Choosing a Preschool

There is an old German proverb that reads: “Who takes the child by the hand, takes the mother by the heart.” From the minute a slimy, closed-eyed, squalling little baby is laid across its mother’s chest, the mother begins to look at the world differently. (Check out FBP founder Erin Weed’s latest blog about natural childbirth and her journey into motherhood.) What used to look like a fun, predictable place now looks like a cesspool of predators, electrical outlets, and sharp-cornered coffee tables.

I have successfully guided my daughter through this dangerous world for almost 17 months now and despite her share of falls (off the bed, down a short flight of stairs, off the couch, etc. etc.) she is today a strong willed and independent toddler.

Today was her first day of preschool.

Of course, that sounds dramatic. Really today was her first day of ever being cared for by someone other than a family member. She is attending two half days a week at a local church preschool which amounts to a whopping 6 hours a week in the care of someone else. Still, it is a big step for us.

When we were looking for a preschool, I thought we were doing everything right. We grilled our friends for recommendations; we toured a few options; we asked questions and finally made a decision. The final decision was really made by Cassie. Like most toddlers, she has separation anxiety. Every place we toured she was clingy and unwilling for us to set her down for even one moment. But this one preschool, she really opened up and dove right in. She played with toys and smiled at teachers. We thought she was making her choice known. So we went with it.

A month after filing out my registration form and signing over that first tuition check, I was reading Protecting the Gift by Gavin de Becker and realized…maybe my (then) 13 month old wasn’t the best person to rely on to choose a safe preschool. I was reading the chapter about choosing a preschool and feeling so stupid. I had asked questions, but they hadn’t been the real questions on my mind. I had let others convince me what a great place this was, but didn’t even ask if they background checked their employees! What had I done?!

I decided to make an appointment to see the director and ask all the right questions this time. I knew that this place was such a great school that her answers would put me at ease. I was shocked to find out that while the school does background check employees, it doesn’t background check volunteers or follow the Department of Justice Guidelines for the Screening of Persons Working with Children. I tried hard not to let my disappointment show as I received honest, yet somewhat scary answers to my child safety questions. I was beginning to realize that I had a hard decision to make. My child could not attend this school.

As I was about to wrap things up, the director of the preschool shared a particularly candid story with me about a time that she had suspected a parent of abusing their child. Hearing about her quick and decisive action gave me a glimmer of hope. We began to have a simple and honest dialogue about safety. No more questions with pass or fail answers, just a few adults talking about how to make their community safer for children.

In the course of this dialogue, I shared my connection to Fight Back Productions and talked about the book Protecting the Gift. I shared with the director and her assistant director everything that I was learning. She said, “Then maybe you can help us.”

Later that afternoon, we were exchanging emails about fingerprint based background checks and video camera security systems. My suggestions were treated with respect and just recently, the director shared with me that the church had approved the installation of a new security system!

I was amazed by what could happen when just one person asks the tough questions. So today was Cassie’s first day at that same school. I’m confident that as long as I keep speaking up and the administration keeps listening and working with me, we can create an environment where the kids can not only be safe, but can grow and thrive.

For more information about what you can do to be sure your child is safe at school check out this article.

13 year old fights back!

There is an interesting article in the NY Post about a 13 year old girl who used feigned compliance to get her attacker to relax his grip until she could run away and get help.  What is most interesting to me is the way that this attack has affected her.  I think some times in our society we think “well, this was only an attempted kidnapping or attempted rape, so she didn’t really get hurt.”  Even though this encounter only lasted a few minutes, it has still greatly changed the way this young child feels about and perceives the world.  We as a society need to remember to have compassion with all victims and survivors regardless of what they have endured.

I hope and pray that years from now, when she has regained her trust in humanity, she will remember this final statement she made in court:

“There is only one good thing that came out of this,” she said. “I showed other little kids that they can fight back. You can always fight back to the bad person that’s trying to hurt you.”

Having Faith

I loved Megan’s recent article on being Paranoid versus being Proactive. It reminded me that just about a week after I returned home from the Girls Fight Back Training Academy, my husband and I were lying in bed, just about to drift off to sleep when I suddenly had the thought that the door wasn’t locked. It was strange because I didn’t think “Hmmm..is the door locked?” or “I can’t remember if I locked the door or not.” I simply thought “the door isn’t locked.” So I got up and locked it. My husband asked what I was doing and I told him I was going to lock the door. When I returned to bed, he asked, “so now that you’ve had this training, are you going to be paranoid all the time?” I simply asked him, “What’s paranoid about locking a door that is unlocked?” (and for the record, it was unlocked) Our conversation continued and finally ended with a discussion over who empties the dishwasher more often, but that really isn’t the point.

The point is that it is hard to separate the idea of being careful about your safety from the idea that you are being paranoid and suspicious of everyone. Both my husband and I were raised in small towns where people don’t just leave their doors unlocked, they leave them wide open! I have one member of my family who still to this day doesn’t even have a key to their home. It is unlocked 24/7. In fact, recently someone accidentally locked the door as they were leaving the house and this relative had to call a locksmith to get them into their own house! Since I practice simple safety precautions (like actually locking my doors), I’m used to being called paranoid or (when it comes to my daughter’s safety) overprotective.

I won’t lie, when I’m out running errands with my daughter, I am a little hyperaware of our surroundings and our safety. People often offer to help me with things like putting up a grocery cart or carrying bags to my car. They usually offer this help because I am carrying too many bags and digging through my purse for my keys with my 15 month old wiggling around on my hip. And for the most part, I used to refuse the help 10 times out of 10. Why? Because I didn’t trust people. Or really because I didn’t trust myself.

You see, when you don’t trust your intuition, it is easiest to go to one extreme or the other. You simply choose to trust everyone or trust no one and accept whatever comes from that choice. For me, I trusted no one and that meant doing everything myself and having lots of headaches.

This week, I took my daughter to lunch at one of those fast food type Japanese places. You know, the ones that have those yummy rice bowls with chicken and zucchini.  While I was waiting for my food, I started the process of getting my daughter situated in a high chair.  Well, I got the chair and dragged it over to my table only to realize that it was sticky and gross.  I decided I needed to get out a wipe from my wipe case and clean it off.  Now my daughter is still in my arms and I’m digging through my bag to get the wipes.  I find them and that darn wipe won’t come out.  I’m just about to try and pull it out with my teeth when this man comes over and asks if I need any help.  I’m just about to say no, thank you when I stop for a moment.  I realize that I don’t have a creepy feeling about this person.  My intuition shoots me a quick message to say, “he’s OK.”  So I say yes and this nice man gets out the wipe for me and cleans the chair.  He even goes to get my food at the counter and brings it to me!

As my daughter and I are enjoying our lunch, I realize that by trusting my intuition, I have freed myself up to have faith in others.  I can count on my intuition to guide me towards helpful, honest people and away from those who mean me harm.  It feels great to believe in the goodness of people; to know that my instincts can guide me through any situation; and to know that the next time the guy who bags my groceries offers to cart them out to the car for me, my answer will be YES!