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The dreaded “check-in”

When my kids were in preschool, we went through a routine that I bet is still going on in preschools across our nation.

It’s the dreaded check-in.

When I’d drop them off in the morning, their teacher would greet me with a smile and, “Just checking in to see how things are going this morning?”

I had kids four years apart, so I had a long time to answer this question before I started to question its validity.

At first, I’d be honest, and perhaps offer a warning: “It’s been a terribly difficult morning. I couldn’t get her to eat breakfast!”

Or a reassurance: “Things went so smoothly this morning. We all have smiles on our faces and full bellies!”

And when I picked them up, the check-ins were supposed to foretell my future.

“It’s been a hard day for little Mini-Me,” I might hear with dread.

Or, “What a great day this has been. What a great week, really!”

The thing is, after this happens with the first child for a few years, you start to think perhaps you’re the only one who notices a problem. But upon “checking-in” with the second and noticing the same pattern, you start to form a theory:

The check-in is totally bogus. Yep, you heard it here. If you have a little one just starting preschool, consider this a warning. Your teacher will love the check-in. She will hang on your every prophecy in the morning. She will send you off with odes to joy or threnodies of despair.

But it will mean nothing.

Here’s the truth: Your kid can be a screaming maniac one morning. She can insist that the only thing she will eat is slow-cook Annie’s Mac ‘n’ Cheese, don’t even START with the suggestion of the microwave variety. Then when you finally cave in, all she will want is a bagel. Except you don’t have bagels. And by the time she’s worn you down and you’re about to suggest getting bagels on the way to school, you’ll see that it’s past time to get her to preschool, and you have a doctor’s appointment (or, even more important, a pedicure) scheduled for 15 minutes after drop-off time at the prechool. Why did you do that?

Your daughter senses your frustration. She realizes she has real leverage. You, her mother, have dared to schedule something important to you when she wants Annie’s Mac ‘n’ Cheese, slow cook variety, now, here, before preschool? Your daughter resorts to physical violence. She’s hitting and kicking all the way to the car. You pray your neighbors are driving their kids to school so they don’t call CPS on you. You are not touching your daughter but she’s screaming “Ow! Ow! You’re hurting me! I hate you! When you go to sleep tonight, I am going to kill you with my hairbrush!”

You’d laugh, but you’re crying now. You’re driving to preschool, trying to keep the tears from getting you into an accident. Your daughter calms. You wonder what’s happening back there — it’s so quiet.

You get her out of the car. You’re shaking now, though you’ve stopped crying. You’re sure the mascara you actually took time to put on today because of your appointment — because you were doing things for yourself, darn it — is now raccooned under your eyes. You look at the ground, not meeting other parents’ eyes. They are laughing with each other as they leave the school, relaxed and happy.

You walk into the room.

“Just checkin’ in to see how things went this morning!” says a chirpy voice.

Where is that hairbrush your daughter was threatening you with? You have a better use for it.

Because you know, when you go to pick up your daughter later, she will have had a “super-duper day!” She will have sat still for circle time, and she will have shared her paints with little Rosco even though all the other kids don’t like him because he’s autistic and says things like, “Actually, dragons don’t exist, and if they did, they wouldn’t be able to fly due to their excessive weight.” Your daughter was a great helper and a great friend. She was so kind and gentle with the class’s pet rat, who was acting sick.

Just checkin’, indeed.

Then there’s the day from hell at preschool. Remember that evaluation your teacher gave you at the first parent meeting? Your son is doing fine, but we do have some questions about his… whatever. It doesn’t matter what it is. Perhaps he has a small roadrage problem out on the playground. Perhaps he likes to get into the teacher’s cabinet and squeeze Elmer’s into the scissors box.

No matter what his problem, there will be a day when, “Just checkin’ in!” will be a humiliating experience. My kid? He did that? Oh, I’m so sorry.

“It’s OK,” she’ll comfort you. “I’m just checkin’ in so you know what to expect.”

But when you get home, oh, such a surprise! That’s the day that little Rosco sits on the darn potty and puts his poopie in, plop, plop.

That’s the day he climbs to the top of the play structure at the playground and doesn’t start screaming for you to come save him.

That’s the day he sits next to you on the couch, looks up at you with his adoring eyes, and says, “Mommy, I loves you mostly of anyone.”

Just checkin’, that’s right.

Let’s admit it: preschool-age children are ciphers. One day we give them a cookie and they turn into wild maniacs and we decide No More Sugar.

Then one day they’re wild maniacs and Grandma, having conveniently forgotten about the No More Sugar rule, gives them a huge piece of cake and they quiet right down and ask to read a book.

We think we can figure them out, but really, we can’t. By the time we figure out that we can’t figure them out, they’ve changed again and they have all new behaviors for us to figure out until we realize we can’t figure them out.

I hereby move that we abolish the “check-in.” From here on forward, I would like to change the check-in to some sort of non-denominational blessing: “Oh, ye Parenthead, may whatever deity or force which you believe in bless you with an afternoon not resembling the hellish morning your child gave me.” Or, “Oh, ye Parenthead, please ask whatever deity or force which you believe to bless my morning with your child in the manner you believe would be most beneficial to all of us.”

Now, wouldn’t that be so much better for you?

…Just checkin’!

Posted in Parenting.

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