In a few weeks, I will enroll Isabella in preschool for this coming September. I'm in the process of scoping out our area's preschools, and this Saturday we're attending an open house for one we're interested in.
I casually mentioned our plans to my grandma a few weeks ago. In families where the ties that bind don't have the nasty habit of strangling you at times, grandma might respond with a, "That's nice, dear" and move on to topics of greater interest to the geriatric set, such as the current far-flung plotline of her "story" or how the true winners of Dancing with the Stars were robbed last season.
Not in mi famiglia.
At the time, grandma expressed mild shock and concern. Preschool at age 3? Nonsense. What if she cries? Refuses to go? Contracts a disease and infects the twins? I brushed off her concerns and tried to explain that preschool for three-year-olds is the norm now and that I'm not about to stuff Isabella into a bubble to keep her insulated from the germs that will end up boosting her immunity in the long run. Remember, grandma also thinks I am compromising my children's fragile cores by taking Isabella once a week to a toddler gym class.
However, on Monday when she brought up the topic, she wasn't so benign.
Out of nowhere, grandma says, "And if you think Isabella is going to go to preschool willingly, you're crazy."
She then proceeded to list a litany of reasons why preschool for three-year-olds, and Isabella specifically, is a horrible idea. In addition to the high likelihood that Isabella will contract Scarlet Fever, TB, and consumption, she said Isabella won't learn anything there that she doesn't already know or that I can't teach her (because you just know I'm in the process of setting up a schoolroom in my basement, what with my copious amounts of spare time). Grandma believes Isabella will cry and try to escape (apparently, four-year-old preschoolers, kindergartners, and 1st graders crying for their mothers is okay), and that preschool is where "mothers who don't want to watch their children dump them off." She said, "mothers are selfish and like to socialize," and that preschool is a place for them to drop off their kids so they can have time to themselves.
To which I said, "And that's a problem?"
All kidding aside, I want Isabella in preschool in the fall because I believe she can benefit enormously from it. I want her as prepared as possible for kindergarten, which I understand has moved beyond the fingerpainting and two-hour naps on mats that defined my experience 27 years ago to a very academically oriented environment. I think she'll enjoy the socialization aspects of preschool, and I really want her to learn to take direction from someone other than the hubs and me. And I also think Isabella will thrive in an environment where she's learning new things each day. One of my greatest fears is that I'm not fostering her development the way I should simply because the twins are sapping up so much of my time. (Well, the twins and the Real Housewives of Orange County.)
I think what irked me the most about this "discussion" with grandma is her belief that mothers should not have lives outside of caring for their children. Yes, she cares about Isabella's health and mental wellbeing. She doesn't want her upset about going to preschool, and of course, neither do I.
But when she says that preschool is a dumping ground for mothers who want time to themselves, she's essentially giving credence to the mistaken characterization that so many mothers are fighting to overcome: that in order to be a "good mother," women must become mommy martyrs, and sacrifice their own desires, goals, and dreams for those of their children. We're not to have social lives. We're not to hit the gym to try and lose our baby weight or meet friends for coffee. And we're certainly not to work outside the home and have our children attend daycare, even if we love our jobs. And if you do any of these things (as apparently I am by sending Isabella to preschool) you're not a good mother.
My grandma never said I wasn't a good mother. She always referred to "mothers who do this" and "mothers who do that." But the implication was quite clear. Even though I'm hardly going to be whooping it up with two one-year-olds at home next fall, and even though Isabella will more likely than not LOVE preschool, I'm derelict in my motherhood duties by enrolling her.
It's beliefs like grandma's that place mothers under never-ending pressure and stress. So many moms I know feel enormous guilt for working while their children are in daycare, even though they love their jobs. Other mothers I know won't let themselves socialize with friends without their children tagging along because they can longer see where their children's lives end and theirs begins.
The "good mother" mystique is maddening and I refuse to play along.I'm thinking that asking my grandma to babysit the twins while we attend this Saturday's preschool open house is probably out of the question.