When we moved to Tacoma, a little over 2 ½ years ago, we knew we wanted to try and find some kind of preschool program for Ansel, both to give L a break from full time at home parenting two kids and to give Ansel some outside stimulation. Because we were a one income family, we didn’t have much money to spend, which is how we initially found out about co-op preschools. If you’re not familiar, co-op schools are usually very inexpensive but also ask for a high level of participation of families. They are really built for families where there is an at-home parent. We checked a couple out and decided on one because the teacher was SO lovely.
I don’t think it’s overstating to say that co-op saved our family that first year. Things were HARD. Angus was born just weeks after we moved, and he was so tiny and so in need of constant care and weighing and stress about weight. We knew almost no one in Tacoma – displaced now for the second time in a year and change. We didn’t have a lot to keep us tethered.
But, as fate had it, we ended up in a co-op class with a group of people who were, in various ways, similarly situated. Many of us were recent transplants to the area, and all of us were in need of friends and allies. With a few exceptions, everyone really got along and connected. Our best family friends came from that program, and many of our less close but still important friends as well.
We decided to send Ansel to the outdoor program the following year, primarily because we knew it would be so good for them to be outside in the wild. It was a big change from knowing all of the parents and kids to just waving to people at drop off, but Ansel really thrived and so it felt like a good trade-off. The cost for outdoor school was both financial (we were stretched affording it until L started working) and logistical, as the program was located about 10 miles north of us. The struggle increased once L was working and then again when Ansel received their childfind placement and started afternoon preschool at the public school as well.
Last spring, I spent more hours than I’d care to admit gaming out our options for this school year. Cost – both for official programs and the childcare needed to supplement and transport, scheduling, travel, etc. The cost of the outdoor program had gone up as well, and L was still working part time, so things were definitely sticky to say the least. Plus, to be honest, we missed our friends and that community of people.
So, we decided to go back to the co-op this year. Ansel goes to morning preschool at the public school program and then to the afternoon co-op class. We patch together the times when school doesn’t happen and getting them from one school to the other with a couple of other co-op families and a friend from church. It takes a lot of coordinating and weekly checking in, but we manage. Each month we get a new working parent schedule that requires another round of scrambling as L and I decide who can flex time/take off work to work in the classroom during that time.
There really wasn’t an option that wouldn’t be hard. But there’s definitely some additional challenges that accompany the co-op that I was willing to take on because of the community and friendship we had before.
I don’t have many things I would say I genuinely regret, but moving Ansel from the outdoor school back to the co-op is definitely one of them.
Oh, Ansel is fine. They love the Teacher (I mean, I do too – think Mary Poppins crossed with Cinderella crossed with your fantasy grandma) and have fun in the classroom. But the impact on me (and L? I dunno – but definitely for me) has been awful.
I mean, yes, having to take time off or flex hours 1-2 times a month to work in the classroom is stressful, but what has really been difficult is how the community of parents has changed from affirming and supportive to catty and judgmental. And, perhaps because we aren’t there as much as others (or???) it seems like a lot of it has been directed at us – though I don’t think we are alone at all.
If there were an option to get out of this that wouldn’t also be awful for my child, I would take it. That doesn’t really exist, and I know that in the grand scheme of things, you can survive almost anything (including judgy ass moms) for another 4 months, but I’m definitely in it with this right now.
There have been a few moments where I felt overwhelmed with frustration and sadness, but the most recent is really the worst and exemplifies how painfully stupid this all is as well. Last week was kind of a shit show – between surgery on my hand for carpel tunnel and then Anguses childcare being unexpectedly closed last minute – the week was a bit of a wash. I ended up staying home with Gus on Thursday and also picked Ansel up from school because our usual option wasn’t available. Generally, parents who aren’t working in the classroom are expected to do a small cleaning job right before pick up. There’s a chart on the wall with dry erase markers, and things get checked off as they happen. When I got there, everyone was hanging in the foyer – usually (in my very limited experience) folks tend to be cleaning at that time if there’s cleaning jobs left – so I kind of thought everything might be done (there are more parents than jobs.) Right before I went outside to get Ansel from the playground, I did glance inside at the chart and from a bit of a distance, everything looked checked off. Because of the hanging out, I didn’t double check (you know where this is going and you also know that I now deeply regret not looking more closely.) So I went outside, got Ansel and took off.
So, I messed up. I should have looked more closely. Because, yes, there were still a few jobs to do and so I didn’t do one. Why do I know this? Well, you’d hope that I knew because someone approached me and said, ‘Hey, noticed you didn’t do a job’ at which point I would have apologized profusely and then tried to make up for it.
No. I know because the group leader sent an e-mail to everyone saying that we all need to step up and clean better and some families are doing so much and others aren’t. And if you are someone who doesn’t usually pick up your own child, you REALLY should be doing this. For the record, we might be the only family who only occasionally picks up our kid (there is one kid who is never picked up by her family, she always goes with someone else – but that kid’s parents also don’t do working shifts and have some arrangement with another mom.) In other words, I know because I was publicly shamed.
I decided to respond to the e-mail by saying, “Oh hey – I totally messed up! I thought all the jobs were done but they weren’t and I’m very sorry! Please feel free to check me on this if it happens again, but I promise you it actually won’t!” Because it won’t. Because it never has before.
If this were the first incident of this kind, perhaps it would be worth an eyeroll. But it’s not. It’s this, plus the insinuation over group text that our child was responsible for the spate of wintertime colds that happened in December (because we sent them to school when we shouldn’t) though there was no evidence to support this. It’s that plus the veiled comments about who’s around. It’s that people stop whispering when I approach. It’s that half of the newer families still call me “Laurie.” (microagressions for the win!) It’s the at-home moms who get defensive when I mention my job, even though I’ve never said anything that would indicate I value the work they do any less than the work I do. (for the record, I work because I would be an awful stay-at-home parent – not because I think it has any more inherent worth)
I’ve expressed frustration to my good friend (who is in a leadership role) and Laurie before, but I decided this morning to send an e-mail to the group leader and copy the teacher as well. I doubt things are going to change, but I needed to at least have my feelings heard. I need this stuff to be acknowledged. I want them to be aware of the impact of this shit.
It’s become clear that a co-op isn’t a good fit for families with two working parents. And that’s absolutely part of this dynamic – we aren’t around the way others are or the way we used to be. But we show up, we do our jobs, we pay our tuition and have collected our auction procurements. And yes, we invited every single kid to Ansel’s birthday party even though the thought of having to host the parents who I know judge me and tattle to the group leader on me makes me feel sick with anxiety.
The worst part is how much this dynamic is a microcosm of the bigger problems between parents – moms especially. Because rooted in the co-op moms reporting me to the leader for not wiping the play-doh table (ONCE. Like, I’ve cleaned every other time I’ve picked Ansel up) in the assumption that I didn’t do it because I’m lazy, or gaming the system or just a selfish terrible mom. Because I truly believe that if the assumption had been that I’m doing the best I could and made a mistake that I would have been contacted directly, or the tenor of the e-mail would have been more supportive and less policing.
I try my best to try and see where my assumptions cause myself and other people pain, where I’ve bought into the idea that someone messing up is because they are a bad person. Especially when it comes to parenting, which is so complicated and contradictory and nuanced, easy answers just don’t exist. Last week I was mad that a parent at Anguses daycare brought their kid when she was in the thick of hand-foot-mouth disease because how could they do that! How selfish! And then I remembered the times when we’ve been up against a wall with childcare – both of us with immovable and very important obligations and no one else to watch an ill child, when I’ve considered just giving them enough ibuprofen to get the fever down . . .And I remembered that we are all asked to make impossible decisions all the time and sometimes we do it well, and sometimes we don’t.
I don’t have time for people who can’t get on board with supporting each other to do better instead of making sure they know when they’ve done bad. But, for the next 4 months I’m going to dig deep and try to show grace to these people who cannot do the same for me. Sounds like a good thing to work on during lent.
PS – I’m also going social media free for Lent, so maybe I’ll be back here a bit more?
PPS – I met Elizabeth Warren on Saturday and so I’ll definitely be back to tell you why I love her so much and will work my ass off to make her my president.