It took me more than an hour to write four thank-you cards. I had to choose just the right words. I deliberately chose to use cards instead of writing actual letters, because I may have rambled on for pages given the opportunity. I cried a few times. I used the word love and I meant it.
I was thanking my ECFE teachers. (And my family’s. But it’s usually about me, I think we all know that by now.)
In Minnesota back in the 70s, ours was one of the first districts to pioneer and champion public early childhood education. The program is not just for kids, it’s for parents, too. Most models are similar to ours: we play with our kids for thirty minutes, then we leave them with the teachers. We go to the parent education room for just over an hour to discuss important parenting issues. We share, we learn, we laugh, we cry. Then we go back in for the last fifteen minutes of class for songs and stories with the kids. In short, it’s magic.
We attended our first class the day after Olivia turned 2. Just old enough to be in “Parents and Twos.” (Our district has the most comprehensive course offerings around with both age-specific classes and topic-specific classes. The class I finished today, for example, was about coping with stress as a parent. It was a full class, obviously.) I was three months pregnant with Nathan, and we were instantly in love. After the winter quarter, we signed up for spring. Then I applied to the parent advisory council, which led me to friends and opportunities I won’t take the time to describe in this post. Of course we registered for fall quarter, too, and since then, we’ve never missed a quarter. We took fifteen classes in a row with the same team of teachers. (My spouse took the evening class, “What a Difference a Dad Makes” nine quarters in a row until his firefighter classes were moved to the same night, meaning our family enjoyed 24 classes in this program.) They fit our style and our schedule. I can say with confidence they changed our lives.
You can do your own research and find the reams of studies that prove how critical early education is for our kids and their parents. The benefits are endless. For my family, though, the benefits were very specific:
- We left the house. In all stages: pregnancy, newborn, fussy baby, toddlerhood, preschooler, we rarely missed a class. Having something on our schedule every week was sometimes just fun, other times a port in a storm.
- We met new people. The friendships we made, both the parents and the kids, will survive our impending move.
- We learned new things. When I was pregnant with Olivia, I read books, magazines, online articles, anything I could get my hands on regarding parenting. Once we started with ECFE, I almost stopped reading parenting books entirely (exceptions: books my teacher recommended). Nearly weekly, we were given a super-helpful handout about one topic or another. I have the best ones saved in a binder. If no handout was in the binder, I just waited until class and asked. Ours was a classroom with a nothing is off-limits kind of vibe. If the teacher didn’t have advice, the other parents did. If no one had advice, at least they could share experience.
- We shared experience. This was everything. I could walk down that hallway, take one look at my teacher, and start crying. Because I could tell her that I just lost my shit yelling at my sweet son for not putting on his ever-loving shoes and I felt terrible about it. She would not judge me. She would compliment me. “You’re here. Good job.” We would sometimes watch the clock, waiting for playtime to be over, so we could get to the parent room to bitch, I mean learn. Or just to sit. Without our kids. Some days that was the whole reason for going to class. Someone else will watch my monsters for an hour. We shared the experience of parenting young kids with other parents of young kids. The ability to say “here’s my issue” and have a room full of other parents say, “YES! Me too!” made everyone feel like a better parent, a more sane and capable parent. A parent might have an issue one week and the next week, the others would remember to ask about it. And we’d all rejoice together if the news was good. We’d cry together if the news was terrible, like when a teacher died. Or a mom. This was a sacred place for everyday people.
I have a tendency toward hyperbole. “Nothing annoys me more!” “That is my favorite thing in the world!” “That ice cream is life-changing.” So, sometimes it’s hard to take my emphatics seriously. But this time, I really, truly mean each and every word. This program changed my family’s lives. My spouse and I are undoubtedly better parents because of their guidance (the teachers and the other parents). Our kids are more social, more articulate, more adaptable, more artistic, just MORE, because of their exceptional experiences in class. This is a five-star review. This is a recommendation to sign your family up.
Patrick came home right after I finished writing my thank-you cards. “I’m so sad thinking about walking out of that building for the last time tomorrow,” I told him. “I know,” he replied, “but Nathan will start preschool in the fall, just like Livi did. They move on to other things.” But this wasn’t about our youngest child! This was about me. I don’t want it to be over. I don’t know if I can do this parenting thing without my weekly advice group. I thought I wouldn’t bother getting involved in our new town next year, since it will only be a year before Nathan starts kindergarten, but as I write this, and realize truly how much I relied on them, I’m rethinking that choice. But it won’t be the same. The teachers we love and trust here can’t be duplicated. And I made sure they knew that in their cards. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you. It’s never enough.