Did I just break my son? - By Megan Kelly

Did I really just break my child?

Did I just break my son? - By Megan Kelly

SO – 2 weeks ago, Axl started pre-school for the first time and as much as my family and friends warned me, nothing could quite prepare me for the emotions that ensued over the last two weeks. From exhaustion to not knowing what to do, to questioning everything that I thought I knew about parenting – this has been one of the hardest two weeks of being a parent.

It started off okay. The first day there were some tears and when we fetched him from school, he was too exhausted to speak that he fell asleep almost instantly – this soon became a habit; fetching him, saying hello and watching him fall asleep before we even got home. The second day was tougher and by the third day, it was nearly impossible to get him ready. He would beg, cry, tantrum, kick and scream not to go. This sounds like a normal 2-year-old, right? But it isn’t normal for my child.

My child has been one of the easiest children to raise – he goes to sleep when he has to, he sleeps through, he eats well, he enjoys activities, he loves learning, he socializes well, when I have left him for media trips, he didn’t even notice my absence, he is a content kid… BUT he just wasn’t enjoying school. At first, I thought this is exactly what my friends had warned me about, but then on the 4th day, my mommy-bells went off and I knew there was something wrong.

Every morning, we’d walk into the school where he’d nearly have a screaming attack, we’d hand him to his teacher and then we were encouraged to leave as quick as possible, not to prolong the tantrum. At first, this made sense. I guess. Sort of. Maybe not. I don’t, actually, know. But on the 4th day, he was calm.

He fought the idea of getting ready for school, he even tried hiding his school bag, he begged that we didn’t go into the car, he cried at the gate – and then, there was a strange calm. We walked into his class and then it happened… he saw his teacher and the look on his face told me that something wasn’t right. Something was causing a problem here.

Rewind to when we first took a tour of the school:

The school is lovely – it is run by a lady that reminds me very much of my granny. We were told that Axl’s class only took 10 people for his age-group, so we were to hurry back with the application as it was already the end of November and spaces were filling up quickly. The next day, we returned with the application and fee, ready to be handed in. All was good.

On our first day, Darren and I both noticed something weird. Axl was in a class with babies: the 1-2-year-olds. There was nobody his age, they were all sucking dummies and bottles, and carried comfy blankets while calling and crying for their moms. None of them spoke and my mind just couldn’t figure out how the teacher was going to do age-appropriate activities with him, to prepare him for school. Keep in mind that Darren and I work from home in the evenings, so we didn’t send Axl off to school for babysitting, we did it because we wanted him to learn and socialize.

Each day, Darren and I would return to this dilemma, not able to make sense of how it would work. The school had 1 other girl in his age group, but she was Afrikaans and his teacher was Afrikaans too. So, was Axl going to school and being spoken to and taught in a language that he doesn’t understand? It is very possible. The days didn’t seem structured; one day they had nap time at 12 and the next at 11, he didn’t come home with any crafts or exciting things to show for his day, other than a few scraps of paper with scribbles on and before long, it started to feel a lot like a babysitting group and not anything like school. And then I started thinking about the fact that they were meant to start potty training – how are they going to do it at school, when there were no other boys that he could relate to and learn from.

Axl changed. He became angry, withdrawn, emotional, clingy and something just didn’t sit right. We’d fetch him and he’d be crying, his cheeks stained with tears and he’d immediately fall into a deep sleep from the exhaustion of all the crying. The school would say he only cried for 10 minutes, or he only just started crying – but his sob, this sob, was nothing like I’d ever seen from him before. He had even stopped wetting his nappy while at school and would get home to go through 8-10 nappies.

And then it happened; he lied. He has never lied, and I know it’s a sign of intelligence and blah, blah, blah but his lie was about something serious. He told me he was sick. He did seem off, so I agreed that he should stay at home. Not even an hour after he realized he didn’t need to go to school, was he jumping from the walls, singing, dancing, playing with his dog and having a jolly ol’ time. The next day, the same thing happened; I started getting him ready for school and when he realized, he said that his arms were sore and he needed to stay at home.

Guys, I can’t tell you how much my heart broke in the last two weeks. It has been unlike anything I have ever experienced before. I know that parenting comes with tough decisions, believe me – enrolling him into school was almost easy because I kept telling myself that this is what everyone else does, this is how things work, he will be okay. But no one prepares you for the inner war that happens when you have the feeling that this school could be wrong, that maybe this wasn’t best, that maybe he isn’t okay.

So, Thursday was Axl’s last day. Darren and I went to Mambos and bought every puzzle and educational toy set, and we’ve agreed to do daily activities with Axl to prepare him for next year, where he will go to Darren’s old pre-school. It is much bigger, it has structure and he will be with other kids his age. Darren and I are fortunate to have the jobs that we do, it means that we can go on and make this decision without one of us having to consider quitting our jobs.

We have also discovered that something happened on Axl’s last day at school, where they played with water. From being a kid who loves swimming in the pool and who will gladly jump in, he has become scared and will hide from having his costume put on. He won’t even sit on the side of the pool to dangle his feet in and he won’t play with any of his favorite pool toys – I have such regrets for sending him back on that final day because I honestly feel like I have broken my kid and destroyed one of his favorite activities.

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  • Potty Training your toddler with The Baby Throne - By Megan Kelly
    Posted at 21:46h, 14 July

    […] but as you know – that didn’t go very well and after a week or two, we took him out of school. That whole ordeal has lead to months – yes, MONTHS! – of bath time being riddled with anxieties that often […]

  • Jonelle
    Posted at 09:45h, 24 January

    Wow! This was a devastating read but I’m so glad you decided to trust your gut. Kids are resilient and I’m sure he will bounce back. We are sending oden to school in March and reading this really encourages me to trust him and myself. Thanks for sharing

    • Megan Kelly
      Posted at 10:37h, 26 January

      Hey love, I completely agree – listen to your gut! Good luck with the new change and let us know how it goes!

  • ChevsLife
    Posted at 06:32h, 24 January

    Im so sorry to hear that Axl’s pre-schooling didn’t for with him, or you. It is so important that you feel content about the environment and people whose care you leave your child in. Our mommy guys are the best at letting us know when things just aren’t quite right.

    • Megan Kelly
      Posted at 10:41h, 26 January

      Yeh, I think the problem is that as moms we all have this constant pressure from everybody. The amounts of time my family and I are out and someone will approach us asking why he isn’t in school (he is very tall for a 2-year old). SO, immediately, I feel like I am not doing what I am meant to be doing as a parent and then he started off at the school where everyone else seemed quite content, except him so I start questioning whether I am just imagining these things, trying to hold myself back from being that helicopter mom, you know?

  • lindsayylyall
    Posted at 02:42h, 24 January

    Oh my goodness, what a difficult ordeal! Choosing a daycare and preschool comes with so much self doubt and questioning. Sounds like you did exactly what you needed to do by taking him out. Those gut feelings are hard to explain, but they are absolutely spot on sometimes. I’m so sorry that this happened to your family.

    • Megan Kelly
      Posted at 10:43h, 26 January

      Thank you Linds, you are right – there are so many dos and don’ts when it comes to parenting that it is so hard to tell if you’re only worsening the situation. However, it’s almost been a week since he has been at home – at first, he was so difficult, acting out, tantrumming all the time, but he is slowly adapting and processing it all. I am sure that if I continue spending time getting him ready for big-school next year, he will be well-adjusted and ready for the next chapter.

  • signedqc@gmail.com
    Posted at 23:11h, 23 January

    I am sorry that this was such an awful experience for you. I will say that it is good that you have decided since to move him on from that preschool but ALWAYS listen to your mom intuition. Preschool is not free (at least not most of the time), I would not have allowed this to go on pass the first day you saw the small babies. I’d suggest when you go to transition into preschool next time, to look up questions for preschool interview. Like the preschool teaching style (Reggio, Abeka, Montessori, etc) and their discipline plans. I hope this small experience won’t have any lasting effects on your little guy. Maybe start with a 2 day program and slowly increase next time.

    • Megan Kelly
      Posted at 10:46h, 26 January

      Thanks for your comment – I did do all these things. I asked all the right questions and ensured I had a good understanding of the school. This wasn’t the only school I looked at, and it wasn’t the cheapest either – sadly, what was told to me and what happened were two different stories. The reason that I did let it go past the first day is simply because the first day was still considered part of holiday time, so they had combined the children to all play together, but when I noticed that after the holidays had come to an end and they still hadn’t separated the kids into age groups, I trusted my gut and took him out. Sadly, I can’t undo any of it and I am sure there are things I could have done differently but it is what it is and all I can do now is work on preparing him for next year.

  • Sara Brunsvold
    Posted at 17:33h, 23 January

    I don’t know you or the situation well, and I don’t mean to stir up anything, but I can tell you, this recounting sent up a number of red flags for me. Especially the part about your son becoming angry and withdrawn. Big changes in behavior like that can be signs of something seriously wrong. I agree with your friend who commented before me, check into this. And do not let it discourage you from preschool altogether. When you find the one that fits your child, you will see a night-and-day difference from what you’ve experienced.

    • Megan Kelly
      Posted at 10:51h, 26 January

      Thanks Sara, we have been following up and will continue to watch him. We aren’t discouraged from pre-school just yet but also understand that we are in a unique position where he doesn’t need to go just yet. We both work from home, in the evenings, so we spend the the day filling his schedule with activities, etc. I am hoping bu joining a few classes and play groups, he will regain the confidence he once had in a stranger helping him and teaching him through play.

  • pregnantincapetown
    Posted at 10:38h, 23 January

    Oh my angel, this is devastating!! And this is NOT what I meant when I said it would be hard. Your instincts were spot on. This place he went to sounds terrifying and like there was something very very wrong going on there. I would go so far as to report them to somebody, not sure if there is somebody to report them to, but still. Your poor baby and poor YOU!! Don’t let this awful experience put you or him off school. Maybe try find a few extra mural type activities that will get him comfy with other adults again before next year. A lovely swimming school or Clamber Club or an arts class. Something that you guys can attend regularly, so he gets a sense of trust back in the thought of people outside of mommy and daddy being good and safe. You have not broken your baby love. You showed him that you trusted him by taking him out of the school and you just need to repeat to him as often as possible that that was not a good place, but that there are lots of lovely places where children go to play and learn and be happy. Make a big deal with him about hte fact that he is going to go to daddy’s school next year. Sending you and your boys so so much love xxx

    • Megan Kelly
      Posted at 10:56h, 26 January

      Thank you Mands for everything you do for me and my family. Your love and encouragement never goes unnoticed, friend! I know this wasn’t a normal situation but damn! As moms, we have all these pressures – don’t be a helicopter mom, don’t give into everything, don’t, don’t, don’t. It became exhausting – emotionally, mentally and physically and honestly, I don’t think we could have endured another day of it. I am feeling a little more confident about our decision now, we love our activity time and am also going to look into doing classes with him. And when baby arrives, I want to make that mine and Axl’s thing that we do together. Sjoe, so many changes and in such a short time!