitting, and general difficulties with him vanished almost immediately. It became really obvious that it wasn't the move that had caused those issues. (Wouldn't you be pretty cranky if you got the crap kicked out of you at work every day and couldn't tell anyone about it??)
He's been there for three months now. His language skills have completely exploded and he's learned so much new stuff! He loves all of his teachers and tells us every night what kind of fun stuff he got to do that day. And whether he was the line leader or not (that's his favorite!). I can't quite explain how much easier it is to concentrate on work when I know my kid is happy and well cared for.
Another moving complication bites the dust!