During a pediatrician appointment last week, I finally heard the words I had been dreading: Do you have any plans for preschool?
Up to this point, I was comfortable in my brand of torture, fielding the highs and lows of parenting three children aged three and under, allowing my children to navigate life hand-in-hand with each other.
I knew this day would arrive, of course, though it still managed to catch me off guard. Images of viruses, skin rashes, strep throat, and an empty house swirled in my head. I realized I wanted none of those things.
For the most part, though, the conversation sparked some deep thinking about my upbringing, what I felt I needed to be successful, whether or not I received it, and the issue of overscheduling children.
I attended preschool. I have vivid memories of running around outside, with an unzipped jacket, playing "The Witch with the Bloody Finger." It was just like Tag, except when you're It, you have a "bloody finger." Admittedly, not the least disturbing game for a four-year-old, but that was the 80's. And I can think of at least five more disturbing aspects of the 80's.
I loved preschool. I've always loved school. And I've loved it largely at my own behest.
I don't have a Montessori environment to thank for my love of learning, or a room filled with clinically-tested educational toys, a tumbling class, or karate. It all came from inside.
When I was young, my peers may have been involved in a sport, an activity, a group of some sort, but very few were involved in several. I did a few and enjoyed them. And that was enough.
I relished my time outside, or staring at the stars, or reading, or simply being with myself, friends, or family. Some of the most introspective moments of my young life occurred in the absence of others. Some of the most beautiful memories I have of my youth, of my teenaged angst, took place alone. And I don't want to take that away from my children.
My twins just turned two, and my feet are being put to the fire regarding preschool and activities. I know I will cave eventually, but I continue to consider the practicality of swim classes for infants, tumbling classes for children whose instinct is to tumble anyway, and music class for those who haven't yet developed the fine (or gross) motor skills to fully participate.
I wonder for whom these activities are designed. Are they for the children or the parents? I wonder if Jimmy's Valedictorian speech will include the Music Together class from eighteen months old, or rolling around on a mat with a soiled diaper from 3-4:30pm every Wednesday during 2009. I'm not saying these activities aren't fun or a welcome departure from the home environment or even vaguely educational, but are they necessary to raise a well-rounded child?
And, more so, what now constitutes an enriched environment? Would I have fared better in life had I attended more activities (few of which may have existed when I was a child)? Would I have become a better person? Would I have been smarter? Will my children be better people, or meet more milestones more quickly, or do better on their SAT's if I drag them around now, "socializing" them, and helping them put together four-piece puzzles?
What would I be teaching them? To multitask? They'll do that, anyway. They'll have to. Our world moves much too fast. And won't they end up, by age ten, with their heads buried in electronic devices, anyway?
Here's what I feel: Everything works out in the end. There are no sixteen-year-olds who use diapers because they never learned to use the potty. There are no college students who never fully caught hold of the alphabet (but, I guess, with texting, we can make an argument here). I'm certain there were milestones I may not have mastered by certain points, but my parents certainly can't remember what they were, and besides being clumsy, there's no physical or mental activity (within reason) I am unable to complete.
Everything we've decided are "Musts" for parents to provide for their children now -- are they really Musts? Is it necessary to take a child to classes and groups he'll have no recollection of? Is scheduling playdates necessary aside from maintaining Mom's sanity? And furthermore, why are we scheduling play?
Were all of these activities borne out of the heavy partitioning of our global village, our inaccessibility to (or lack of desire to interact with) other families? Do they serve to supplement natural interactions that no longer take place? Do they replace the world in which we freely went outside to play? (Do we still even go outside to play?) Or have we taken this all one step further, attempting to head normal human development off at the pass?
I struggle with this issue now more than ever, as there's indirect pressure to attend "Mommy and Me" classes, music groups, and playdates. Is there satisfaction when parents lie down at night, knowing their children participated in an activity that day? Because my personal parenting instinct doesn't lead me in this direction.
Will my children participate in these activities before it's "too late?" The jury's still out on that one. Will my proposed participation inevitably give way to dance on Tuesday, karate on Thursday, and Boy Scouts on the weekend? I don't know. What I do know, though, is that I, and largely, we, didn't have these options or pressures when we were young. And, though I imagine there are clear benefits from raising a child this new, fast-paced, action-packed, socially acceptable manner, I really don't think we're any worse for the wear.
More from parenting