By A.S. Callaghan
A week after your kid gets kicked out of preschool for biting, repeatedly, it occurs to you that you forgot a box with fresh underwear and a change of clothes in his cubby.
“You go and get it,” you tell your husband.
“Come on,” he says, “it’s literally next door to your work.”
“I don’t care,” you say. “I’m not going back there.”
What if you put your thumb on the black fingerprint scanner next to the cheerful red entrance and the display spits back REJECTED? What if you run into Ms. Anthea, the director, who started each parent-teacher meeting by fanning out yellow incident reports like a blackjack dealer peddling lousy odds? What if the box is no longer there and your kid’s stuff has been dumped into the lost and found bin, swelling with old jackets, moldy lunch boxes, and long forgotten plush ponies?
Getting kicked out of preschool is a lot like getting fired. There is a meeting with an administrator. The biting hasn’t stopped, she says. It’s a safety issue, she says. Then there is a second meeting, and a report. The report has three pages. Once the administrator starts writing “termination” under possible consequences on page three, it’s already too late.
You speed through the five stages of grief or however many there are because you’re trying to wrap up a project at work and you don’t have time for this crap.
You’re mad at the administrator. Then you’re mad at the kid. He’s four. He likes to take his shoes off and hide under tables when he gets stressed. You’re stressed, too, but taking your shoes off and hiding under tables won’t help your predicament.
You can’t believe your luck when you find a flexible, hourly childcare place that can take him. You tell your husband.
“Drive-thru daycare, what could possible go wrong?” he says.
You resent your husband and his shameless audacity to have a sense of humor while you’re trying to solve this problem.
You make more phone calls and find a small daycare and preschool next to a park with a gleaming white library. You don’t tell the owner that your kid got kicked out of the last place. You feel guilty about the omission, but you also hold on to the hope that this was just one version of your child that may not be the defining one.
You make a behavior chart at home with columns for the days of the week and smiley face magnets. Keep your hands and your mouth to yourself. Listen to the teacher. Share your toys and say “May I please have a turn?” when you want someone else’s. Keep your shoes on and don’t hide under tables.
The new school is close to your husband’s work. Every night, after he picks up the kid, you watch your phone for a text that says “He had a good day.” On days when it’s your turn, you ask the teacher how it went, but not too emphatically. You don’t want her to think anything is wrong.
The kid makes it through one week without any major incident, and then a second one. At the end of week three, they email you photos. There’s one of him during story time, wearing an antelope mask. There’s one where he’s barefoot, standing in a green plastic sandbox filled with mud, left arm raised triumphantly towards the blue California sky. There’s an animated GIF of him and a girl, violet slime oozing from their hands in a jerky, continuous loop.
And then one time he pushes a smaller child. He doesn’t like the daycare owner’s organic, home-cooked food. He doesn’t listen when it’s time to stop playing with his favorite scooter and come inside. But the biting has stopped.
A few weeks later he asks about the old daycare.
“This is your new school,” you say.
That night, your child insists on making a list of his teachers at the old school. He was there a long time, all his life really, since he was five months old. You help him remember and write down their names: Ms. Amalia, Ms. Laura, Ms. Tiffany, Ms. Denise, Ms. Alex, Ms. Clara, Ms. Kym, Ms. Jennifer, Ms. Alexis, Ms. Annamarie.
Then he draws hearts next to all their names, looks at the list, satisfied, and moves on.
A.S. Callaghan believes all it takes sometimes is a fresh start. She’s lucky to have a supportive partner and two wonderful sons. Connect with her on Twitter.