There is always a final straw. And we had found it.

Sunday night. Bath time. The four of us were splashing, laughing, and talking. Honest Husband and I were chatting about Honest Girl, and the problems she had been having at her preschool. Three times, her teachers had approached me, and said that Girl wasn’t being social in class. She wouldn’t participate in the sing-a-longs. She never raised her hand. She spoke to none of the other children (though she reported to us that she had “friends” at school, and knew all of her classmates’ names). She would only address the teacher in one-on-one situations, not even telling her teacher when she needed to use the potty, leading to multiple accidents at school (she has been having almost none at home).

“We have a checklist. To judge student preparedness,” her teacher explained to me. “And we can check off everything, except that last one. That social one.”

I pushed me irritation at her use of a “checklist” aside (having worked in higher education, I knew that such lists were developed and designed merely as a guideline for a wide range of “normal” child expectations. They were meant to show providers early warning signs of any kinds of delays or potential future problems. I was irked that they were using one so stringently to find my two-year-old—who was obviously not delayed—lacking), and I started trying to investigate the reason for Girl’s shyness. At home, she’s talkative, loquacious, bossy, and surprisingly verbal for her age. The other day in the grocery store, after I found her little sister sucking on a package of cheese, Honest Girl helpfully announced, “She’s just chewing the hell out of it!” (By the way, thank you for laughing and not scowling, woman at the deli counter. It helps to know that we all have a sense of humor about these things.) On that same grocery trip, a woman approached her and asked Honest Girl her name. Without hesitation, she replied, “Princess Sophia.” She then proceeded to force this poor stranger to address her as “Princess” for the rest of their interaction.

Shyness is not usually her fatal flaw.

But for weeks now, her teacher has been complaining of it.

So, on Sunday night, at bath time, Honest Husband and I started to ask Honest Girl about it.

I had been asking her if she liked talking at school, and gotten nowhere. She would reply that she liked playing with her friends. She liked the tire swing. She eats all of her pretzels and cheese at snack time. She seemed perfectly content. Honest Husband decided to try a different approach.

“Do you like talking to your teachers?”

“No.”

The “no” reverberated around the room. It was so quick. So final. So clear.

“No? Why not?”

“They’re mean to my friends.”

We exchanged significant looks. The girls were enrolled in a daycare that has seen its share of troubles. It caters to lower income families (we put our girls in it because they were the cheapest hourly rate we could find), and, while most of the kids are sweet, there have been a few instances of children lashing out violently (Honest Girl had been the victim of one particularly violent boy. One day she came home with scratches on her face when he tried to claw at her eyes. He was eventually removed from the school because of his outbursts). Many of the kids there were getting their biggest meals at the school. They would arrive dirty. Most of the staff were underpaid and severely undertrained. They had just recently been forced into following the state regulations for daycares and preschools, and the administration didn’t seem to know how they were going to ever manage to comply with these new rules without pricing out some of the students in the greatest need. They worked very long hours, without much financial support, and sad, secondhand supplies.

“What do they do that’s mean?”

“They say, ‘Don’t cry. Stop crying. Don’t cry.’”

Honest Girl told us that, instead of giving hugs and support when a child cries, the exasperated staff would just scold, “Stop that crying right now.” She told us a story. One of her friends had fallen down and bumped her forehead. She was given ice, then told, “Stop crying.” Honest Girl said that her friend was told to stop crying because her boo-boo was fading away.

Honest Girl said that she had never been scolded because, “I don’t cry. Only my friends do.”

She was afraid to cry.

My two-year-old was afraid to cry at school.

So, she shut down. She hid behind toys. She avoided the staff. She was silent in class. She decided to mess in her pants to avoid trying to get the teacher to help her.

For a year and a half she had been enrolled in that school. Her teachers had always praised her to me. She was a good kid. She listened. She liked to be “big,” so she helped, and followed rules. She was always dressed in clean clothes. She knew how to give kisses and hugs. She was one of the kids they didn’t have to worry about.

It turns out, she was so good at following rules, she had learned how to be silent.

It was the last straw.

My daughter’s silence.

I cracked. I broke. Never again.

The very next day, I went to an excellent preschool in my area. I talked to the staff. I told them our situation. I got lucky. There was one slot open in Honest Girl’s age group. Within a week, it would have been gone. I signed both of them up right then. It’s more expensive on an hourly basis, and I will have fewer hours for my work (instead of two full days, I will have three mornings to myself a week), but it will be worth it. We’ll figure everything else out.

We have to.

I pulled the girls from their old daycare the very next day. We had paid through the week, but Honest Husband and I both decided that we’d rather eat the cost than have them go one more time to that place.

This morning, I dropped the girls off at their new school.

I cried.

Because Honest Girl was finally excited for school. Her new school.

Because it was what a real preschool should be like.

Because she jumped and bounded into her new classroom.

Because her teachers greeted her with, “Hello, friend!”

Because I trusted them with my children.

Because I knew that they would start loving their teachers finally.

I cried.

Because as I left, I heard Honest Girl’s voice. She turned to her new teacher and proudly declared, “I don’t need diapers. I use the potty.”

I cried.

Because I will never let her learn to be silent again.

Because I’m so sorry I ever let that happen in the first place.

I’m sorry.

I’m so sorry.

Never again, little girl.

Never again.

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