I just had an interesting conversation with our hostess. She was preparing her little 21-month-old boy to go to pre-school and I asked about his days there. Does he have to be there until evening (I had heard her discussing with her husband that he had to be home by 6:15 pm)? No. She and her husband work; she part-time. She enthused about the center in a tone that reminded me of how one describes a new car. It is 10-minutes away, there are lots of other kids his age, he gets a lunch and has a nap and she picks him up after 3 pm. The seats all fold down, it has automatic and a navi system — everything that a busy family wants in a car.
Though we had babysitters and aupairs when the children were young, I could never have deposited them in an institution at that age. In Germany, children traditionally started kindergarten at 3, and in Waldorf education at 4. This seemed plenty early for me, who grew up at a time in the US when many mothers stayed at home and children first went to a public institution at 5.
I asked her if she doesn’t miss having that time to discover the world with her son (her only child), after all every day is a new adventure at that age. No, she shrugged.
‘He comes home and can eat with a fork or drink with a cup, and I am just glad he can do it. I don’t care whether I taught him or not.’ “I’d be really happy if they’d get the whole potty-training over with for me’.
Exactly at this age, children are getting to know their bodies, discovering about peepee, diapers and penises and feces. The relationship they develop to their sexuality and their self-image is being shaped, every minute of the day. Does she realize what power this institution has over her little boy? I never had the courage to ask her.
She walked him in his stroller to the center, and then returned and grabbed her cigarettes. Relief. She flopped into a chair on the terrace and began SMSing on her phone.
Ah, the priorities.
She lives in a beautifully designed home. It is cool and unsentimental.
There are in-built night lights along the stairwell, the window blinds raise and shut via remote control. The floor is bare, the walls white. The toys are expensive and make noise. Her cleaning lady comes 7 hours a week, dusting top to bottom. Many family photos that adorn the windowsills are portraits, professionally posed.
Later I find out one of her older sisters was psychologically ill, and a pall of distress had squeezed the family throughout much of her childhood. I begin to imagine the importance for her of wide spaces without adornment, of clean walls free of tragedy. It is a clue to her choices. For me, to be in charge of the details of my babies’ lives was a comfort and joy. For someone who is afraid, such responsibility is a threat.