After the first day, he said he didn't want to go back. I knew the adjustment would be hard. He missed his preschool friends and was upset that he had to leave them. When things didn't improve after a few days, I wondered whether everything was okay, and asked him questions aimed at finding out how his time was being spent and how the teachers were treating him. Nothing stood out-- except that nothing stood out to him. He couldn't name any of the kids in his class except one. He didn't even know his teachers' names, even after two weeks. My impression was that the kids were being shuttled back and forth like cattle and that it was very impersonal. I called the director during the day a couple of times when Charlie cried at dropoff, and she reassured me that even though he was upset when I dropped him off, he was playing happily five minutes after I left. During the third week he seemed to be adjusting, and I thought it was going to work out.
I was off work the Monday after Easter, so I took the kids to daycare late and picked them up early. When I walked in that afternoon, Charlie's class was walking from the playground to a classroom for story time. The teacher, a middle-aged lady who hadn't seemed overly friendly the few times I'd spoken to her, was telling them to sit down in the tiny little room. As I approached the door, I heard her say, "Sit on your bottom with your legs crossed in front of you. Amelia! Is that what I said to do!? I said sit with your butt on the floor and your legs in front of you!" It seemed a little harsh, considering she was talking to a 3 or 4 year old little girl.
A day or two later, while getting ready for daycare (we refer to it as "school" around here because that's what we always called preschool), Charlie said, "Mom, I don't want to wear my blue jeans to school. I want to wear my stretchy pants with no buttons and zippers." I asked him why, and he said he had trouble unbuttoning his pants to use the restroom. I told him to ask his teacher for help with that, and he said, "I do, but she gets grumpy." I could just imagine that teacher being irritated at being asked to help him, and made a mental note to mention it to the director. The very next day, before I had the chance to talk to anyone about it, Charlie again begged me not to make him wear pants with a button because, in his words, "She gets so angry at me."
That day I called the director during my planning period. I told her what Charlie had said about the teacher not wanting to help. I was polite and didn't go on the offensive at all, although at this point I was really beginning to suspect the teacher in question was being impatient with the kids and probably didn't need to work in a daycare. I just told her that Charlie still needs help with his pants, and if they don't help (or if they get "grumpy") he is liable to not ask for help and wet his pants as a result. The director always got really defensive and began talking too much anytime I asked questions about how Charlie's days were going, and she definitely had that reaction this time. In the end, she said she would talk to the teacher. I reiterated that all I was asking for was for her to help him unbutton and re-button his pants. I wasn't out to get the teacher.
The next day when I picked Charlie up, the teacher told me my son had said his daddy gives him beer. She said he told another child that his daddy gives him beer, and the child had repeated it to his parent, and the parent had come up to the school "very upset about it." Then she said Charlie had mentioned his daddy giving him "vanilla beer." Well, his dad bought him a vanilla root beer a few days earlier. I laughed about it, but she didn't see the humor and was really making it out to be a big deal.
The following morning when I dropped Charlie off, he went apesh**. When I started to leave, he chased me down and jumped into my arms. I put him back down, hugged him, and told him to stay in his classroom. He began crying as if I was leaving him in a work camp, and as I tried to leave again a teacher was holding him and he was literally fighting them to get away. I quickly made my exit, but I worried all day. That was very unlike Charlie. His teacher had already demonstrated her ignorance and impatience a few times, and all signs were pointing to him being treated unkindly by her.
As I drove to work that morning, I was sick to my stomach. I considered calling in sick, picking him up, and spending the day visiting other daycares. If I hadn't missed a day and a half last week because of a stomach virus, I probably would have done that, but I went on to work, telling myself he needed to adjust, he didn't need me to rescue him, and I would be doing him a disservice if I didn't make him deal with situations he didn't like. But I knew there was something else to it. I called the director during my planning period, and she reassured me that everything was fine. Charlie was playing and everything was okay. I didn't believe her this time. There was always something in her voice when I asked questions, and after this particular phone call, I pinpointed it. Desperation. She was desperate. She was lying. She knew there was some kind of problem. When we hung up I called a few other daycares, including one I had considered before finding out they didn't open early enough for me to make it to work on time. They still had openings and were willing to let the kids start any day. I decided to talk to my boss, because I'd heard he was very understanding about situations relating to kids and had let another teacher come in a few minutes late every day for a year because she couldn't get her kids to daycare any earlier.
That afternoon when I pulled up to the daycare, Charlie's class was out on the playground. I went in and got Andrew first, then went outside to get Charlie. The mean teacher was sitting there all fat and slumped over with her curmudgeonly self, and Charlie was standing nearby. The first thing I noticed was that he looked tired and that he'd scratched his skin really bad that day. His eczema gets crazy in hot weather.
It also gets crazy with stress.
When I approached the gate, the teacher said, "Tell yo momma what you did!" Charlie began crying. "Stop cryin' and tell her what you did!" He couldn't tell me because he couldn't stop crying, and I wasn't impressed with the way she was talking to him. I asked what unspeakable crime he had committed. "He pulled another kid off that toy over there and almost broke his neck!" She was talking as though this wasn't normal playground behavior. I'm not saying he should be allowed to play rough, but he didn't need to be berated and belittled and humiliated over it. He's four. The appropriate response is to put him in timeout and never mention it again, or take away part of his playtime or some other privilege, not raise your voice at him and force him to recount his misdeeds later.
I decided right then that I was done. I wanted to tell her off, tell her everything I thought, tell her how horrible I thought she was, that she didn't have to talk to him like he was a dog, that she didn't deserve to work with kids, that if you can't get along with Charlie McWilliams, you probably can't get along with anyone. I wanted to tell her that my kid is smart, funny, and sweet. He's kind. He's loving. He learns easily, and he would do anything to please her-- if there was any hope of pleasing her.
Instead I picked him up, and the only thing that came out of my mouth, which seemed to be detached from my body at this point, was a quiet "Okay." I was shocked at my self control.
I turned to walk to the van with my crying, humiliated child, my mind already set on taking them straight to the other daycare to secure a spot for the next day. As I turned to leave, the lady said, "He been throwing sand all day too!"
Last. Straw. Bitch should've stopped while she was ahead.
No jury in the world would convict me.
I don't know exactly what I said. I was pointing and trying unsuccessfully not to yell. The first thing I said was, "That lady out there has a terrible attitude!" The rest is all a blur. I demanded that they get my kids' stuff together and said we wouldn't be back. The director, a 50-something lady with short, gray hair, put her hands over her mouth and began fake crying. Pathetic. I stormed out, put Charlie into the van, and went back in to retrieve the kids' belongings. Diapers, lunch boxes, snacks, nap mats. The short lady was apologizing between fake sobs. When I went back in, I told her what the lady had done, how I thought all these things Charlie had said and things I'd overheard the teacher say were indicators that she wasn't treating them right, and that she had just removed all doubt. Other parents were beginning to come in for their children at this point, and the woman just nodded and looked completely freaked out and ready for me to go before any more parents heard me.
I drove around the block to the other daycare, and five minutes later they had a spot starting the next day.
The owner of the daycare called me later that day. She said that there had been a similar incident with the same teacher a few months ago for which she had been reprimanded. This was the second problem they'd had with her, and she got fired this time.
When I approached the doorway of the classroom in their new daycare the next afternoon, I heard the teacher's voice. She was talking to them sweetly, encouraging them, and showing incredible love and patience for a bunch of wound-up kids who had been trapped inside all day due to the rain. I walked in and asked how the day went. Charlie and Andrew heard me and looked up. They smiled, but didn't run to me like they were escaping a prison and I was their ride to freedom. Charlie came for a hug, then went right back to his group of friends. Andrew never put down the toy he was playing with, just gave me a big, toothy grin and a "Momma!"
I haven't driven to work with a sick stomach or felt the need to call and check in since.