The Great Preschool Debate

I originally wrote this article as a contributing piece for People Magazine. To see the original post, click over to People.com

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I was thinking yesterday about my ‘parenting style’. Am I a Helicopter Parent? A Free Range Parent? An Unconditional Parent? No folks. I don’t fit into those neat little boxes. I fit into my own parenting style, which I call the ‘It Didn’t Occur to Me Parent’. Preschool enrollment really confirmed that parenting style.

It didn’t occur to me that Camden (who will be 3 years old in September) should go to preschool in the fall. Since he was born, I have been of the mindset that he is A) a boy and B) a late birthday, so there was no immediate rush to the preschool playground. There was no email from the department of preschool or a knock on the door from the preschool police. Plus, how complicated could it be?

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As it turns out…pretty complicated. Like, I feel like I’m running a presidential campaign complicated.

When I went to preschool, there was only one in my hometown. No application process or required tours. There weren’t options like Montessori, co-op, or religious affiliation (unless you went to the nursery school offered by your church). And there certainly wasn’t a waiting list.

 And now, this “It Didn’t Occur to Me Parent” is a nervous wreck. My son, Camden, may get into a preschool by the time he’s of legal drinking age.

 “I told you to call when you were pregnant. I told you so,” said one of my friends, after I freaked that all the schools in our area were booked solid. Man, I dreaded those four words. Especially since my friend was right.

 All throughout my pregnancy, my friend would ask, “Did you sign him up yet?” Of course I hadn’t. I was too busy working, eating Cheetos, stock piling old baby books from friends and waddling around the house watching Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.

I have to admit; I thought my friend was crazy for even suggesting I sign him up for preschool while he was a walnut sized fetus in my stomach. I thought, “Eh, I got time.” It didn’t occur to me that she might be on to something. One administrator told me that some women put their not-named children on waiting lists for certain schools. Why? These women are NOT even pregnant yet. Maybe I am just completely out of the loop here, but I had never heard of such a thing!

 Fast-forward 2+ years, and at least 15 phone calls later, and guess what? I can’t get a confirmation of available classroom spots anywhere in our area, although there are numerous schools. One administrator told me my son is on the list for 2019! It’s supposed to be a “great school”, but, by then, Camden will be almost 7 so that doesn’t help us much. Another told me we almost had a spot, but new siblings of current students were born and they hold precedence on the off chance they want to enroll. Maybe it isn’t like this in other parts of the country, but here in LA, it’s apparently the way the preschool world works.

 Another friend told me on Facebook, “Registration for many schools started in January. Call NOW!!” I should also note, this response currently has 20 likes. I also currently have a stomach ulcer.

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 My husband Johnathon and I took to Google and a few more phone calls, and have narrowed a long list down to three options to check out. It seems they all have rolling registration so we can set up a time to tour them next month when life calms down a bit, and available half day spots are promising for Fall (WHEW!). Perhaps Camden won’t grow up and live in our basement after all because it didn’t occur to me to register him for preschool as I was being wheeled out of the delivery room.

 But, it got me thinking about this whole process in general. Am I the only parent out there that thinks this process sounds as absurd as it is to type? Since when did preschool enrollment become such a…process? Do we, as parents, really need to stay more on top of this process for the betterment of our children? And, if we don’t, are we not doing our due diligence?

 I am a laid back mother, without a doubt. But has my laid back attitude toward parenting, in this aspect, bit me in the ass? Should I have known better than to wait? Is there a “perfect age” for when a child “should” be enrolled in preschool?  I can acknowledge all these things, and own up to the fact that maybe I was a little too laid back about this chapter of parenting. Am I too relaxed? Just not informed enough? Should I have spent less time watching Real Housewives pregnant while eating Cheetos and more time waddling around preschool tours? All possible. What are your preschool thoughts/tips? I would love to hear from you, leave a comment below!