February 18, 2011

The Pre-School Rant

If you know me, then you probably know the three most important things about me:
I have no regrets, I treat others as I expect to be treated, and I don't hold a grudge.
Every so often, however, someone comes along who makes me rethink the three basic principles by which I live. I thought I could let it go, but apparently I need to write this off my chest.

September of last year, Bram started going to a pre-school near us. It had recently undergone major changes due to a new law passed by the government involving the merging of pre-school and daycare facilities. The idea was to offer a sort of 'one-stop-shopping' for parents - instead of the hassle of bringing their children to one place and having them transferred to another during the day, all childcare benefits would be held in one place. We gained a central location but were forced to say goodbye to our experienced and much-loved caregivers. What we were left with didn't really become clear to me until much later.

The first couple weeks was fine. Then, things started to go downhill fast. When Bram saw the front door of the pre-school and realized we were going to leave him there, he would begin to cry. Then he would begin to scream. And holler. And kick, hit, protest with his entire body. Several times, I would see the eyes of one particular 'caregiver' (in her case an extreme contradiction in terms) roll when she saw me approaching with the clearly audible protesting Bram in my arms. Then, he would repeat all the crying, screaming and hollering when I picked him up again in the afternoon. Something was very clearly up but I didn't get it yet.

As the months passed, Bram became increasingly more audible about not wanting to be anywhere near that pre-school, and especially that particular 'caregiver'. I blame myself for not recognizing the signs earlier, but continued to bring him to that place four times a week, despite his consitent protests. Bram didn't have words to communicate yet, so he used what he did have - his entire body and every sound he could produce in a wide range of frequencies.

There were a lot of kids in the pre-school group, and I knew Bram wasn't too fond of large groups anyway, so I attributed his behavior on that for a while. Whenever I brought him to pre-school or picked him up, he sought negative attention by biting, hitting and doing just about anything he could come up with that he knew wasn't okay. His behavior was extremely unlike our little Bram!

It was autumn, and colds were reigning the schools. Bram's drippy nose was a constant factor, but when I picked him up from the pre-school, his face was often bright red and infected with snot and filth. The 'caregiver' thought Bram's snot was too disgusting to wipe away. When I asked how things had gone, she would describe Bram in terms of 'naughty' and 'difficult'. I simply couldn't understand why he acted so differently in that pre-school than anywhere else. I hated bringing him there against his will and proceeded to ignore that gnawing gut feeling that told me not to.

Then, the hair that broke the camel's back came crashing down. One afternoon, when I picked Bram up from the pre-school, the 'caregiver' told me between big smiles and laughs that she was forced to tie Bram up to his chair that morning because he wouldn't sit down.
Excuse me...? She tied him up to a chair?

She tied my child up to a chair.

I cannot explain my behavior upon hearing that, but I can tell you, it was anything but rational. I didn't tell a soul about it for days and let it rot away my insides. I was actually led to believe my son had deserved to be treated like an animal. I felt ashamed and confused. Bram so clearly felt threatened, he felt unheard and he felt misunderstood, and instead of standing up for him, I let the 'caregiver' convince me my child was a bad egg.

So, I told someone. And then, I told someone else. The reactions I received from other moms, dads, family members and specialists were abundant and in the same exact tone: get him out of there now. I talked to the head of the facility and told her about the monstrous mistake her employee had made by tying my son up. Unfortunately, and to my utter dismay, she defended the 'caregiver' and implied that Bram had deserved it. On top of that, she insinuated that Bram was mentally challenged! I was shocked and apalled and removed Bram immediately from the facility alltogether.

Bram has been in a new pre-school since January and the improvement is incredible. It will be a while before he really feels safe again in any kind of facility, after such a gross breach of his rights as a person, but his new caregivers are aware of this and they give him all the space he needs to gain their trust. In the past couple months, I went from the blind mother to the hawk-like mother, just about ready to peck the eyes out of anyone who told me my child was anything less than amazing.

I hear now and then stories about the 'caregiver' blaming Bram for the behavior of kids in his old pre-school group, even though Bram has been out of there for almost two months. Apparently, this 'caregiver' considers blowing a raspberry (a pretty natural step in a child's speech development) not only as as something negative and wrong, but as Bram's fault. If she wants to raise her own children in that frame of mind, and bear the adverse consequences it will most likely have, then she has every right to do just that. I just can't understand why someone who so clearly dislikes certain children is even pursuing a career in caring for them.

I am still in doubt about whether or not I should press charges against this 'caregiver'. To be honest, I worry about the children who still go to that pre-school, and truly hope that they will not be subjected to the same torture as my child was. It doesn't take much to fall into this 'caregiver's' bad egg category, apparently. Needing to go on the potty outside the scheduled potty-time is a sure way to get on her black list, for example. I do not want to expose Bram to any more negativity by going through some sort of legal process, and I am not the vindictive type... but am I wrong to keep this to myself?

Like I said earlier, in this situation, I need to rethink the three basic principles by which I live:

I have no regrets...
but if I had listened to my gut instincts, I could've gotten him out of there sooner and prevent the damage that was inflicted. 

I treat others as I expect to be treated...
but I would willingly drag that caregiver's name through the mud and ensure she is never allowed to be near children again if she slanders my son in my presence.

I don't hold a grudge...
but my increasing contempt for her keeps me up at night.

At the end of the day, I learned perhaps the most valuable lesson of parenthood, which is to never doubt my ability to raise my children with unconditional love and understanding. It wasn't my fault that Bram was unhappy, but it was my fault that I didn't listen to him when he tried to tell me in his own way. Communication comes in countless forms. Just like love.