Thursday, May 27, 2010


I've been dreading this day for years, dreading how it was going feel.

It was the last day of preschool for the last child. Julia is my baby. We're done. We've done milked this thing as long as anyone could.

This place and these people have been part of our life for 28 years. Week in and week out, I drove over and back, and the kids played, and did art projects, read stories, made friends, and HAD FUN.

As we were getting ready this morning, I did the math. Twenty eight years, 70 times each year, that's like a couple thousand times, taking kids to preschool.

As I pulled into the parking lot, knowing it was the very last time, I wondered if I could really do this or not, but Julia was chippering away, and we had flowers to carry in for her teachers, so onward.

Inside the halls were full of little kids and their baby brothers and sisters, moms, nannies, dads... The rooms were full of sunlight and happiness, and it felt okay.

When I picked her up, it felt good too.

One of the moms from our class called everyone to meet at a park for supper, so later we took b.g. with us and spent a couple hours enjoying friendship and sandwiches in butter perfect evening sunshine.

Alicia came to the park to pick up b.g. after work and stayed for a long time, talking, us taking turns holding the baby, watching him experiment with crawling on the grass. It felt very weird to him at first, serious little frown on his face, trying to crawl on tip toe.

Julia ran all over with her preschool friends and Kari and Tim, and a day I never really wanted to face turned out to be lovely after all.

This preschool made me a better parent. The very first teacher had a sense of humor about children. It was such a relief to a kid like me! I was so relieved to know they all act however they do. There's no right or wrong way to be, really. Squirrels are normal, and it's probably best to laugh.

Lighten up, Val. Yes. I thank them. The kids thank them.

When Little Jay was four and his drawings of himself were all with no arms, I asked his teacher, "Do you see this? Do you think it's because he feels powerless in his life?" Mrs. Martens looked at the drawing, then at me, and burst out laughing and threw an arm around me. "Oh, Val. I don't think so! He's fine! Where do you come up with this stuff?"

"Well, I dunno. I worry, I guess."

"Yes. You must stop that."

When Tim was three, he was sometimes ambivalent at first about me leaving. He'd even cry once in a while, but he told me this: "Yeah. Then I hug with Welken and I feel happy again." The older kids thought this was funny. "How does MISTER Welken feel about that?" Tim's answer: He likes it. (Tim had never met the man.)

So little by little, year after year, they made us feel safe, and normal, and loved. There were no disapproving tones, no disapproving faces, only encouragement and acceptance.

When Kari had that little cussing problem, I knew the days they'd be at the door snickering, that she'd said something choice. One of the teachers who'd had them all said this to me, "This one is a whole new creature again, isn't she?" Yeah, you'd think by the eighth kid we'd have seen it all, but no. (This is one of the most fun surprises of having ten children--the surprises.)

Maria was in three year old class when she told me this story: There was a girl named Laurie who didn't come to preschool anymore because she was too little. She was always getting hurt. One day some doll dishes fell out of the cupboard on her and hit her on the head. Another day she fell off the monkey bars.


I mentioned this to her teacher. She gave me a long look and pressed her lips together, nodding. Then she said, "We never had a girl named Laurie in the class, and no kids have left this year. I don't know who that is."


When I asked Maria about it again, she claimed she forgot. I didn't ask what she was freaky enough that she could tell a made up story that sounded totally real. (Maybe Laurie was the predecessor to her cool imaginary friend, Nina?)

One day when I showed up to pick up Heidi, the teachers congratulated me, said they heard we'd gotten married. I said, "Yeah? About ten years ago."

They hooted with laughter. It had been our wedding anniversary, and Heidi was mixed up. Then they said, "Well, we WONDERED, here you two have all these kids...probably are ready to get married." Oh yeah.

So here's where it ends. They were wistful about it too, but I couldn't go getting all boo-hooey, so I told them maybe this b.g. in my arms will be there in a couple years. I might be back yet. That gave us something better to think about than good-bye.

This is the woman who runs the place. She is as dignified and elegant as she looks, always patient and positive and kind, smoothing and helping. With all her talents and education, that she made a career of loving families is a pretty bold statement of her priorities and the kind of person she is.

This lady is an angel.

And this one is a sweetheart.

We're going to miss them very much, it's true. It's a sad thing, a loss in its own way... And yet I keep returning to this truth too: lucky, lucky us. love, Val

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