Although we’re finally settling into a new rhythm and set of routines, we’re preparing for some significant changes come January. Because we haven’t had enough life-shattering change in the last few months…
We really like the school the boys go to: it’s a Montessori school, and I’ve always been interested in and admired the Montessori method. If you aren’t familiar with it, the Montessori method encourages independence and views the child as “naturally eager for knowledge and capable of initiating learning in a supportive, thoughtfully prepared learning environment. It is an approach that values the human spirit and the development of the whole child—physical, social, emotional, cognitive.” (From Wikipedia.) August thrives in this new environment, and Leif is doing fine.
It’s one of the most expensive options in town, by far, and when we came close to buying a house a few weeks ago and ran the numbers, we realized it was a luxury we couldn’t afford if we want to become homeowners here. I’ve agonized over the decision and gone back and forth and tried all sorts of ways to make it work, but in the end we decided to take the children out of their Montessori school and put them in a daycare center on campus—three days per week. I’ll have all three kids home with me on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
By making this switch to a cheaper care provider for fewer days, we’ll be saving nearly $1000 per month. (No joke, right?) In a financial sense, the decision just feels inevitable. Especially with a third child at home who will enter care at some point, I don’t feel like we can afford to make any other decision.
I *love* Montessori for early childhood education (I’m less convinced in older years). Being in such a clear, thoughtful, well-prepared environment has been great for the boys, and we’ve noticed that they’ve become more responsible at home, they’re learning to communicate clearly and say big words (ridiculously wonderful when their little mouths shape out words like “curvilinear triangle”), and we like being a part of this particular community. In some ways it just feels cruel to take them out of this school when they’ve already had so much change in the last year. I love their classroom, their guide/teacher is great with them and very perceptive, and they’re making friends.
That price tag.
And while I think Leif is doing fine there, I believe he’d be better in a different environment, one with more joy and spontaneity and more likelihood for a close emotional bond with a caretaker. The place we have lined up for them is beautiful, with tons of natural light and wood toys, a lovely outdoor area, and significantly better hours. (I end up having to either wake Zoë up from her afternoon nap or just skip it altogether in order to pick up the boys at 3pm, and at the new place they can stay until 5:30, though I don’t want them to be there that long).
And, I’m really looking forward to spending more time with them during the week (though let’s see how I feel about this by March). Recently Leif had to stay home from school because he’d been sick the previous day, and he and Zoë and I had such a lovely time being quiet together at home, playing at the playground, and going to the library. At the playground we talked about leaves and shapes and rain, and at the library we snuggled in a chair and Leif chose about twenty books to take home. Something in me really sparked at the opportunity to spend more time with the boys now that they’re getting older and I can engage them more. I anticipate heading outside to investigate nature and going on field trips every week, and they’re old enough now to keep themselves occupied at home without my constant attention. That day with Leif, I had this sense of missing their best days and their best years, and I got really excited about having a couple full days with them every week.
In that vein, a neighbor made a great observation recently. Returning home from work exhausted, she wondered why we give strangers and colleagues our best selves during the workday, when we are fresh and energetic, and give the people we love most our tired, grumpy selves at the end of the day. It just doesn’t seem fair! With our new situation, I’m hoping that I can participate in more of my boys’ best hours, and give them more of mine.
All those buts, right? The thing I keep coming back to is that we really can’t optimize our children’s lives, and that in the long run it won’t matter which preschool they went to. As long as they are in a supportive, positive, healthy environment at home and at school, and we try to model the behaviors we want to cultivate in them, it doesn’t matter what educational philosophy we choose when they’re three and five years old. Right? Will a different, marginally better preschool environment make a qualitative difference over the longevity of their lives?
Note 1: I’m brutally aware that this entire agonizing thought process would never happen in Sweden, where all childcare is subsidized by the government (tax revenue providing concrete benefits for the public good) and costs the same, no matter whether it’s public or private or what educational philosophy it adheres to. This is one of the terrific stressors of American life that we’ve been dreading since deciding to return to the US and one of the reasons it’s so crappy to be a parent here.
Note 2: I realize there’s a big elephant in the room, which is the conversation about why I’m not staying home with all of them full time. Most of our mothers did it, right? So why don’t I? Look, I love my children. I adore my children and feel so amazingly blessed that they are mine. But I am just not a woman who can stay at home full time, 24/7, with three kids. I applaud and admire the mothers and fathers who can, but I am not among their ranks. It is so obviously better for all of us if they have time away from me, and I have time away from them, for their development and my sanity. I don’t feel guilty about this and I don’t second guess that decision at all.
So, help me here. I’d LOVE to know your thought process on these kinds of decisions for your kids. Have you had to make hard decisions about childcare, work, finances, etc.? What were the major factors that led you to make the decision that you did?
Photos by me and James.