Right now, at preschool programs around the country, teachers are tapping infinite reserves of patience to keep the peace among children at various stages of development and need. They’re also providing meals, wiping noses and delivering a curriculum in math and reading that will get the kids ready for school.

And there are hugs. Lots of hugs.

A working parent like me would say these services are priceless. But according to a new study from the University of California, Berkeley, the economy values them between $8.63 and $20.99 per hour.

Why Working With Young Children Is (Still) A Dead-End Job

Illustration credit: LA Johnson/NPR

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Oh, you precious girl. You started preschool today. Actually, you’re at preschool right this second. I miss you to pieces, and as unnatural as it feels to leave you, I’m happy for you because I know how you love to be with other kids. I’d love to be selfish and homeschool you and keep you all to myself, but you’ve always been like a flower to me, and I saw you blossom in a way I haven’t before during those weeks at summer camp.

I bet you’re being such a big helper right now. I bet you’ve tried to hold someone’s hand by now and tell them stories about your crazy little brother. I bet that you’ve been smiling the whole time and bet you’ve gone to the potty at least twice by now. I bet you’ve announced that you’re tired at least once and that you did a huge fake yawn to prove it. I bet you’ve twirled a lot, too because you picked out the perfect dress for your first day. I bet you’ve asked your teacher when it’s time to go outside, and I bet when it is time to go outside that you’ll run with all your might to the playground as soon as your feet leave the pavement and hit the grass.

And I’ll bet I’ll spend the rest of this morning stealing glances at the clock until it’s finally time for us to come get you, and I bet that when it’s time, I’ll be the first mom there.

I hope that your first day is going exactly like you deserve it to. Welcome to a new chapter, my love.

Preschool Stress

I’ve been researching preschools around us very intensively for the past few days, and frankly the effort is depressing me. I want to find a program to send Eleanor to next year so that she has one year of preschool before starting Kindergarten. It’s just so expensive. We make too much money to qualify for the public preschools, and we don’t have hundreds extra each month to pay for a private preschool. There are some around here that charge more per month than our (very high) rent. Can you imagine paying over $1,200 per month for a half day, three days a week program? Even the “cheap” co-ops which require a lot of parental involvement are around $400 per month. We just don’t have that much extra income right now with only Andrew working. Some of the schools have financial aid, but they all say it’s limited, and who knows if we’d qualify.

Then there is the admissions process itself. Most of these schools receive way more applications than spots available, so they do a lottery. So it’s totally up in the air. Then on top of that, they charge around $50 for application fees. What if we spent $250 on applications and she wasn’t selected for any of the lotteries? What are those of us with a tight budget supposed to do? In all seriousness, most people I know who live here get help from their parents to afford their child’s preschool. That isn’t an option for us.

At this rate, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if she stays home until Kindergarten. But I truly worry about how she would adjust from being home with me all day every day to going to school for most of the day Mon-Fri.

And you know what, this whole situation makes me feel like a shitty parent. Maybe we weren’t ready to have kids if we aren’t even in the position to send them to preschool. I think about all of those kids sitting in those $1,200 per month circle times, and I think about how much better off they must be, with their parents who literally have thousands of extra dollars each month. I think about how much Eleanor would love these thoughtfully arranged classrooms and how much she could get out of a quality early education program, and I feel so terrible that I can’t give her that. All she has is her days with me, her often frazzled mom who is too busy keeping on top of the laundry to help her do seasonally themed crafts or play with well designed Montessori toys. Talk about the short end of the stick.