“This is perhaps the hardest break-up I’ve ever had.”
Those are actual words I said to a Preschool Director—and I meant them. Since the time my daughter was ten-months-old, I had my mind set on one beautiful, highly competitive preschool in Santa Monica.
The preschool scene in LA is just as you would imagine it to be: intense, anxiety-inducing and totally overwhelming. And…for good reason. Los Angeles is home to some of the most phenomenal preschools in the country. I mean, where else in the world could a mom’s fundraising performance spark national headlines?
Initially, I was hesitant about this particular school. It was just too perfect; all the classrooms looked like Restoration Hardware magazine ads. But when I met the director–a kind, funny, mother of two–any of my preconceived ideas about what this school “must be about” totally vanished. Not to mention, she was the only preschool director in town who I heard tell parents: “Don’t stress! Your children will end up somewhere amazing. There are more good preschools in LA than there are children to fill them.”
Tallulah and I immediately began taking “Parent and Me” classes at the school, and we both really connected with the program and the philosophy. So much so that my daughter would routinely try to go home with our toddler instructor instead of me. (She’s awesome though, so I get it.)
Different children need different approaches, and this school seemed to offer the best one for my spirited, stubborn, sensitive little girl . The teachers communicated with my daughter in a way that gave her real confidence and comfort. What’s more? They helped me learn to be a better mom. It wasn’t uncommon for me and the other moms to spend the better part of class leaning on each other and the instructor to help us get through those days when we couldn’t do anything right. (Like, for instance, having spent 15 minutes on the kitchen floor crying because ants had found their way into the pantry.) After a year and a half, this preschool had become something of a safe haven for Tallulah and for me.
For the 2017-2018 school year, there were only 20 available spots for first year preschool students and I had the soul crushing thought: “What if we don’t make the cut?”
It would be, in my eyes, my first real motherhood failure. Don’t get me wrong, I fumbled a lot of things the first two-and-a-half years, but competition is where I thrive (I’ve literally lost friends over rounds of Monopoly)…so this felt like my first real test. I could mess up the rest, because I knew that when the going gets tough, I was not the kind of mom to settle for a participation trophy.
On February 9, 2017, the preschools sent out their acceptance emails…as in, just two weeks ago. (It just so happened to be my birthday, so if it didn’t go our way, it was going to make for a pretty sour celebration.) When the email arrived, the subject line eliminated all suspense: “WELCOME!”
It was an enormous relief. Our daughter had been accepted into a preschool where I felt totally confident she should would grow, learn and thrive.
Here’s the rub: we are currently living in Orange County. My husband and I sold our home in Los Angeles earlier last month. It all happened quickly that we decided to just move down to Orange County for the interim (and in with my parents…which is an entirely different post all together). And during the six weeks between the sale of our home and receiving the preschool “Welcome” email, something changed (deep breath): We decided to stay in Orange County…at least for a little while, which meant we couldn’t fully commit to preschool. In fact, we were going to need to take a break.
I waited four days to send the email declining the spot, telling my husband I wanted to enjoy this achievement for just a little while longer.
“Why?” he asked.
For starters, I wanted to relish the moment. Motherhood victories are sometimes far and few between, and this felt like a big one. I had chosen an amazing preschool for our daughter, and it appeared to be a good fit for both the school and for our family. Tallulah loved the teachers and her friends, she was familiar with the space and, most importantly, we all felt really comfortable there.
Now what? Start the process all over again? Try to somehow find a school in this new place that could possibly compare?
I feel like I had done something really right, and my daughter won’t actually be able to benefit from it. As a first time mama, the idea off dropping of my child at school and actually leaving her there sounds totally mental. At the Santa Monica preschool, we would have already had two years of practice before ever having to leave my child there without me. I’m not prepared to start a new relationship yet, I’m still grieving this break-up.
It’s safe to assume that a lot of this crazy is just my own brain whirling around. As parents, we just want to do what is best for our little people, and it’s really easy to second guess every decision. Raising my daughter in Orange County isn’t something I ever expected to do, but here I am. It’s the right choice for the time being, for all of us. I have to remember to have faith in our decisions and confidence in my ability to be a good mom wherever we are.
Truth be told…I’m not sure there’s another preschool out there that’s as perfect as “our preschool.” And that’s not because it’s necessarily better than the rest, it’s just because that’s where my daughter and I found comfort, support and encouragement during a really developmental time.
When I finally emailed the director to let her know we wouldn’t be attending in the fall, I had a wad of Kleenex in hand. I told her that if and when we returned to Los Angeles, she could expect me to be standing outside the preschool window holding a boombox over my head like John Cusack until they let us back in. Being every bit as lovely and calming as she has been since day one, she told me that if we make our way back, she’ll do everything she could to find a space for us, and “not to stress,” because she’s certain we’d find something wonderful for our daughter wherever we land.
That’s when I realized a really great school doesn’t have anything to do with all the pomp and circumstance you may see on a tour, or whatever mommy blog breakdown you may read. It does, however, have everything to do with the people inside its walls and the relationships you build. So while I’m not sure Tallulah will ever experience the thrill of having a music icon perform for at her school’s bake sale, I’m certain we’ll find her an amazing school with really great people. And you know what? She won’t even know the difference. She doesn’t even listen to Beyoncé…