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In Which a Stranger’s Comment Reminds Us To Move Beyond Either/Or Thinking

Mar
16
2006

Son the Younger needs some friends. No, no, nothing’s happened, and he’s quite a fun guy in my opinion. It’s just that we’ve moved, we don’t know anyone his age, the kid would like to play.
My first thought was to hang out in a playground and let nature take its course. He’ll see a kid, they’ll stare at each other, they’ll both want the same shovel, I’ll have to make nicey nice with the other mother, we’ll all work it out, and we’ll call it a day – peer group social interaction needs fulfilled. Except at most we would find a lone 1-year-old in the parks in the morning, and Son the Younger is – count the fingers – 2. That year makes a big difference; the 1-year-olds are still at the Weeble stage, while 2-year-olds, well, you know, 2-year-olds are big guys.
Although the empty parks may be an anomaly of my neighborhood, I’ve been trying to understand them and reach some kind of broader pronouncement on Spanish culture (because really, who’s going to tell me I can’t?). What’s got me confused is that more kids seem to be in preschool around here than in my San Diego neighborhood, but rates of families where both parents work are lower than in the U.S.
So every time I chat with a parent or cultural commentator or tree or whatever, I’ve been trying to understand what’s with the preschool custom if not all the parents are at work. (Or maybe the kids are tucked away somewhere else? Are there some madre y me classes I don’t know about? Are the kids all playing in their own backyards? Do they nap all day to keep up with the famously late Spanish hours?)
One day in my favorite playground (because it’s next to a snack bar of course – coffee!), Son the Younger was checking out a 1-year-old for his playmate potential, and I asked the mother what was up with the missing toddlers.
Most of her friends, even if they didn’t work, had their kids in preschool, at least for part of the day, she said. That way they get some time for other things. (She planned to start when her son turned 2; she was waiting because he had been a little unhappy when she tried him before.)
This should have been obvious, but it struck me. The kids are in preschool because that’s what you do, and it doesn’t need to be solely work driven. (Spanish preschools are also cheaper than in the U.S., which changes the decision factors.)
The “ought to’s” are different here. It needn’t be that either both parents work, and so school is a given; or else one parent is home with the kids being super-stimulator child development and cruise director. Of course in the U.S., non-working parents do send their kids to preschool also, but in this Spanish suburb at least, it seems much more the norm for kids to go, and from younger ages than in my former suburb. Preschools here are also 5 days a week, even if it’s a part-day, rather than the 2 or 3 days a week you could choose as an option in the U.S. Then public schools start with classes for 3-year-olds, and kids that age seem almost universally in school.
I’m so used to the U.S. “hyperparenting” phenomenon, where parents, usually mothers, consider themselves responsible for super-involved childrearing, that I was surprised by another cultural norm, even though I consider myself a moderate to laid-back on the parental hovering scale. (There’s a very interesting interview with writer Angela Barron McBride over at Mothers Movement that discusses mothering expectations. Mommybloggers pointed it out to me.)
I had thought to wait until Son the Younger was 3 to send him to school, but he’s certainly ready now – as he tells me often when he sees his older brother go off to school. It’s also the best way to find other kids here, as I’ve learned. And – my neighbors would agree with him. So the preschool search is on.

Share  Posted by Deborah Klosky at 4:32 AM | Permalink

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