When we were all up north looking for a new house, Ethan and I spent a day visiting a couple different preschools. Both connected to temples. Both lovely. Neither in our actual town, basically the same 20 minute drive for each, but in opposite directions. One standing on it's own in the middle of nowhere, but vast and lush and beautiful. One tucked into a fully developed neighborhood, near other schools and things like Starbucks and Whole Foods. One has a turtle for a class pet. One has plastic sushi in the play kitchen. One facility is a bit older. The other still has that "new classroom" smell to it and the toys are all brand-spanking-new. One has a jungle gym. The other does not. One closely adheres to a Reggio Emilia based philosophy. The other is more your run of the mill "preschool is so kids can play and socialize and learn how to cooperate and prepare for school," operation.
The problem is, I like them both. This rarely happens. And when it does, I am usually completely torn up about it. I'm generally a one-stop shopper. Need a new apartment? Go see one. Do I like it? Yup. I'll take it. Need a job. Go to an interview. Offered the job. Want it? Yup. I'll take it. And I'm generally pretty happy with the outcome.
There are of course instances where this isn't the case--in terms of life-partner, I certainly didn't settle for the first option. If I had, I'd be married to Fritz Williams, my first boyfriend in 7th grade, who became my first boyfriend in 7th grade because he bought me a cool pink purse with white fish-netting over it and took me to Friendly's, where we split a Fribble. And I'd be married to....Fritz. Kinda glad that fell through, you know? And up until the time I met Husband, I certainly had choices as to who I did and didn't date. Admittedly, the choice of who I would no longer be with was sometimes not my own (ie--dumped-ville), but thank goodness for that. Because, you know, Husband wouldn't have ever come my way without having gone through all the emotional bullshit of my 20's.
Colleges are another example of how I shopped around--after a college tour road-trip with my parents that took us from Pittsburgh to Indiana to Canada and back home again, I decided on the University of Pittsburgh, mostly because of it's kick-ass "Cathedral of Learning," which is a 30-something story building that looks like a gothic church, both inside and out, but is really classrooms, administrative offices and study spaces. I never ended up studying much in there because there was never any room left by the time I got there--who could resist the allure of the vaulted stone ceilings and the soft marigold yellow lighting of the gothic chandeliers hanging down over each giant desk? By the time I got there, they were all taken up. But I definitely enjoyed making out with my boyfriend in the hidden stairwells while those other suckers were studying.
But Pittsburgh, upon further investigation (and misery) was not for me. The allure of the Cathedral wore off (I mean, there was a freaking Roy Rogers in the basement--how romantic could it be?), the boyfriend slept with my roommate, my classes were 500+ people big and I never spoke one word to any of my professors all semester. I headed back north to The University of New Hampshire, my main lesson of the semester I spent at the University of Pittsburgh being that I am not a good decision-maker when I'm given a lot of choices.
I've carried that lesson with me since that time. Growing up, I wasn't given a lot of choice over the major "things" in life. I didn't choose my schools, or my house or the town I lived in or anything like that (not that I think a 5 year old should get to make such big decisions on their own, obviously). Even choosing my own friends was a little bit of a touchy subject, if the powers that be thought that perhaps I was choosing incorrectly. So I kind of went with the flow. I didn't even really choose to spend the semester in London that I did. Sure, I'm so glad I did; I'd never trade that time for anything. But I hadn't wanted to go because I didn't want to leave my boyfriend behind for five months. Let me tell you, when I brought this up to the powers that be, there was quite a talking to. And so, the choice I would have chosen was unchosen for me. And that's okay. It's more than okay because that boyfriend was eventually kicked to the curb anyway (or was I? hrm). So thank goodness the powers that be put their foot down. But still. The overall lesson leading up to and during college was, "just pick something and go with it. Too many options just confuses everything and you end up making the wrong choice."
So as a mother, charged with the responsibility of making the right decisions for my child? People, on any given day my head could just explode under the weight of it. Picking a pre-school should NOT induce the same levels of stress as deciding on a college or a career or a life partner. But I am acutely aware that the school we choose, the tone of the "education", the attitude of the director, the toys and activities made available to him, and the kids he encounters there, will go a long way in shaping who he becomes, at least in these early years of school. Who do I think will take better care of him? Which teacher seemed more loving and patient? Which program will be the most stimulating for him? Which one can we afford with the least amount of pain? Which one best fits into our ideal of "perfect" preschool?
It's pretty absurd, now that I see it written out in front of me. JUST PICK ONE, YOU NEUROTIC FREAKSHOW!!! is probably running through your head as you hit the "back" button on your browser. I get it. He'll be happy at either place. He'll play. He'll make friends. He won't be scarred for life if you go with the place that doesn't have the pet turtle. He could care less if you pick the place with the older, more worn toys--they're still toys to him.
I just can't help but thinking the "what if"'s of it all. What if he's not happy? What if the other school was the right one after all? How will that change or effect who he is? You know---what if I had stayed at UPitt? Or if I'd gone to Oberlin?! What if I'd married my high-school sweetheart instead of Husband? What if I'd actually believed in myself enough to say, at 18, "I'm going to be a writer,"?
Of course, I don't want any of those things. Making any one of those choices would have forever changed the course of my entire life. I would not be who I am today, married to Husband, mother to Ethan, preparing to move to Northern California, where I've always wanted to live, writing this blog. These are things I would never change--the thought of any other life for me is painful to consider. So I'm glad for all the roads that were chosen for me and for the ones that I chose for myself, even if there were some wonky missteps along the way.
I just hope that someday, Ethan looks back and is equally satisfied with the decisions that were made for him in these early years, and that he loves who he becomes through having experienced them.