The Agony That Is Preschool Drop-Off

by Joelle Wisler
GUNDAM_Ai / Shutterstock

I imagine that my 5-year-old lies in her toddler bed each morning and plots out how she is going to make preschool drop-off as miserable for me as possible. She probably thinks to herself, “should I go for hysterical clinging or cold indifference today? Oh, I know, I’ll simply tell the teachers that my mom had the stinkiest fart when we watched TV last night while she’s standing right there.” There really has to be some diabolical thought that goes into it to make it as painful as it is most days.

She has gone to the same preschool three days a week with the same exact teachers for the last two-and-a-half years. She’s very familiar with the routine. But every day, when I go to leave, I have no idea what I’m going to get. No matter what, it’s usually not fun. It’s like she’s determined to keep me guessing on how much she loves me, like she’s playing games with me much like my high school boyfriend. Does she love me so so much that she can’t possibly endure one minute away from me? Or could she not care less if she ever sees me again? I just don’t know!

Monday mornings are the worst. And listen, people, I’m a seasoned dropper-offer. I never go back, I’m kind but firm, and I make sure I don’t look sad myself. I do all the things right. “I’m not going to cry today,” she says proudly on the car ride there.

“Great!” I say, not believing her at all because I’ve spent two hundred Monday mornings hearing the exact same thing.

“Neither one of us will cry because we know we are going to see each other very soon, and we are going to have very fun days,” I say, thinking that I’m elevating cleaning toilets and grocery shopping to an impossible level.

I can tell it’s going to go badly when I see the crumpling look on her face as I turn to leave. It’s as if she thinks that this time, maybe if she cries hard enough, I won’t go. “But you love school!” I plead as she goes full-on octopus on my leg. And no matter how much of a show I think it is, when she has crocodile tears pouring down her face and says, “But I’ll miss you,” I want to grab her and run for it. But her sweet teacher peels her off of me, and along with what’s left of my heart, she goes back to the play room as I close the door. It’s never stopped being excruciating.

But I also keep taking her back to preschool because I believe it’s important and valuable for her. And also, I need to recharge my batteries too.

I call Wednesday Bribery Rejuvenation Day: “I for sure won’t cry if you bring me zucchini bread after school,” she says.

“I have to bribe you not to cry now?” I say, wondering how long she’s actually been plotting this situation out and if she’s actually an evil mastermind in training.

“I think it’ll work,” she says. And oh god, I’m totally going to admit this, but sometimes I do bring her fresh baked zucchini bread and there I said it. Judge away! I don’t care. I’ll do anything not to have to feel my heart breaking like I did on Monday.

By Friday, I can’t even get her to wave goodbye to me or acknowledge my existence in any way. She walks in and starts to do whatever art project is out like I’m dead to her. She obviously has super important things to do that have nothing do with me and maybe don’t let the door hit me on the way out? I’m like, “Can I get a high-five? A head nod? Some gratitude for teaching you how to speak words and wipe your own butt?” This feels just great — thanks a lot. I spent nine months not being able to drink alcohol or or eat deli turkey for this? I mean, I’m glad she’s not sobbing, but I’d like a little something before I go. Talk about mixed signals.

Often, when we are at home, I like to process my feelings about preschool drop-off with her, but I don’t know if either one of us gets much out of it. She thinks I should bribe her with baked treats more often. I think she should stop playing my emotions like the well-trained musician that she is. I am probably going about this all wrong, I know, but I’m just going to keep bribing her for now.

Next year in kindergarten, she is riding the bus. For sure.