"Mrs. X was not only getting our daughter ready for Kindergarten, she was preparing us, her parents, as well."
Natalie Thomas
The author, Natalie, with her daughter.
| Credit: Jennifer Lavelle

"Oh, she has Mrs. X? Good luck!"

When my daughter, Lilly, started school at 28 months, the decision about where to send her and whom she would learn from was not an easy one. We went back and forth about whether she should stay at her play space for their bridge program or whether she should attend an actual, accredited preschool. Did a toddler really need someone with a Master's degree? Should we be spending that much money on a few hours a day? We tortured ourselves with the decision the way in which parents with older children debate college choices. And, she was 2!

Ultimately, we decided on the accredited preschool and we couldn't have picked a better place. Lilly was looked after, nurtured, and doted on. We were as well. We received daily emails with tons of photos, explanations, quotes... Every day at drop off and pick up, there was an in-depth conversation about funny things she said or an upset moment she may have had. There was hand-holding and hugs and I'm not talking about my two-year-old! The teachers coddled us, mom and dad, too.

Then we moved and enrolled Lilly in a similarly sweet, yet more traditional nursery school. After touring several, this felt like a healthy marriage between our old comfort zone and the perfect preparatory place for Kindergarten. The rooms were bright and cheerful, the director was lovely, and the teachers we met were adorable.

Shortly after, my husband and I attended an event at the end of the current school year to meet some teachers and parents of her incoming class. Meeting Lilly's new teacher was my sole, slightly obsessive mission: Say hello, get to know and suck up to the woman she'd spend all year with. We waited patiently, pretending to be in casual conversation with each other while inching closer. Finally, there was a break in the conversation and we made our move. But, no sooner could I get out that Lilly would be in her class than she excused herself. 30 seconds. That was it. We were snubbed by our child's preschool teacher at a cocktail party.

It wasn't exactly the big embrace and "tell me all about her" I was expecting. Wounded, I wondered if we'd made a mistake. Where were my twenty-three-year-old, eager, supportive teachers from our old school? Mama needed a hug.

That summer, we set up several blind play dates so Lilly would have some familiar faces in September and, upon discussion of the upcoming year, each parent echoed the same sentiment, "Mrs. X? Yeah... She's a tough one."

Soon we received an email stating the rules for the first day of school. They were to wear sneakers, bring a backpack big enough for a full-sized folder (Bye bye monogrammed bunny bag I'd already ordered that was "preschool" size but too small for said folder!), have their name tag and say goodbye to parents at the door.

I'm sorry, what? Day 1? Where was the meet and greet? What about phase-in? No shortened, sample days?

At her previous school, she had three weeks of assist! Granted, it was a bit much. After week two, we were both ready but, selfishly, I loved getting to go in with her for part of the day, seeing her interact, snapping some photos.

Surely, since she was new to the school, an exception would be made? The other kids were now entering their third year there but what about the transplant?

A firm no. One hug, a quick goodbye. That's it. See you at pickup.

I was prepared for panic. It didn't help that, upon seeing my daughter for the first time, Mrs. X replied, "What is that face?"

But, to my surprise, Lilly confidently walked into her classroom after a swift goodbye.

At pickup, she was all smiles, declaring, "I had a great first day!"

Later that week, when I relayed that she was a little nervous to use the big girl bathroom by herself, Mrs. X shot back, "Well, it doesn't help that she wears rompers, Mom!"

Noted. Needless to say, she's never worn a romper to school again.

But, after that first friction, where it was abundantly clear we were not in Coddlesville anymore, it was all uphill. In fact, we came to love her teacher. She may be a bit rough around the edges but she's a softie at heart, who genuinely cares about the children and their education. And, we saw vast improvements in our daughter.

Lilly listens, at least better than she did. She takes direction. Her attention span is far greater. Her ability to use her words and convey her feelings has significantly increased as has her writing, spelling, Spanish and overall knowledge. And her confidence that she <sob> doesn't need Mommy or Daddy to do things for her and that she can accomplish them herself has been the greatest gift. Mrs. X whipped my child and everyone else's into shape. There's no doubt that it's by design that she serves the 4's. She's not only getting them ready for Kindergarten, she's preparing us, the parents, as well.

We're all better for having had the "mean" teacher. Sometimes, they're not that scary. It's the fear of the unknown, the change, the letting go and allowing your baby to become a big kid that's far more terrifying than a tough teacher ever could be.