So this fall, my little girl starts preschool. We've chosen a co-op about ten minutes away from our house. Since she's in the process of dropping her nap, we're enrolling her in the afternoon program. Today, they hosted a "messy art day" which we thought would be a lot of fun for Julia, and also provide an opportunity for Karissa to see the school, since she'd only seen the website and was working the morning I toured. It was a great day in a lot of respects. I saw many acquaintances from the park and playgroups, and two of my friends came out with their kids. It was very crowded, and while the messy part was a bit more prevalent than the art part, it was heaven for Julia. Obviously, every day at preschool won't be a messy art day, but it was wonderful to see Julia in the space having the time of her life. The people working the event were parents at the school, and they were open, welcoming and friendly, even given the chaos and the crowds.
It makes it clear to me that as hard as it's going to be for me to let go of her, of seeing her every day, of always knowing how she is and what she's doing, she needs different space, different experiences, and different people to really grow at this point. Mostly I'm excited for her, and my excitement is rooted in my confidence in the school's program, and how much of a fit it is for Julia. She's always been fiercely independent, and really thrives in a space in which there is a variety of activities and she's free to choose between them. We've shied away from programs with imposed circle times, scheduled inside/outside time, enforced snack and meal times. Sure, when she's older there will be more constraints, but she'll be developmentally ready for them, and now she's just not. At this time in her life, she just needs to explore her world and create her own learning experiences in a safe place. And that's what the school provides.
So once we left there, we headed with another family to a favorite restaurant of Julia's. She had a great time and ate well, but by 1:30, her glazed eyes and under the table antics made it pretty clear she still needed to catch up on sleep. When we got home a bit after 2:00, she was weepy, tantrum-y, and exhausted. I laid down with her, and she fell asleep at around 2:30. Of course, once she wakes (it's now after 5:00), there's no telling when she'll sleep again; she'll probably hold out until 11, regardless of when we put her to bed. Then she'll wake up late, and refuse to nap tomorrow. And it begins again. No nap, early bedtime, nap, super-late bedtime, and on and on. There may even be a few 3:30/4 am wakings when she's gone to bed too early, has had a bad dream, or is too wet. This new no-sleep phase has changed all of our sleep cycles. Even when she sleeps through the night, I often wake up at 2:30 to eat animal cookies and watch reality TV because my mind is racing, I'm starving, and the baby's wide awake and on the move. It's hard to say when sleep will ever resume normal patterns again.
The disrupted sleep is symptomatic of this period of transition, of instability, that's affecting all of us. It's not just that physically, Julia's needing less sleep. In a month, we won't be the family we've been. We'll fill the space differently, and roles will shift. It would be easier to think that Julia's too young to grasp what's coming, and maybe consciously, that's true. But it's also true that she, like all children, is very sensitive, and she feels my mounting anxiety, Karissa's stress. And she's taking in all of the obvious signs of the change on the horizon.
She's now sleeping in the big girl bed, and the crib has moved out. All of our new books (given by a colleague of Karissa's) have to do with babies and big brothers or sisters. And she gets it, in some basic way, that something, someone is coming. When she asks about the baby, when she calls herself a big sister. She's even started telling me that she can't do this or that thing because she's pregnant and asks me to feel the baby kicking in her tummy. She's processing everything in her own, almost three year old way, and she's processing it, as we are, at all hours of the day and night.
So we have to take care of each other, and realize collectively that the changes coming, challenging as they may be, are good changes, spectacular changes. And when one of us forgets, the other two need to be there to do the reminding. I know Julia reminds me so often what a blessing change can be, when she uses a new expression, when she reaches another milestone, when she smiles or laughs at a joke she wouldn't have gotten a month ago. The sun's coming out today after weeks of rain, yet another example of how change, however frightening, can be overwhelmingly, heartrendingly positive.