Pet Peeves of a Pre-School Daddy




I can’t say that it came suddenly, but when I take a step back, it seems just a little odd that we’re taking our three-year-old son, Benny, to school every day. Yes, it took me a long time to enter fatherhood and Benny’s been jabbering for months and months about going to school. This didn’t exactly sneak up on us.


And it is only pre-school, a two-and-a-half hour glorified play time that won’t determine whether he goes to Harvard at age 15 or still struggles with his GED at age 33. Still, my wife Ruby and I want Benny to get off to a good start. Has he?


Maybe, I’m seeking some unattainable picture of perfection here, but I’m just not sure.


Yes, he still loves school after his first three days, and there’s been no separation anxiety on his end. He goes right into the classroom and gives us almost nonchalant, teenager-like goodbyes when he enters Room 102. From my perspective, I guess this beats the heck out of the ten-minute wail, popularized by a couple of his classmates.



When we pick him up, he’s happy to see us, if not desperate to break out of Alcatraz. He even shares a happy detail or two about his day with us. “That little boy started crying, “Mama, Mama” until his Mommy came.” “We read Clifford—the big red dog.”


So, why am I complaining? Is it my self-appointed mission in life to ferret out the seedy underbelly of township pre-schools or to find the cloud that holds the silver? Or do mixed feelings just kind of find me—in all avenues of life?


Okay, his teacher seems nice enough, and my quick scouting report on her would be: Positive, fairly upbeat if not overly so…attractive, if not distractingly so…hits with occasional power.


Ms. P was nice enough in our pre-class, pre-school meeting a couple days before the official Day One. Ruby, Benny and I had a 20-minute get-to-know-her-and-the-classroom meeting. Benny was very reserved that day, and Ms. P didn’t say a whole lot. I dragged some answers out of her. Our little guy felt at home, even if he exhibited a quieter version of his usual self, and all was good.


Last Friday afternoon, the experience with Ms. P was just a little different. Let me explain.


When I asked her how Benny was doing, she responded with a lukewarm, “Okay.”


Just okay?


I was fishing in the compliment pond, hoping it would be stocked. It wasn’t.

“Not bad.”


Gee, I hardly said anything, and my son’s status was downgraded. If this were a weather report, the partly cloudy day was now steady rain, but no ruinous hail. I should’ve stopped fishing in this pond, but I did bring my rod, if very poor bait. Or maybe, my bait was only attractive to piranha.



Oh, has Benny been following directions?


“Well, it’s only been two days,” assured Ms. P.


Hold on there, Ms. P, what do you mean, “It’s only been two days?”


What kind of trouble and destruction can our rather perfect, brilliant and sweet, sensitive 37 month-old have caused in just five hours of classroom time? He’s always come home in a good mood, with unsoiled pants and a half-eaten snack. Room 102 always seems to be standing at the end of the day. Wha hoppened?


I pondered this and more, and I wondered if Ms. P was trying not to get our hopes up too high, or if she (thought she) was just being nice. Now, I admit that I am one to jump to conclusions and be rather “un-chill” (pronounced tight-assed) when it comes to Benny. But, what the truck?


He doesn’t always listen to us, and I guess that we don’t demand that he does so all the time. And when we play silly games like Diggity Dog (don’t look at me like that: you’ve all played that board game) we do play by official Benny rules. Still, I’m sure that he listens most of the time, and plays pretty well with others. He almost always does so at the playground.


And even if he can be a little stubborn, he’s just so darned entertaining as he goes about it. He’s long ago surpassed cute, even if he hasn’t totally outgrown cute and adorable. What and who has Ms P been observing?


And if they challenge him a little, I’m sure he’ll be reading every book in their little classroom library independently by Thanksgiving.


And another thing: How come he never comes home with any art work or anything educational in his knapsack? Yes, we did get the reminder to pay our monthly tuition, and the other notice asking for classroom donations. We also got the note that the school and classroom was thrilled to be part of Scholastic Publishing’s free books program; all we had to do to participate was to pick out books and pay for them.


Huh? I asked that question, too.


What’s going on here? And don’t they realize how high our property taxes are?! I tried to stop myself from going postal over a simple “not bad” and “it’s only been two days.” It’s hard to do so once I get my momentum going. I can generally control my actions and my spoken words; it’s just the other stuff that I write and think about. Sometimes the writing comes before the thoughts, sometimes they occur simultaneously.


Was I becoming a terrible, pushy parent in the making—the kind of creature I’ve always reviled. Let’s see: there was Joan Crawford, Michael Jackson’s dad and George and Barbara Bush. Oy! Not me.



But it is a tough transition for me to hear anything remotely negative about my son. And, we’ve been spoiled with a kid who, objectively, women (and even some grown men) gravitate to and swoon over. But at some point, his every thought, belch and breaking of wind will go from the coolest thing ever to a terrible annoyance. Is he already in this uncharted territory, and how will all of us adjust to these new rules?


The weekend came and went quickly, and on Day 3, I dropped Benny off and Ruby picked him up. I did not want to be tempted to fish in Ms P’s pond at the end of the day.  I was happy to notice that Benny’s knapsack contained a new art project. Ah, some tangible evidence of education!


Benny proudly—and with his customary sense of humor—explained the school bus of which he (at least assisted in) glued little black triangles for windows, the front door, and, and, some other avant-garde pattern that defied description. An observation here. He’s already a better visual artist than his Dad. If I had to pass Art 101 to graduate high school, I may have been the one going for my GED at age 33.


With just a little more perspective and time, I took Benny to school a couple hours ago for Day Four. Although it was a beautiful day, I started thinking about how old the school building looked. Not quite outdated, but certainly not modern. Not about to fall apart, but not quite venerable or stately.


I noticed the cornerstone for the first time. 1959—yes, the very year I was born.


Was the building trying to tell me something?


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