Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Growing Pains

Every time I enter a new phase of motherhood I find a new heart-wrenching choice to make. And, no matter how important and possibly life-altering the decision seems to be, I always look back and think, "What in the world was I sweating over THAT for?"

First it's medicated or natural delivery. Then it's sleeping-in at the hospital or sending the baby to the nursery. Then it's breastfeeding or bottle feeding or some of each. Pacifier or no pacifier. Cloth diapers or disposables. Beech-Nut baby food or make your own. And at what age should I start potty training my little angel???

Before you know it, it's time for little Johnny to go to preschool. Suddenly, trying to decide if you should decorate the nursery with airplanes or soccer balls seems so trivial. I mean, what school will be the starting point for my baby's no-doubt-bound-for-Harvard future? Exactly which institution will have the right teaching philosophy, teacher-to-student ratio, ethnically diverse population, and discipline style to fit our family? And, when it comes to a quality educational experience, can you put a dollar value on that?

I began this mental flip-flop right along with the best of them. I sent my first-born off to a preschool that my husband and I had researched, toured, and put our name on a waiting list. We were willing to keep our daughter out of preschool altogether if her name did not make it to the top of that list, but such a fate was not to be. She went off to preschool on Tuesdays and Thursdays for 2 hours a day to begin her educational journey. And do you want to know what happened? Well, nothing too remarkable, really. She made a macaroni necklace. She brought a flower for show-and-tell. She learned how to sing "Little Bunny Foo Foo". I learned that maybe, just possibly, I had some expectations for the school and for my daughter that may have been a wee bit too high.

Kindergarten came and we agonized over where to send her for the next phase of her academic development. We decided on a parochial day school with small class size. And she... did fine. She didn't jump ahead a grade level and she didn't fall behind her peers. She did just fine, and continued to do fine for the next 3 years. Then, we moved.

When we chose our new house, we looked at schools and actually bought a house because of where we expected our kids to be attending school the following year. We toured the school and considered ourselves experts at navigating the school waters, now that we had two in school and a third was to start kindergarten that fall. We listened to the principal and read reviews online. Our decision was made. And now, one year later, we've pulled out our kids and put them in the public school. There wasn't anything horribly awful about that school, and our kids certainly didn't suffer, but we got to the point that we realized we had pretty high expectations for the school and those expectations just weren't being met. Plus we were spending quite a bit of money for tuition. And, while a good education should be worth every penny, exactly what price do you put on a mediocre education?

We considered all our options: I could go back to work and earn enough to send our kids to another, more expensive private school. We could pull all the kids out of school altogether and I could homeschool them. We could leave them in the school they were at and continue to pay tuition, but lower our standards and expectations. Or we could try the public school. We don't have anything against public school, but we had no experience with public school so we had no idea what to expect. And, being a very religious family, we were cautious about releasing our children from the protective parochial bubble they'd been inside until now, carefully protected and sheltered. None of the options seemed good. Some seemed more plausible than others. But, which ever solution we chose didn't really seem to solve anything. Our kids were going to be at a disadvantage one way or another.

But, the end result of our most recent mental wrestling match has been a lot of growing pains, both for us and for our kids. We've learned how to deal with disappointment. We've made a conscious choice to lean on each other and support one another. And we've looked back on things like, "Remember when we fretted about weaning the baby from the bottle? That seems so silly now." My mom always said, "When they're little, they have little problems. When they get big, they have big problems." Which scares me to think about the growing pains I have to look forward to.


Buggys said...

I am interested to know how you feel about the change in schools once the kids have been there awhile. I have experienced both public and parochial with my kids and I must say there are pluses on both sides (besides the money). They learn math and english, history, etc. On the religious side of it I think that parochial school is far too sheltered. It keeps them from expanding culturally.
Just curious what others think about the subject.

McVal said...

I was in public school until 6th grade and then became a product of parochial school. Regarding religion, I memorized things, learned so many biblical and doctrinal items that I feel much more connected with my faith than if I was just taking a small Bible study course once a week.
My kids are in public school now, because we have no choice in the area where we live. But the teachers here in small town Iowa are really good and decent Christian people. We feel blessed to be placed here.
The parochial school gave me a really good grounding in my faith before I started college. I don't think it kept me from expanding culturally at all.


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Gigi said...

I went to parochial school until the 10th grade and then switched to public. I didn't learn anything in those 3 years - but I think that was more about that particular school than the public school system. My son started parochial school in the 6th grade and if we can afford it that's where he'll stay.

And, yes, the bigger they get the bigger the problems get. I just take it one day at a time because, as it always has been, it's just a phase.

Jennifer said...

I don't even want to think about bigger problems. My biggest issue right now is that Baby Girl is forced to take a nap at school, which means she doesn't want to go to bed at night, and whether or not to take Bud off the bottle, which I know really doesn't matter because seriously, how many adults do you know sucking on an Advent no. 2 nipple.

Anna See said...

As you know, I'm right in the thick of this right now, having switched Molly to public school. All I could think of today was how her little buddies at private school started Latin today. Not sure how all this will turn out, but I know God is good.

Lisa@verybusymomwith4 said...

It is funny how those decisions seem so big when you make them. I totally related to this.
Hindsight is 20/20 :)

JennyMac said...

This is in our future....our son goes to a private school, not a daycare, private school and he is only 2.5.

The public school in our district is HORRIBLE. I will have much fun in the next 2 years thinking about public vs. private. UGH.

Emily said...

Sheesh...if I'm stressing about their "small" problems now I'm going to be a real wreck when they're older! ;) You're right though...thanks for putting it in perspective!

Vicki said...

I love the honesty and the heart that you reveal in your post. I am just at the potty training portion of the show, but you spelled out all of my fears, even now! Thanks for being a "girlfriend over coffee!"

Michelle said...

I am with you! These decisions are important but at the time they seem monumental. My oldest B went to private Christian school for kindergarten and 1st grade. He did really well there but we moved and it wasn't realistic for us to pay for 3 kids to attend private school. I have been pretty happy with all three schools my children have attended. I did research schools and districts but a lot is what you make of it. I just try to be involved and stay on top of problems before they get worse. My oldest had a hard time adjusting last year to our mid-year move but so far this year has started off smooth.