Lately my thoughts have been with Claire, my daughter’s first preschool teacher and our dear neighbor, before she and her husband moved to California. We were so sad to hear that her husband passed away a couple weeks ago. We have been exchanging messages and reminiscing ever since.
Claire was a golden, luminous presence in our lives. A few mornings a week we would walk down to the cul de sac and up a steep hill to her “Little Sisters Preschool.” The four little girls who made up the neighborhood school were all little sisters and the youngest children in their families.
You had to cross a pretty little creek and a mossy lawn to get to the front door of Claire’s enchanted house. On one side of the house was a pond that her husband had lovingly dug by hand. It was full of lilies and goldfish and croaking frogs. On the other side were beautiful gardens. Fairy houses and other treasures were hidden along winding paths through tall trees.
The girls wandered the woods looking for fairies, they learned to sing songs of thanksgiving for the food they ate, and most importantly – they were loved.
Until then preschool had been highly problematic for us. “I guess we’re not good preschool parents,” I would say with a shrug to explain why we had switched schools so many times.
Towards the end of our oldest child’s first year of preschool, he began desperately crying the minute we pulled into the parking lot. It was a struggle to get him out of the car and into the school. Eventually, we discovered to our horror that his teacher had been harsh and unkind to him. We pulled him out immediately.
The next year we tried a co-op that had a reputation for cultivating a warm and nurturing environment. Because it was a co-op, all the parents helped out in the classroom a couple times a month. At the end of those two days every month, I would crawl home at noon with my head throbbing and collapse in a senseless heap. I still have PTSD from my multiple tours of duty at the woodworking station where two and three year olds would brandish real saws and joyfully pound nails into blocks of wood for hours on end.
On the days I didn’t co-op, I would dread the moment when I picked up my son and would be told in a gentle voice that “N had chosen not to make a paper-bag vest today.” The first time this happened, I said lightly, “Oh, that’s ok!” I quickly realized that this was the incorrect response when his teacher replied, “We think it’s important for him to participate in all of the activities.”
I may have failed out of two preschools, but at least I knew when to take my cue to leave. We enrolled my second son in a traditional drop-off preschool. It was a stressful time in our lives. Our daughter had just been born and was in and out of the hospital for months. After her first surgery in New York, my husband left us at the hospital to drive through the night with our young sons back to Virginia because he had to teach a class early the next morning. Running late for the class, he parked in an unauthorized spot to drop our son off at preschool. As he stepped out of the car, a policeman asked him to move his car and was unsympathetic to his plea to allow him to park for the two minutes it would take to bring our son into the building. My husband chose not to repark the car and told the officer to give him a ticket if he must. I was mortified to read the next preschool newsletter in which certain unnamed parents were firmly reminded to set a good example for young children by not arguing with policemen in their presence.
My husband was not the only one to be disgraced. I lived in fear of “getting the finger” from my son’s preschool teacher when I came to pick him up. As soon as she caught sight of me, she would beckon me over to her with the curve of a bony, exigent forefinger.
“Your son was very disappointed that he didn’t have three things that began with a ‘c’ for show and tell today.”
Oh, Lord! There were letters of the day, numbers of the day, and colors of the day! It was a daily nightmare! I would set a terrible example for my young charges as I frantically ransacked drawers, cursing the fact that we had no yellow clothes for “yellow day,”or six things that began with an “f,” or was it five things for “e” day?!
We had to fail out of three preschools before Claire and The Little Sisters Preschool came into our lives. I have always loved the Christian concept of Grace – the idea that you are granted love and mercy, not because of what you do, or who you are, but even despite your failures and shortcomings. Having Claire and Lionel in our lives was that kind of blessing. How lucky my daughter was to have that time with her…to build houses for fairies, to read The Story of Little Babaji, to picnic at Beaver Creek,…to be loved. Thank you, Claire. I think of you and Lionel with such love, admiration, and gratitude. We miss you both so much.