All I Ever Needed to Know, I Learned in Preschool.

Yes, I know that is supposed to be Kindergarten. But preschool is definitely a primer for the "Real Thing" that comes a year later. This is especially true for parents, even those like me, with 3 years of daycare experience under our belts. I did not feel the confidence upon entering preschool that my daughter did- while she was eager to learn her ABC's, write her name, and make some new friends, I too had some lessons to learn.

My first lesson? It is preschool, not freeschool. For about 2 years I counted the days until I would have 12 hours a week (at $2.25/hr) off of my childcare bill. I simply did not realize that preschool would cost money! I had already mentally spent this additional cash, before an aquaintance asked, "So how much is the tuition? Tuition?

I could have recouped some of this cash by recycling paper. We went from simple clutter (toys, books, etc) to drowning in paintings, drawings, mobiles, and every possible thing you could make by tracing your hand. Early in the school year, I got the brilliant idea to start scanning anything that would store well in cyberspace, only keeping (in the real world) very special projects and cards. I may have overdone it, because now, anytime my daughter hands me an artistic piece, she says "And don't even think about scanning that!" As a result we have enough paper in our home to reforest a national park.

As an aid in organization, the school provided my child with a Friday Folder- a green and white generic folder containing her latest "stuff" for the week. I had to sign on the back weekly, and it was supposed to last the entire year. We lost it somewhere in the house around March, and a year later, have never found it. I was too embarrassed by my inability to keep track of it to ask for another. Fortunately, she received a new one for Kindergarten.

One new addition to the mound of paper was an official "Snack Calendar" on our fridge. Pressure was on to provide a healthy snack that the kids would like. Unfortunately, at this age my daughter ate only yogurt, cheese, and peanut butter...and of course, candy. (I wasn't really sure if her eating habits were representative of the entire age group), It didn't help that I got reviews of each days snack offering from my daughter-either "yucky "or worthy of description. "We had little pretzel spiders with raisin eyes and...." My creative talents do not extend to food, so I suspect my snacks were in the "yucky" category-at least on the days I remembered to send one.

I also received an education in Parental Guilt, which begins to settle in firmly in preschool. I noticed when I attended the first class party that certain moms were obviously at the school much more often then I was. They called the teacher by her first name, and already knew every single child. They could find the glue, the paints and the Band-Aids, and could organize a craft project as well as the teacher. In fact, they could have been the teacher. However, my first trip did not take place until Halloween. At least I had a good excuse for not recognizing all the children -they were in costume!

A little more comfort in the school environment would have helped me out at "Parent-Teacher Conferences". I may have lost credibility as an involved parent when I had arrived a few minutes late due to difficulty finding the classroom. Sitting in my tiny little chair, with knees bent at a -120 degree angle, I felt all of 4 years old myself. Contributing to this regression was the "Student Lead" conference-so my daughter actually reviewed her work with me, a very serious responsibility for a four-year-old. She then had to show me to the bathroom, because I did not know where it was. As I fumbled with the handle-she calmly informed me that it had no lock, and to "remember to wash your hands" (this from a child who still called "wipe me, please" on occasion after using the toilet at home!)

The good news is that I was able to learn. While I would never be a Martha Stewart crossed with Mr. Rogers, I did eventually become more comfortable with school. Even though I never figured out how to send my daughter a "Wee Mail", I did manage to settle in to the routine. Library books got returned on time, snacks got sent, candy got sold, and I attended, and I hope helped a little with, all the important occasions and events.

The most important lesson I learned in preschool? Despite the fact that all of us came from different backgrounds, different value systems, and unique family structures, we all shared one thing in common-we loved our kids. By the end of that year, as I grew along with my daughter, I began to feel a part of this family of parents and teachers. And, at the preschool graduation ceremony, as our little ones proudly marched up to the stage amid a sea of camcorders and cameras, there wasn't a dry eye in the place. As parents, we too were graduating, and would soon be moving on with our kids to the next classroom and new Kindergarten.