There are kids all over the place. Pushing scooters on the rooftop playground; cutting, pasting, coloring; marching from classroom to classroom under the supervision of their kindly-looking female teachers.
This school isn't much like the ones I attended. It's urban--surrounded by high-rises--and within spitting distance of the Pacific ocean. Its physical presence comprises additions and annexes built in the sixties and seventies onto an austere brick church that dates back to the late 1800's. In fact, there are religious messages and artwork posted through its labyrinthine stairwells and hallways. My schools never had that. But some of the toys, books, furniture, and certainly the architecture harken back to my own school days. And of course, there's that old school smell.
The visceral reaction I have when reminded of my school years, while not horrifying, is decidedly more bitter than sweet. When I was a kid, there was very little I looked forward to as the new school year loomed. Sure, there was the excitement of being back in the fray, with a much bigger pool of kids to run around with. Summer did tend to drag on, and I would get tired of seeing the same kids from the neighborhood every day. But school was just too much...work. Not just the drudgery of the classroom, but also negotiating the social landscape. We moved a lot, sometimes every year, so I was often the new kid. But that was almost easier than returning to a school and trying to figure out what had changed over the summer, who belonged to which group, who I could sit with in the cafeteria, and which of my summertime friends would still be friends once everyone shook out into their respective cliques. The effort it took to seem undaunted amid my writhing anxiety was exhausting.
The reason that we're at this churchy school is that our girls are two-and-a-half-years old, and apparently that's just about when they're supposed to start spending entire days away from home in the care of people we don't even know, running around with bigger kids (almost all kids are bigger than ours) who don't appreciate their delicate genius, and somehow getting through all the tasks and transitions of the day without their parents. Without me. Speaking of pangs.
We take the tour and learn about the curriculum, the schedule, the classroom sizes, and the enrollment procedure. We see the kids of two of my wife's colleagues, laughing on a play structure. They are the reason we're considering this school. It wouldn't have occurred to me to look into a "Christian school," but our friends, and the lady who gives us the tour, assure us that they're not in the business of proselytizing to pre-schoolers. They read some Bible stories every week and talk about Christian values, the ones that aren't controversial. Generally accepted morality. I can live with that.
In addition to this school, we're on waiting lists for two others, both of them more progressive, more expensive, and without as much old school smell.
The thing is, we're actually going to do this. Send them away for hours at a time, several days a week.
I can't quite get my head around the fact that I'll drop them off and then just leave. Shouldn't I sit in the office and wait, at least for the first couple of days? I can't imagine a first-day-of-school scenario in which neither of the girls has a panic attack.
But really, I know, as with every benchmark in their development, I'm just approaching this with my standard incredulity. They're gonna walk?! These little rolly-pollies? Yeah, right. And I suppose they'll be able to use language to communicate some day. I'm so sure. And then when it comes to pass, as blown away as I am, I quickly get used to it and focus on pretending the next thing isn't already happening.