Monday, May 10, 2010

preschool parents and privilege

Daniel is taking to preschool like a duck to water. Today he was so eager to go, he wanted to leave a whole hour early, which would have been ridiculous, but still, you've got to love that enthusiasm. What I like about it - other than the fact that Daniel loves it, of course - is that I am really clicking with the other kids' parents.

This was not the case at the Y. Daniel really enjoyed his preschool enrichment classes there, and the teachers were (are) wonderful (one is a friend of mine)...but come time to pick him up, I just hated waiting in the hallway with the other moms and dads. At first I tried making conversation with a few of them, but that was so awkward, I eventually gave up and lived with awkward silence instead. I'm sure I looked like a snob for not talking to anyone, but there are times you know better than to force it, you know? Occasionally, I got lucky and would run into my neighbor, whose son is Daniel's best friend, but our timing was often off, and that didn't happen too often.

But at Daniel's current preschool - wow, what a difference. There are a few parents I actually look forward to running into, and today one actually arranged for our kids to play together next time the weather is nice after school (though judging by the dismal forecast, that could be a little while.) I'm sure this has a lot to do with the demographic. Because of its location, this preschool has several students with parents in grad school or otherwise connected to the University (I don't want to reveal exactly which preschool it is, for our own privacy), and I would guess that only about half of the kids in Daniel's class are caucasian like him. This environment of diverse and educated people, this is where I am comfortable. Many - not all, but many - of these people are parents who are still in the early years of making their careers and finding their professional place while raising small children. I so get that.

Which brings me, in a roundabout way, to the privilege part. (By the way, yes, I know that higher education is considered a privilege and that the academic population is only diverse to a point because there are whole swaths of people who do not have access.) But raising kids on a grad student budget is really hard. I wouldn't know from experience, actually, because Stuart dropped out of grad school and got a Real Job about a year before I got pregnant with Daniel, so the whole grad school/mama balancing act was more an issue of my time and ability to focus than a family budget problem. Still, I know what it's like to live in a little apartment that may or may not be roach-infested and work like a dog for a 3-digit paycheck every month in a field that takes a full 5 minutes to explain to anyone who asks and have no idea if you'll be able to find gainful employment upon graduation.

(Come to think of it, I had a miscarriage two years before Daniel was born when we were both grad students. Had that pregnancy had a different outcome, perhaps I would know exactly what it's like. Well. Water under the bridge.)

Certainly, there are families at this preschool who are regular ol' middle class folks like us with white collar jobs and a mortgage and all. But still, I feel a little self-conscious when I drive up to the school in our nice car to pick Daniel up, or when I admit that we're joining a pool this summer (which is more expensive than swimming lessons at the Y, for example), or when I say something about our back yard (because that reveals we own a house). Just because I am at a point in life where I can afford these things and another parent can't (yet) does not mean they will judge me for it, because that's silly and I should get over it. Right?

3 comments:

Jessi said...

Right. You shouldn't stress.

I get it, though. I am on the Montessori Board and I serve on three committees and I never miss an event or whatever, but I feel sooo outside the loop. I don't chat pleasantly before the meetings or know who to sit near at the events. I just don't fit in there. I watch Brynna like a hawk to make sure she doesn't feel that way, but she doesn't notice.

I'm hoping for better next year.

Mrs. Allroro said...

Suze, forgive yourself for being a homeowner. It's okay, because you're not a snob. I live in a one bedroom apartment, and some of my favorite parents live in multi million dollar homes. (That's the kind of area where my school is.) And some of the people in our school community who are super snobby live in apartments, or older, less expensive homes. It's okay to have a home and for your husband to have a job and for you guys to have a new car. You're nice people. People will still feel comfortable with you for that reason. Or not. But it won't be your fault.

Steph said...

Yeah, I know. I feel so rich compared to most of my grad school colleagues just by virtue of the fact that I'm married to someone with a salary and own a house.