Preschool Hysteria. By Lisa Emmerich for’s Bad Parent column.


My hands shielded my eyes as I pressed my forehead to the glass at the local Montessori preschool. I knocked on the window once, then twice – louder – but no one looked up. The children, dressed in bright floral dresses and knee socks, went on scribbling and molding clay. They wouldn’t let me in! I woke up in a sweat, rolled over and poked my husband in the hip.

“Oh my God, honey, what are we going to do?”

Before I had children, I envisioned certain parenting difficulties: potty training, say, or discussions about drugs, maybe prom dress neckline negotiations.

I figured preschool was in the bag. A woman happy to do extensive research who lives in a small town with a good network of schools ought to find preschool enrollment fairly simple. Right? Turns out, even if you don’t live in Manhattan or L.A., the preschool admissions process is an ordeal. Two years ago, I left my snoozing toddler at home with Daddy to take my pre-dawn place beside several girlfriends in a fledgling line outside Gainesville Country Day School. My choice had been easy: Country Day was an intimate, easygoing school that encouraged independent learning. I liked the teacher’s accent (and the way she bent down to the children when she spoke to them). Sasha’s friends planned to attend; she would, too. Five a.m. was early enough to guarantee a spot at the first-come-first-serve school.

Sasha’s first year at school went as well as I expected. When I asked about her day, her answers earned my approval.

“Cole spit juice on me and I told him to stop but he didn’t,” she would say.


“I don’t like juice, but Cole is my friend.”

Or: “I didn’t have fun at school today. But I do like the books my teacher read. And I like music class. And also the playground.”

“Do you want to go back on Thursday?”

“Thursday? Um . . . probably.”

Other moms reported occasional trouble. One friend feared her son learned more about playing war than ABC’s. One of Sasha’s buddies came home with harsh red bite marks from an anonymous culprit.

But Sasha happily toted home glittering art projects and sang tunes she learned in music class.

Then, when I was six weeks pregnant with our third child, Country Day changed its approach to cut-off dates, crowding my two-year-old out of their fall class. And my older daughter’s summer birthday would force her to skip Pre-K.

Slowly, hormonally, I came unhinged. I had counted on a few mornings each week with just the baby and me at home. We would nap blissfully together; I could clean the house – or take a shower! Besides, Mimi begged to go to preschool. Each time we dropped Sasha off, she wailed, “Mimi go to school! My teacher! Mimi a big girl!”