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Sending my Daughter to the Nut-Free Zone

Some things in life are surprisingly easy.

Most things about parenting have been harder than I expected, but I'm happy to say that dropping my child off at full-day kindergarten has not been one of them.

A few years ago, I had some very harsh things to say about traditional schools after having negative experiences myself (in Catholic and public schools), learning endless horror stories in graduate school and in the media, and spending a traumatizing year substitute teaching in behavior block and special education classrooms (yes, I chose that form of torture for myself to get a closer look at the biggest challenges in education when I still wanted to work in that field).

I swore I'd never send my own child to a traditional school! I started lurking on the edges of my local homeschooling networks and feeling inspired by all the fun and exciting things those families did together.

I also started learning about the shadow side of homeschooling (everything real casts a shadow, after all) and feeling myself pull back a bit from the dangerous undercurrent of conspiracy theories and zealotry over children's purity, whether religious/sexual, ideological, political, or a vague and unscientific terror of "chemicals," including vaccinations.

I am not a fan of any variety of purity culture, as demonstrated in my infamous conception/birth post, "The Sacred Profane: Sex, Babies, and Rock 'n Roll."

And I pride myself on being open-minded and making efforts not to project my own issues onto my daughter, so... One summer, we were seeking a new part-time day care after the one we were using closed. My mother-in-law came to visit that summer and wanted to attend Mass, so we drove her to the beautiful neighborhood church on Sunday morning, one of those ornate Catholic churches with soaring brick architecture, stained glass, and bells that play melodies we can hear from our front porch a mile away.

Like many people, I have a lot of ambivalent feelings about my Catholic upbringing, but that was not relevant to helping Nonna get to church.

That day, Nonna brought home a church bulletin with an advertisement for extremely affordable summer childcare at the church's school, which I knew to be an upscale facility with a friendly and competent staff. But because of my own childhood trauma issues and my assumption that anything offered there would be expensive anyway, I'd never investigated it as a possibility for us. Nonna helped me consider it for the first time.

It seemed a little too good to be true, but we gave it a shot anyway (as we were running out of childcare options that seemed safe and trustworthy), and our daughter loved being there so much that we increased her weekly time there... and ended up sending her to formal Catholic preschool after she turned four! She had a wonderful experience there--and the staff treated her with warmth and kindness, even when she had her inevitable outbursts of blasphemy (when seeing a crucifix for the first time: "What in the HECK is that man doing?"; when told about how the children in kindergarten and up had to wear the Catholic school uniforms: "They have to wear that same ugly thing every day?"; and when saying a prayer thanking Jesus for our Mother's Day Tea: You know, never mind. You get the idea). Let's just say this was an exercise in teaching her (and myself) tolerance and appreciation of other people's beliefs while giving her the tools to feel confident in her own values, observations, and right to ask questions, in a context that made her, in some ways, an outsider.

Before having my daughter, I learned that preschool children hate too many rules and formal instruction. My daughter, perversely, adored these things and thrived in that environment.

I am so proud that I was able to affirm her doubts and objections while helping her (not that she needed much help in this) to appreciate the true value of her experiences there. It was such a positive school year, and the staff were so openly tolerant of non-Catholic families participating, that I even recommend this Catholic preschool to others.

I like to surprise myself sometimes.

And because my daughter surprised me with how much she loved the rather traditional structure of her preschool, I investigated the local public kindergarten. What I found there also surprised me--the philosophy, practices, and creative solutions to the legislative and material hardships faced by public schools gave me hope. The administration's #1 priority is the children's safety--emotional safety as much as protecting them from allergic reactions to nuts and the like.

The kindergarten round-up this summer moved me from hope to excitement about this school, and we signed up our eager and willing "big girl." Certainly, kindergarten at our school looks different than my kindergarten did, but it's not all bad. We saw videos of last year's classes hatching eggs and raising chickens in a coop, and recording everything on school-issued iPads. (Mind blown.)

And now that our daughter has attended her first week of kindergarten at public school, my fears have been allayed. The staff are big on safety, kindness, and warmth. The children get recess twice a day, art class, music, gym, time to choose their own independent activities, TWO meals including a free and wholesome universal breakfast, a snack, and the freedom to drink water and use the potty when needed. My daughter wakes up at dawn every morning (so far, haha) calling out, "Is it morning yet?" and loves her 15-minute bus ride home, which she shares with a neighbor friend. She has no homework for a while, and when the kindergarteners do get "homework," it will be some weekends only, and it will be fun little activities to do with parents, not ditto drills.

Plus the principal's shoes make me ACTUALLY DIE. (This woman wears six-inch stilettos in the parking lot every morning. I feel an affinity for other tall women who wear tall shoes.)

The principal warned us that our children would come home exhausted for the first few days, overwhelmed by learning all the new routines and rules. Not mine! She says, "That stuff is easy. I learned it already at St. Gerard." She comes home in an awesome mood, ready to help me cook dinner and tell me new things she learned.

Surprise! Some things in life come easy.

Thank you, Nux Gallica. You may be difficult to put to bed and take out to a restaurant, but you sure are easy to drop off at school.

Seriously, that is a 10-year fear lifted off my shoulders. I send my child with confidence into the Nut-Free Zone, where she learns to be considerate of others and strong in her own motivations and values, separated from her own mother's nutty anxieties for seven hours a weekday.

And now I can really focus on finishing The Grove of Thorismud!

I'd say I'm 80% there. I've sent my trusty beta readers the first 170 pages with ridiculous hopes of sending them the last 20% in a second installment within the next 10 days or so. Maybe, just maybe, now that kindergarten has begun so well, that will be possible!

Things aren't always as difficult as I think they will be.


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