Getting Oriented

"Do you have a child starting preschool this year?"

The grey-haired woman's eyes crinkle as she smiles at Dave and me. We've just arrived at Orientation Night for Red's new preschool.

"Oh, uh, yep!" I stumble over my response. 

"That's wonderful! Which class will she be in?"

"Uhhhh…" I look over at Dave for second, not sure how to answer. "She's 4. I mean, she'll be 4. Well, her birthday is in September, so she's not with the older 4s . . . she's with the younger 4s. The 3-to-4-year-olds, I guess. Mrs. Morocco? . . . is her teacher's name? So, yeah, whichever class she teaches . . ." 

I trail off, feeling slightly like an idiot. How do I not know which class my kid is in? Yeesh. I look around the room at all the other parents. Many are chatting in groups and clearly know one another – their children or the older siblings are alums. Some are standing awkwardly, like us. Individually or in pairs. I have a panicky sort of feeling at the thought of how young we probably look. Inexperienced chumps. First-timers. All around us are men with receding hair lines and women with slight wrinkles – experience shows on their faces while we look like two impostors. It's the same feeling I had the night before I started my first real full time job. I had been hired as the children's program coordinator at the Cheltenham Art Center, and I freaked out the night before my first day. Maybe I just interview really great, I thought. I've fooled everyone! These assholes actually gave me a salary and I have no idea what the hell I'm doing! I won't be able to keep this charade up forever!!

We are finally summoned into the main hall for the orientation. I sit with Dave on metal folding chairs and fill out the various forms – allergy form, who's-allowed-to-pick-up-our-kid form, emergency contacts form and so on. The presentation begins and we're both thankful that they're not reading through the whole handbook. It's informative but not weighty. They hit the important notes and dismiss us to check out our kids' classrooms. As I stand up, I notice Dave shifting his weight on the uncomfortable metal folding chair. 

"Psh," I half-snort. "Guess we better get used to these." We've got – what? – 18-or-so-plus years sitting on metal folding chairs? Listening to school directors, teacher conferences, watching performances and award ceremonies. We're parents of a school-aged child now.

Later that night, after the kids are in bed, I find myself in front of the bathroom mirror. I've got another damn grey hair even though I just had it highlighted two weeks ago. I begin applying my eye cream when it hits me – I'm not fooling anyone!  Just like I was completely qualified for that first job – more so than I ever gave myself credit for – I'm an experienced parent now with a school-aged child. It's an unnerving feeling, as though time has passed before me in a matter of moments. This is the next chapter, the page turning before me.

Jeanne McCullough is a Montgomery County, PA mom. This post was adapted from her blog Mom Hearts Pinot.

Categories: MomSpeak