There are a number of factors that go into successfully raising a child, but the most important thing is being a good person. I often go back to something I heard from the economics guys on the Freakonomics podcast a few years ago about parenting: If you’re a good person, chances are, you’re going to raise a good person. If you’re a jerk, you’re also probably going to raise a jerk (one particular study concluded that bad parenting could indeed be passed down, as it showed that parents who were bad tippers raised children who were bad tippers. Being a bad tipper, of course, is the number one sign of being a bad person).
Something that parents don’t often mention — because we all obviously want to take all the credit for successfully raising a kid — is preschool. If you live in a household with two working parents raising toddlers, there’s a very good chance that your children are attending a one. I hope it’s a good one, because it can make all the difference.
You don’t hear much about preschools unless you’re talking about a horror story you saw on the local news, but a good preschool can mean everything for a child who learns and absorbs more between the ages of 2-5 than any other time in the child’s life. It’s important to ensure that he or she is absorbing goodness from bright, enthusiastic, endlessly patient teachers.
I honestly have no idea how preschool teachers do it. I have three children, each of whom my wife and I obviously adore, but no time in our lives is more chaotic and stressful than the weekends, when we as parents are tasked with something that cannot be taught in college or law school, and that is: Keeping our children happy and occupied. It means putting down the laptop or the phone and paying attention to people who do not care about Mad Men or Breaking Bad, who ask the same questions over and over and over, and always want a snack or to be hugged or to do a puzzle, which means: Doing a puzzle while your child watches. In the midst of all this, we also have to deal with potty breaks, accidents, tantrums, meltdowns, taking off and putting clothes on squirmy individuals, and cleaning up afterwards.
After two full days of this, we sometimes look forward to going back to work, not because we won’t miss the children, but because our brains hurt and our patience is shot. I couldn’t do that every day, and I honestly envy those parents who can.
Thankfully, my children to go an amazing preschool (if you live in the Portland, Maine area, it’s called the Jewish Community Alliance Preschool — that is actually one of my daughters holding up a #1 finger on the home page).
These people are magic, honest-to-God magic. I am convinced that before they come to school, they remove their unicorn horns and tuck away their rainbows to hide from the world their true identities.
I have no idea how they do it, but they are unflappable. All three of my children have gone through this preschool and the twins still attend. They are not particularly easy kids. They are very cute, but they are also loud, demanding, and can be disruptive, and these teachers are completely unfazed. They remain patient and enthusiastic during moments that would otherwise break a normal caregiver. And they do it with 12 or 15 jumping, yelling, demanding children at the same time. These are three year olds, and as most parents understand, three year olds cannot be reasoned with, unless you are a magical fairy or a good preschool teacher.
On top of that, preschools do the things that many parents do not inherently understand how to do, especially their first time around: They help toddlers socialize, they teach them the basics of communication, they teach them about the days of the week and about seasons and, in this particular school, some Jewish rituals and traditions (which the kids, in turn, teach me). The teachers do it without complaint, even when I try and needle complaints out of them. Moreover, if something even minor goes wrong, like a tantrum, they call us at home and explain what happened, why it happened, how they dealt with the situation, and kindly offer suggestions as to how we might also deal with similar situations.
I love these teachers. I love the school director. I love the entire organization. The preschool experience has been so incredible for us that we have spent — with our older son — several years trying to duplicate it in grade school.
Every parent should have a preschool as good as this one.
My kids are terrifically good people. I wish that my wife and I could take all the credit for that, but we owe plenty of that to the people who look after them, who play with them, and who comfort them five days a week. We owe it to the tireless and often thankless efforts of preschool teachers.
If you ever see one of these magical creatures out in the real world, thank them. Maybe buy them a beer. They probably really need one.