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The Phase-In

Taylor Newman

Here’s how the childcare phase-in process was supposed to work: we show up on day one, and I hang out in the grown-up chair while Kaspar explores the peaceful, inviting environment for an hour, getting a sense of the pace of things. On day two, we stay for a little longer, and I try to leave for thirty minutes or so. On day three, I leave for even longer, and Kaspar’s on board with the plan. Sure, there’s some wiggle room in the process. Some kids need a few more days. Some kids yell about it a bit. But generally, this process helps the kiddos feel safe and understand what’s up without traumatizing them, and pretty soon everyone’s new routines are in motion.

Here’s how it actually went down: another little girl in Kaspar’s classroom had phased in the week before, but she’d then been sick a couple of times and missed a few days, and basically not made the transition as planned. So, by the time we got there, her mom still had to sit in the grown-up chair for a few minutes before leaving. And once her mom left, the girl cried. A lot. And loudly. And on day one, several other kids started crying, too. Kaspar was a good sport. He was obviously freaked out (his face said, ‘what is this place, and why are we here?’), but he was also intrigued by the toys, and by my being overly-psyched (‘Mom, you’re crazy, but, okay… yeah, school!’), and he made a good effort, took a few steps away from me in either direction, acknowledged his teachers (who did an amazing job of attending to the upset little girl AND all of the other kids AND new-and-freaked-out-Kaspar). But he didn’t acclimate into the environment, exactly. I think he experienced it more as an extremely bizarre play-date that we went on together.

On day two, it was worse. Which was partly my fault. The little girl screamed the WHOLE time we were there. Kaspar would venture toward some ‘work’ (activities the kids do), or toward a teacher, but then run back to me as soon as the girl came near him. He kept asking me to lift him up, and even said “Home?” I wasn’t supposed to engage with him, but I felt torn, because I didn’t want him to be even more freaked out by my sudden emotional absence in the midst of the loud, crying chaos. So I tried to gently reassure and redirect him back to his teachers instead. He got pretty into a block tower one of his teachers built, and stood looking at it even as a small pack of kids gathered around to look at it, too. He stayed there when the screaming girl came near, but then I saw his legs shaking… He was facing away from me, and I saw him shaking and, well, I caved. I leaned forward and said, ‘It’s okay, buddy,” hugged him or something, and he started crying, wanted into my lap. I’d effectively confirmed his fears by intercepting. I should have let him see that it was okay, and experience that it was okay, so that we could move closer to the goal (me leaving). But instead I backtracked things a bit. My bad.  He did become a little more comfortable when the class headed outside, though. The girl calmed down and he did some exploring, but not without coming back to me every minute or so. Damn.

On day three, one of his normal teachers was absent, so a substitute from another classroom filled in. The girl was also still yelling. Kaspar knew exactly what was going down, and immediately started asking to go home. Both teachers told me “This isn’t how it normally is, at all, and she will calm down.” I knew this was true, but Kaspar didn’t, so I wasn’t sure how to handle it with him. The other kids all went about their ‘work’ without being upset by the noise, however, which seemed to reassure him, and the new teacher was able to get him to play with a puzzle for a few minutes. He also sat down for snack when asked if he’d like some (the kids take turns at a snack table), which had initially been my planned departure time. The teachers and I quickly discussed whether or not I should go for it, and we decided to just give it a shot. I told Kaspar I was leaving for a few minutes, that I’d be back, and that he’d have fun. He said, “Yeah!” but then realized what I’d said, and I left to the sound of his crying mixed with the other girls’ wails. It sucked.

I walked around the neighborhood for half an hour, calling both Aaron and my mom, to make the time pass. I pictured Kaspar crying like the screaming little girl. I tried not to think of his legs shaking as they had the day before. After thirty minutes, I braced myself as I walked through the gate back onto the school’s property.

Kaspar’s class was out on the playground. I saw his teacher, who gave me a big smile, waved, and pointed behind her. Kaspar was sitting happily in the subsitute teacher’s lap, with several other kids around. I stayed out of sight while he held her hand to walk to a push-toy, and then let go of her hand to push it off happily on his own.

His teachers told me that he cried for about ten minutes, but responded to their comforting him. After that, he had a good time. I was incredibly relieved to hear this. I have to be in class myself next Wednesday morning, so we’re doing the final phase-in day on Tuesday, and then Kaspar’s rockin’ his school time solo. Despite the craziness, and despite my own fears (and interference), I know he’s going to adjust without a problem… or trauma. Change has been the name of our game since he was barely more than a bump (whoever first dubbed the partnered-and-parenting life ‘settling down’ obviously didn’t have kids), and I guess the adaptability gene made it through the transfer. We shoot for consistency and calm, but… well… chaos happens sometimes, and I’m glad he finds his steady ground in the midst of that, even without me there to lift him up above it. That’s the ultimate goal, after all, of this parenting thing. Right?

How did your kids first adjust to childcare or preschool? How about you? Did you have a ‘first day’ this year, too, or are you an old pro? Any tips for making the transition smooth for kids, and for moms?

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