For last five years, we’ve been a part of the local cooperative preschool system. It functions through collaboration between Seattle area community colleges, small preschools, and the families attending. Parents receive continuing education from parent educators, provided by the college, while kids operate within the “lab” of the classroom, where parents work weekly as teachers' assistants. I chose this model of preschool for my kids first because it was cheaper and offered scholarships (which we relied on our entire time there), but also because it was a way to be involved in my kids’ education and to build parenting skills. On top of this, co-op provides a community. For stay-at-home parents, this community can be—quite literally—life-saving.
Anyone who has been a stay-at-home parent for any amount of time knows the crippling loneliness that can come from staying home with your kid(s) all day. You’re not alone (nope… NEVER alone, not even when you poop), but you’re also not really communicating with others, either. You’re providing things and doing things and answering chatter and you are endlessly, endlessly busy… but there’s a certain lack of intellectual stimulation. I know a lot of folks reading this will bristle at that—I always did—but it’s true. A kid under 5 can only provide so much intellectual stimulation, you know? And at some point during the 75th reading of The Hungry Caterpillar, most parents will start to lose their minds if they don’t get some kind of adult interaction.
ENTER CO-OP PRESCHOOL.
Co-op gave me the opportunity to work in the classroom once a week and work with other adults. Sure, we were primarily concerned with playing with the kids, but we also got to speak real words to each other. Actual sentences with words like “nauseated” or “apathy.” It was huge. Add to that the monthly parent meetings that provided parent education AND an adults-only opportunity to share and talk with other grownups (and possibly go out for a beer after)… well… it was precisely what I needed as a stay-at-home mom with a part time (soul-killing) retail job and a one-year-old and two-and-half-year-old who DESPERATELY needed social interaction. I am not exaggerating when I say that co-op saved my sanity.
Shortly after starting, it also gave me a job. Not the awful retail gig I had, but a meaningful job. Part of co-op is working in the classroom once a week, as well as taking on a class position. Not long after beginning co-op, I was asked to be the Class Chair. My first year as Chair, I shared the job with another wonderful woman in the class, but after that, I took it on alone. For the next three years, I served as Class Chair running meetings, attending All School Board meetings, writing agendas, sending emails, managing conflicts, and generally doing a damn fine job, if I do say so myself. It was good for me. I had something important to focus on and proclaim when some days I felt like all I did all day was wipe butts. And I made friends. Friends who will remain friends for a lifetime. Friends I treasure more than anything else. Friends who have helped me when I needed help and support me when I need support.
On top of that, I learned parenting tricks at co-op. I learned I wasn’t alone at co-op. And my kids learned and played and grew with a group of parents and teachers and parent educators who really, truly cared about them. CARE about them. Present tense. I am officially no longer a part of co-op, but I promise you that if I ever needed anything, any one of the parents or teachers I worked with at that school would do what they could to help me and my kids. And that, Smarties, is worth more than gold.
Last week, I passed my GIANT binder of Chair materials and flash drive full of 4 years of agendas and notes and letters and documents to the new Chair. And boom. It’s over. 5 years of education for my two Smartlings and for me. 5 years of incredible teachers and parent educators who have helped me become a better parent and have helped me understand my kids even better. 5 years of building a community.
I know that we’re ready to move on. I know that having two kids in the same school for the same amount of hours will be life-changingly wonderful. I know that having daytime hours to write (both creatively, and for my freelance work) will be a great relief. I know that even as wonderful as co-op was, I was ready to be done.
And yet. I will still miss it. I will miss being able to watch from across the room as my child discovers something new. I will miss watching another adult help my kid with such care and love. I will miss the closeness of it. The intimacy.
It’s scary launching both of my kids into The World. It’s a scary place right now. But I also know that, because of co-op, my kids have the foundation to be okay out there. I know that even as I’ve struggled with parenting and with life, co-op has given me the foundation to work hard at being a parent. To do my very best for my kids and for myself. And also to give myself a break when I need one. No parent is perfect. Which is fine, it turns out, because if you have a solid community, they can help you fill in the gaps.
I’m so deeply grateful that I had the opportunity to be a part of our co-op preschool. I’m so grateful to the teachers who loved my kids and who guided them, and me, through our years there. I’m grateful to the parent educators who supported me, both as a parent and as the Chair. I’m endlessly thankful for the people we met and the lives we crossed over our 5 years there.
And now we move on to a new community. New lives. We’re ready.