And of me. This morning, last minute, I'd cut a red heart out of felt and written "I love you" on one side and his name on the other. I told him to put it in his pocket, and if he got to missing me, he could hold it and remember that I love him and not have to miss me so much. The cliches are true: I really did feel as though he were taking a bit of my heart with him.
When we arrived at the preschool at 9 a.m. he was full of smiles and anticipation -- until we actually entered the building. As soon as we went inside and were greeted by Ms. D, the director, BJ balled his fists into his eyes and refused to look at anything. (Perfect example of a child's magical thinking, I suppose; if he can't see it, it doesn't exist. Or at least that's what he'd like to believe.) We shuffled our way down the hallway to his classroom, and settled into the book corner. Almost immediately, BJ relaxed and wanted to look at the books. We read Diary of a Worm, which had been a popular choice during our previous visit, and before we'd finished the book we were joined by two little girls, M and E.
BJ had met them before, so that helped to relax him further. (I was really, really glad that we'd taken the time to do some transitional visits.) Soon he was up exploring the toys, though he had little interest in playing with the other kids. But neither did he seem to need or want me to play with him. While I spoke with Ms. F and got his stuff squirrelled away in the various cubbies, he looked at the blocks by himself, tinkered with the toy airplanes by himself, and then came over to the Lego table where teacher J and another little girl were playing. With BB around, the smaller Lego sets are off limits (choking hazard and all) so I think BJ was really intrigued by all the tiny pieces.
He settled in to make a little red car and then a road for it to drive on. I told him I'd need to be going soon, helped him with the tires, and talked with him a bit about the road he was building. . By then it was almost 9:30, and he seemed quite comfortable, so I asked for a hug goodbye. He gave it to me without pause, turned back to the Legos, and barely blinked when I hugged him again and told him it was time for me to go. I kissed his head, told him I loved him, ruffled his hair, and figured I ought to get out of there before I broke down and upset him. I waved goodbye to Ms. F with crossed fingers, gave her a wistful smile, and then I left.
Out in the hall, I looked through the window into the classroom and swallowed hard. He was still there at the Lego table, utterly absorbed. Walking away, glancing back for one last look at the back of his little blond head, a flood of anxieties washed over me: What if an earthquake struck? What if he got hurt? What if he hadn't really realized I was leaving and went into hysterics as soon as he noticed I was gone?
It was this last one that lingered, tempting me to turn around for another farewell, but I got a grip and went to check in with Ms. D and be sure everything was taken care of. It was. I told her I'd be home all day, so if he had a really rough time of it I would want her to call so I could come pick him up. She assured me she would and then showed me where to "sign in" so that I legally released responsibility for him to the center.
And then I left. S had taken BB for the morning -- they had a lovely time over at the Children's Discovery Museum -- so I was free. Insomuch as I could be, staving off an attack of the morbids. I went over to OSH to get some supplies for the jewelry display I wanted to make, spent about half an hour wandering the hardware aisles, then came home and broke out the power tools.
The project (which will be the subject of another post, once it's finished) was the perfect practical distraction. It was the kind of thing I just couldn't do with the kids around -- spray paint and short folks? Bad idea! -- and it required enough concentration to keep me occupied but wasn't too taxing. I did all the planning, measuring, drilling, and painting before BB's naptime.
Ms. F called about 1:30 to give me an update, which was an unexpected but welcome surprise. She said BJ had done well all morning and then cried quite a bit at lunchtime; he hadn't eaten much at snack, and he scarfed down his lunch, so she said she thought at least part of his meltdown was due to hunger. She reported that he wasn't napping, but he was resting quietly. Naptime starts at 1 p.m., so I thought this was a pretty good sign. I told her that we planned to pick him up about 4:00, but I would get him earlier if necessary, so if he continued to have trouble I'd want to know.
All along, I'd thought that the afternoon and rest period would be the hardest part for him. And sure enough, shortly before 2 p.m., Ms. D the director called. (Ms. F was on her break by then.) S spoke with her. BJ was pretty upset, she said, and since we saw no need at all to push things, we said we'd be right over to pick him up. By the time I arrived, about ten minutes later, Ms. D met me at the front door. She was smiling and calm, exuding reassurance. No need to rush this, we agreed. She walked with me to the classroom, where he was curled up on his nap mat with Ms. A, reading Diary of a Worm. Though his face was clearly marked by tears, he was no longer crying.
Until he saw me. As soon as he realized I was there, the sobs choked out. I swept him up in my arms and hurried into the hallway, since I didn't want to disturb the roomful of napping three-year-olds. (Only one or two of his classmates were lying awake; he was the only kid who seemed upset at all -- I think he's also the only kid who didn't have prior daycare experience.) He had trouble communicating, given how upset he was, but he obviously wanted to get something from the classroom. Ms. D and I figured out that he'd drawn a picture and he wanted to give it to me. She retrieved it from his cubby and he immediately relaxed, showing it to me and explaining that he'd done all the purple because it was my favorite color and put in some red because it was his favorite color.
He was still clutching the family photo (the one whose absence last night had caused such consternation; I'm very glad that S found it!) and he was insistent that he be able to take home the books he'd brought with him. No problem, said Ms. D. Before she went back into the classroom, I asked him if there was anything else he needed. "My heart!" he cried; he'd left the little felt "I love you" heart on his napping pallet.
Thank goodness Ms. D was so patient about it all. She found the books and the felt heart, followed my lead with telling BJ how well he'd done in being away by himself. "A whole morning!" I told him. "You were at preschool, by yourself, all morning!" As we left, he said goodbye to Ms. D and when she said she'd see him on Thursday, perhaps a small spark of his initial excitement glowed bright for just a moment. Heck, at least he didn't run screaming from the place, saying that he never wanted to go back!
So, all told, he ended up being there for 2 hours less than what we'd hoped for. I'm totally fine with this. We'll try again for the full time on Thursday.
This evening, we asked BJ where he'd like to go to dinner to celebrate his first day of preschool. After some deliberation, he settled on Sweet Tomatoes. I tell ya, as far as cheap dates with kids goes, you'd be hard pressed to top a visit to the pet store followed by a meal at Sweet Tomatoes. A very satisfactory ending to the day.