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A Preschool Teacher Apologizes

“Showing up late to circle time hurts Michael’s ability to adjust to being in school without you,” I said. At least this is what I said in 2009 when I was the head teacher to a class of 15 wiggly, healthy 3-year-olds. The recipient of my tongue-lashing was a young mother, a newborn slung around her neck in a Bjorn, a large cup of steaming coffee in her hand and baby barf on the shoulder of her soft sweater.

I want to take my 2009 self and shake her. Little did I know this exhausted, doing-the-best-she-can woman would be me in three years, having had two sons back to back, a miscarriage, loads of therapy, two moves, and so much coffee I’m on a first-name basis with my local barista.

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But allow me to start at the beginning: I taught preschool for six years. I began with 2-and-a-half-year-olds, and when I left on maternity leave I was teaching 4-year-olds (who, when compared to the 2-year-olds, seemed as mature as college kids!). I loved teaching, and I enjoyed helping guide new parents into the sometimes scary and unknown world of allowing their favorite person into my care for six hours a day. A child’s first entrance into school is a really big deal, and I worked as hard as I could to make the experience a positive one for both parent and child. Let’s just say I have a PhD in separation anxiety and potty training.

Early on in my teaching career a child brought a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to school, and I was mystified when my co-teacher jumped into action, snatching it from a hungry 3-year-old, and dumping it into a hallway garbage. “What’s the big deal?” I asked, only to later learn there was a child in my class with a peanut allergy. Even being in proximity to peanuts could send her into shock, and I would be responsible for administering an epipen. I know now why my son’s preschool has those annoying peanut signs with the peanut crossed out, like the 1980s anti-drug campaigns.

I should have realized how seriously, seriously hard this mothering business is.

I took great pride in my classroom, and I’d like to think I was as understanding and easygoing as possible, but there were occasional times I had to speak to a parent about their child’s behavior—or the parent’s behavior, which is even more tricky. So as a teacher I had to red-flag a few peanut butter sandwiches and assign the “teeth are not for biting” books to the occasional piranha in my midst, but the above scenario with a mother sticks out in my mind.

Now that I’m a mom I want to go back in time and apologize. Sure, showing up late to school several times a week made it harder for Michael to come to circle time and participate in the weather chart and attendance. Sure, my co-teacher would have to rock him as he cried loudly when his mom hurriedly hung up his coat and put his lunchbox in the fridge. But I shouldn’t have been so high and mighty. I should have realized how seriously, seriously hard this mothering business is, and given the woman a break. It was, after all, mainly the mothers who took the time to speak with me about their child, to help me decorate my classroom and hold small hands on class field trips.

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I look down at myself today—two crying babies in the other room not napping, my dress stained with spit-up, my hair not washed in four days—and I want to simply take that mother in my arms and hug her, tightly.

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