Monday, June 14, 2010

Letting in the world

We’ve made the decision to enroll River in a daycare/preschool program one morning a week starting this fall. This is the facility that is really cheap, but probably not great quality. My goals for his time there are just to have some time with other kids, to have something of his own before the sibling arrives, and hopefully to make some friends who speak Spanish.

Nevertheless, I’m starting to think about all kinds of issues that make me realize what the larger issue is – letting in other people to influence my child. Truthfully, I’m not very concerned about the adults. Even if the care is not great, I don’t think one morning a week of substandard care is going to have a huge impact on him. I’ve been very free about leaving him with a variety of adults throughout his life.

I am, however, more concerned about the kids. I think that at this stage in his life, what other kids do can have a big impact on him. I also realize that you can control a lot of variables in the selection of a care facility, but you can’t find a class that is guaranteed to have sweet, well-behaved kids.

Mark tends to want River to have the top educational opportunities. But I don't see a correlation between expensive care and great kids, especially at this age. We recently had a toddler over to play who came from very highly educated and privileged parents. Yet he was a terror. He went around the house systematically breaking River’s toys (River himself has never intentionally broken a toy), and had at least three major tantrums in an hour. Basically, he is not the type of child I would want River to be spending time with because I didn’t see much in the way of positive examples from him.

I know kids are different, some boys are more aggressive, and that may even out in time. But I don’t want my child learning from that kind of example. Nor do I think there is much benefit at this age of putting River in the path of difficult children so he can learn to sort out social difficulties. I’d rather he be in a safe, loving and nurturing environment, which is what he has outside of a group setting.

The reason we picked this place in particular is due to the high percentage of Hispanic children. I worried that putting him in a predominantly English-language environment would make him feel ostracized for his Spanish. I wasn’t willing to run the risk of that kind of peer influence.

I have no idea what the other kids in his two-year old class will be like. On the day we visited, the kids seemed fine. But what if there is a biter? What if there is a bully? What if low hygienic standards result in him getting sick (he has never had more than a cold or flu to date), just as I’m in my third trimester or we have a newborn in the house?

And what about lunchtime? I’ve heard at the more expensive places around us, there is huge pressure for parents to provide fancy, organic lunches. This place caters to low-income kids, so I think we’ll be spared that pressure. But are the kids going to be coming with bags of chips and cookies and candy?

I visited the a zoo recently and saw hordes of kids having lunch during their school trips. I was appalled by the lunches, which were exactly along the lines of what Jamie Oliver rails against – juice boxes, bags of chips, Cheetos, lollypops, lunchables. There were lots of sandwiches and a few baby carrots. Otherwise, huge amounts of junk.

I’m nervous that River will feel denied if other kids have this junk and he doesn’t. I’m worried about kids mocking things he eats (like kale chips) and thereby causing him to reject them. Already, I don’t think I’d pack him kale chips as I wouldn’t want to run that risk. I’m nervous about super-picky kids making their preferences known and influencing River.

All this is making me wonder if I should even let him eat lunch there, or take him out before lunch time. I also wonder if I’m being super anal. A friend whose child goes to a center three days a week said she thinks it would influence him if he were there every day. But she doesn’t think one day a week will do much.

So perhaps, I just need to sit back and let society influence him once a week. I need to let him venture out into his own peer group and make some judgments for himself. But it’s not easy, especially knowing the intense powers that peers can wield over the young. I do feel an incentive to direct him towards peers I think will be a good influence on him.

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