Toddler trauma

"Have you picked out a preschool?" My jaw would have hit the floor if it could get past my belly. My PREGNANT belly. "Ummmm…you mean school before kindergarten? In six years? " I asked innocently. "Oh no!" said the perky mom. "Preschool starts at two nine and if you're not on a list now...well…." She clutched her Baby Bjorn and hightailed it to an SUV adorned with a Mommy, Daddy, Baby and Kitty stick figure decal. The look in her eyes said I was probably carrying a serial killer or worse — an unpreschooled serial killer. My What to Expect When You're Expecting handbook was missing a chapter called "Expect to be asked about preschool ten times a day and judged on your answer."

Lots of things surprised me about becoming a parent. I thought baby-proofing was simply putting the bong away and covering electrical outlets. I couldn't image not being gung ho for sex. I swore I'd never be in public with vomit on my shirt. But the biggest shocker was the insanity surrounding TWO NINE!

What do those numbers mean? It's the magic age of two years, nine months when you can ship your crumb cruncher off to a preschool that will shape the course of their lives. Prison or Princeton? Teen pregnancy or Rhodes Scholar? According to some, it all depends on the preschool. For fun, I Googled preschools in the San Fernando Valley and got about nine billion hits. Luckily, you can throw a rock at the mall and hit a mother who has visited all of them.

I should have seen the signs of impending preschool hysteria at playgroup with my 3-month-old daughter. Playgroup is mostly eating pastry and talking about being tired. But it doesn't take long before a sleep deprived new mom starts waxing philosophical about her little mini-me's future. "I'd like Madyson to be an advocate for the environment!" said a minivan driver. I'd love to say, "Congressman Xander" cooed one delusional mother. Yikes — I didn't have a fantasy career in mind for my poop machine so I blurted out the only wish my husband and I had discussed: "I hope she's hot." A mom on four exclusive waiting lists shot me an icy glare. "I'm not sure what preschool she should attend to achieve that goal." I excused myself and said I had to fill out Sabrina's early admission papers for USC.

A preschool in Los Angeles can cost more than college, with prices ranging from really expensive to crazy expensive. Seriously, does snack time include a cheese course? Do art projects use Swarovski crystals? Once you've figured out how to pay tuition — cancel cable, pawn your grandmother's jewelry, sell plasma — there's a registration fee! This scam can cost fifty to five hundred bucks. I imagine the school administrator waving registration checks above her head and buying drinks for the whole bar. "Suckers," she'll slur as administrators high-five each other for inventing another way to squeeze money out of panicked parents.

And you don't choose a preschool — preschool has to choose you. Your two-year-old may have an admissions interview. I set up a mock interrogation, certain my kid would ace it. Elmo, Barney and one of the creepy Care Bears sat around the table. Question one: "What is your favorite color?" Sabrina didn't hesitate and shouted "Spiderman!" Thanks, Sony marketing department. Elmo showed us the door.

Before I got knocked up, my husband and I decided that I would quit my job (yippee!) and become a full time mom. Wasn't the payoff for living on one salary spending time with your kid? It's pretty cool. I get to look at Los Angeles' great parks, beautiful beaches, museums and cultural events with fresh eyes. Sabrina and I have a blast at music class and we love our Mommy and Me group. What would I do while she was at school? Laundry? Dusting? HA!

Occasionally, I have fantasies of leaving Sabrina at school. I'll turn off Radio Disney, listen to Howard Stern and say the "f" word out loud. But I'm not ready for that yet. Will she go to preschool? Sure. Will she be scarred for life and horribly disadvantaged if she doesn't attend a "top tier" preschool at two? I don't think so. I'm pretty sure my mom parked me in a play pen and waved a cigarette for stimulation during my preschool years, and yet I managed to achieve the American Dream — trapping a man to pay my bills. And to that end, we still hope that Sabrina turns out to be hot. Because no one cares where a smokin' chick went to preschool.

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