I really don't mean to harp on the kids' schools. My kids go to great schools. I wouldn't want them anywhere else. Which is not to say that I love everything about them. That's just not in my nature. I believe it is very much in the Jewish cultural tradition to complain about that which you love (ask any Jewish mother). I suppose it isn't technically complaining. It is more like kvetching. What's the difference? Kvetching is Yiddish and somehow that just makes it sound more acceptable. (When was the last time you heard a Jewish grandmother call someone a "dick"? you just don't hear it (much). But I suspect you've heard that same Jewish grandmother call someone a "putz." What's the difference? Putz is Yiddish and somehow that just makes it sound more acceptable.) Given the Jewish historical precedent, I'm sure that the JCC won't mind when I raise a few little issues here and there. I hope my kids' elementary school will be as forgiving. If not, I may just have to send them to Jewish Day School so that I can bitch . . . excuse me, kvetch with impunity.
As I wrote my last diatribe about Open School Night, it got me thinking about another annoying artifact of having too many children. I have to attend too many preschool orientations. Luckily, thanks to the fact that we employed the "one year pregnant, one year not" method of family planning, I have not had to endure more than two preschool orientations in any one year. Thus, while not quite the intense reaction I had as a result of three open school nights in a two week period, my reaction to preschool orientation has built up in my system over time a bit like an allergy -- with more exposure grows a more acute reaction. This year I attended two preschool orientations in less than a week and for everyone's sake, they should probably be my last. Ever. Again, it's not the fault of the preschools. They're both great places. But after more than a dozen preschool orientations, I think I'm pretty much at the end of my preschool learning curve and my next reaction may be anaphylactic.
Preschool orientations are certainly not without their purpose (and, thankfully, they are less about fund raising -- they save that for Open School Night). They help lay out the ground rules for the school and set parents' expectations. That's important because all preschools are not the same. For instance, snack varies from school to school. At one of our preschools, snack items are brought in by the kids, dropped in the "Sharing Basket" and distributed in an egalitarian manner. No matter how much you covet your particular organic peach or designer cheese, there is no guarantee that it will be served as snack at your kid's table (I know this for a fact because one parent in that school's orientation asked for a clarification on this particular point -- "So, is there no way that your child can designate her particular fruit for snack at her table?" "No. We want the kids to appreciate the fact that others can enjoy their fruit as much as they will enjoy the fruit of others." Duh. That's why it's called a Sharing Basket. I feel better about the social education my child is getting already). On the other hand, at the JCC preschool you get to horde your food all you want, just make sure it is vegetarian (again, a clarification appeared to be needed. The new director of the preschool -- who is a a great, smart guy -- had to spell out what that meant. "Lunches don't need to be Kosher per se but they need to be vegetarian. So, no meat and no shellfish. Please don't bring meat or pork or chicken or anything like that." Holy crap. Does this community really not understand what vegetarian means? I'm pretty sure that was in my son's third grade curriculum).
While some things about eating at my kids' preschools are different, some things remain the same. No matter what you do, at either preschool, don't even think of bringing in the most dangerous of all toxins -- THE NUT. Preschool is all about playing, sharing, exploring and learning to revile the evil nut in all its forms (shelled, spread, as oil). The nut is so pernicious that we must not only shun the nut family itself but any food that has had the misfortune of being manufactured within the same facility as any tainted nut product. Our elementary school has taken a somewhat less drastic position with respect to the evil nut. Rather than ban it altogether, the school has created a nut free lunch table. It is sort of a separate but equal strategy. Sure, kids are ostracized and humiliated for eating at the loser nut table but at least they won't die. I suppose that's a reasonable tradeoff. I may just have to petition for a dairy and egg free table for my absurdly allergic son. In the alternative, I may just tell him not to eat other people's food or he will die.
Another great preschool mystery that is clarified at every preschool orientation I have ever attended is what children should wear to preschool. This is another speech that grows old fast. Ok, think for a second about how you should dress your kid for preschool. Should he wear a tuxedo? Should she wear a "party dress"? Should he wear a jumpsuit? Should she wear a leotard? Should he wear a fedora? Should she wear a tiara? I'm guessing that you can answer these questions correctly. Yet, every year I am instructed to send my child to preschool in clothing that I don't mind my child getting dirty and that is easy to get on and off to minimize pee accidents (but, just in case, bring a second set of clothes in case difficulty unrobing isn't the primary cause of your child's incontinence). Now I've heard this speech going on twelve or fifteen times and I'm pretty sure they're missing the boat. The correct clothing in which to send your child to school is that which causes the shortest tantrum. These preschool directors have met preschoolers, haven't they? There is no telling them anything. If my son really wants to go to preschool in a leotard and a tiara, no orientation program on the planet is going to change the fact that he'll be arriving in a leotard and tiara. So sorry. If you're lucky, maybe he'll pee himself.
Here's another issue I have with preschool orientation. What value is there in having us introduce ourselves and describe our preschooler in front of the group? I'm sure it will come as no big surprise that no one ever says, "Hi. I'm David Hornik and my little guy is frankly an ill-tempered nightmare of a child. I'm pretty much sending him here to get a couple hours of peace in a day that is otherwise filled with parenting misery." Oh no. The kid descriptions are filled with flowery praise of these wonderful little angels -- happy, jolly, engaging, loving, adorable, precocious, precious, outgoing, charming, funny, intelligenct, and on and on. But every now and again a parent can't handle the bad karma of out and out lying and then you get a description something like, "my little guy is a really spirited, energetic child with an insatiable curiosity." Mark my words, that kid is a pain in the ass. At my most recent preschool orientation, I couldn't be a party to the festival of sugar coating. I introduced myself and my son like this, "Hi. My name is David Hornik and my son is a fourth child, which means he is pretty independent otherwise he probably wouldn't eat." While I amused myself (I always do), I watched a couple of first time parents pull out their cell phones and call child protective services. The investigation is ongoing.