I like Sophie's expression in this picture. It's the perfect blend of "Doh!" and "Yee-ikes" and "Oh, no you di-in't." And it's the closest thing I could find to match my expression tonight, after looking at two completely different pre-schools earlier today.
The first, Children's Courtyard, is corporate chain childcare at its best. There are slick and shiny brochures, plexiglass "fishbowl" rooms that you can peer into but which seem hermetically sealed, and the building, itself, looks brick-for-brick like all the other CC's in the world. A camera is mounted in each classroom so you can "check in" on your kid via the web (yep...I'll have it up on my computer all day and will probably burst into tears whenever I see some kid grab a toy away from Sophie). The place is clean and new and bright and was filled with books and toys and smiling teachers. When we spied on the classroom that Sophie would be in, we witnessed six well-behaved kids sitting around a table politely sharing a snack together. And there was a guinea pig. I like guinea pigs. So what's not to like? I just don't know...it seemed Big Brothery or Big Boxy or something. Like you would find a Children's Courtyard nestled between a Starbucks and an Old Navy and a Linens & Things in any neighborhood in America. Of course, who doesn't need Things now and again?
From there, we headed to Habibi's Hutch, the South Austin hippie alternative to daycare. When we got there all of the kids...ALL of the kids (mixed together, not in little age group pods) were playing in the back yard in this very Garden of Eden meets Lord of the Flies setting. Many of the kids were barefoot (it was pretty crisp today -- not freezing, mind you, but the teachers were all wearing jackets), and at least two of the kids were running around only in their undies. A parent was asking if her acupuncturist friend could be a substitute teacher. The director seemed interested, said he'd need to "untrain" her if she had worked in other childcare settings (but never mentioned a background check). The house was sort of beat up and dark, but there were art easels set up. I like art easels. And outside, the kids were howling and screaming...in a good way. Rock music was blaring and everyone seemed to be having a wild old time. Sophie jumped right into the swing of things by eating dirt and throwing rocks. But no one stopped her, because she was expressing herself. All of the teachers knew all of the kids, and when one of them got ready to leave, he hoisted his bike over the fence, picked up a megaphone and yelled out a good-bye, and ALL of the kids stopped what they were doing, turned towards him, and screamed, "Bye, Mike!" And then they resumed mud-smearing and such. When we left, Frank said, "For a minute there, I was embarrassed that Sophie was dressed so cute today." What?! Like we've already sold out to the man or something? Like Sophie isn't ragamuffiny enough? It might just be too much pressure to be so laid back.
So here we are, not one step closer to knowing what we will do next year. I think Sophie would be LOVED at Habibi's Hutch. I think she would be really well CARED FOR at Children's Courtyard. As strange as this sounds, maybe she needs more than love. As wonderful as it was to see the kids running around wild, maybe they need a little bit of structure? At the HH, a kid gets to be a kid, but they don't necessarily work on any kindergarten readiness skills. At the CC, kids get Spanish and dance class and go through specific curriculum units. But Sophie didn't babble and cackle like she did at Habibi's. We need a combination school. Does it exist? Could we send her to Habibi's just one day a week and do the calmer, yuppier school on the other days? We're looking at Montessori schools tomorrow. If you've got ANY insight, leave us some comments.