When we moved East for the spring and summer this year, our family faced a bit of a conundrum: What on Earth were we going to do about childcare? My husband and I both work full time, in jobs that take us away to meetings or trips at a moment’s notice. I was newly pregnant as well, and needing an extra hand anyway, on top of everything else. We had no friends or family that were able to fill in for such a long time period. At first, we thought about finding a short-term nanny to watch Marlowe during the day, but as we interviewed a few that we met via word-of-mouth, we kept feeling like we were trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. There wasn’t anyone that seemed like what we were looking for, and most importantly, that seemed like a good fit for our daughter. Marlowe is hilariously rambunctious, social, and really likes to explore and play, and everyone we interviewed seemed a little quiet or sleepy to me. I didn’t want her stuck in a new house, in a new place, with a new person who she just wasn’t vibing with.
One week passed, and then another. I cancelled multiple meetings because I simply couldn’t attend with a child in tow. I was so behind on work (and exhausted) from trying to watch my toddler during the day and then work on my business from 7 p.m. until the wee hours of the morning. Is this a great thing for a first-trimester-pregnant woman to be doing? Yeeaahh, NotSoMuch. So I did something that I had sworn before I became a mother I would never do: I Googled “daycare.” In my mind, I had a very specific image of daycare: 40 kids in a room crawling all over each other, coughing and dripping with snot, playing with dirty, sad toys, while one bored woman peered at them over a magazine. (This may have been mixed with a scene from the musical “Annie”, but you get the idea). I had such a strong prejudice against the idea, thinking that not only would my child not get the attention she needed or deserved, but that she would be looked after by somebody who barely cared about her at all and didn’t stimulate her or encourage her to learn and grow. In retrospect, I have absolutely zero idea how I came up with such a horrible and unfair portrait of a childcare option that so many people use. I really have sat down and searched my memory for where these prejudices came from or how on Earth I thought what I thought about daycare, but I really couldn’t tell you. All I know is that they now seem laughably foolish, small-minded, and wrong.
I called a daycare/preschool in our area that seemed really sweet from the website, and made an appointment to check it out. What I liked a lot about it was that kids of mixed ages were in classes together, and that the care extended in to the Preschool and Pre-K years so that the children could get a complete education. When I got there, I was totally blown away. It was bright, cheerful, clean, and — I could tell instantly — was filled with love. The director who brought me around was warm and funny, and all the children in the hallways stopped to talk to her or hug her. She knew them all by name. The classes were small and had so many great toys, games, and activities to play with– there is even a weekly theme that the children participate in school-wide. The week we visited they had “Cat In The Hat” week and lunch that day was Green Eggs And Ham! There were three outdoor play areas, and a super fun clubhouse with lots of science displays and an area where the children have music class every Tuesday. (They have Science Class on Thursdays, by the way….mind blown.) When I walked in to one of the Toddler rooms, I stopped in my tracks. There were four little children who were Marlowe’s age, sitting around a tiny table on tiny little chairs, eating a healthy lunch nicely together and having an engaged conversation with their teacher. It was truly one of the more civilized things I have ever seen. I was shocked. If you read this blog post about my mealtime battles with Marlowe, you’ll remember my child was far (Far, far, FARRR) from doing anything like this. All of a sudden I was acutely aware of the fact that I may have been raising a feral cat and not a human toddler. I turned to the director, and asked her when we could start.
We transitioned Marlowe in to a full week at daycare little by little. I was there for the first couple of stretches, watching and reassuring her. The very first day, she had no idea how to even sit still at Circle Time or listen to a book being read to the class without going over and trying to turn the pages herself, or grab the book away. I remember saying to my husband tearfully that I was worried our daughter was a bonafide maniac and that daycare would be the thing to prove it once and for all. He laughed, and reassured me that she would get used to the routine of being a part of a group, and that this type of environment would be the best thing to help her adjust — not only to group behavior, but to the addition of another member of the family in just a few short months. The first day she was at school the whole day by herself, I sobbed in the car after drop-off. I was so emotional that my tiny baby girl was suddenly old enough to be spending the day with other children in a school environment, but I was also so deeply proud of her for being so brave and trusting, and for accepting new friends in to her life so wholeheartedly.
By the end of the first week, I dropped in at lunchtime to peer sneakily through the window. There was my child, sitting in a tiny chair at a tiny little table, eating pasta out of a bowl with a fork like all the other children, and talking sweetly to her neighbor. And I only had to get her as far away from me as possible to achieve this! Ha! But really, it did get me thinking a lot about how as parents we are ultimately flawed in certain subconscious ways, and that no matter how much we love our children there can still be a part of us that allows certain behaviors that aren’t ultimately the best for them. I realized that Marlowe had been craving more socialization, and had been wanting to learn from other children and from people outside of her parents. On the weekends, she talks often of her school friends and teachers, and sings songs to us that they all sing together. We have so much fun hearing what she has learned every day, and all of the new words and expressions she rattles off endlessly.
For us, daycare feels like the best of both worlds: daytime care for our child, and the knowledge that she will be exposed to difference in emotion, opinion, culture, and personality than she would have been exposed to being cared for by one person in our home. Obviously it isn’t for everyone, but for our little Marlowe, it seems pretty perfect.
If your child is starting daycare, or you’re thinking about sending them, here are a few of my favorite products to ease the transition and send your kid off to school in style!
1. Backpack & Water Bottle
Marlowe’s school requires a little backpack that the children can put projects in to take home, and that the teachers can slip permission slips and daily reports of the day in to. I just love this one by Skip Hop, and it comes with a matching water bottle which is also a Daycare must!
When your child is in daycare (or school) it’s all about an indestructible label! Our daycare has us label literally everything. I love these labels because they are stickers, but are totally washing machine- and dishwasher-safe (and so adorable).
Marlowe naps on a cot at school for two hours each day. Each Monday we bring in her little crib sheet and quilt set and then bring it home Fridays to wash for the next week. I love using one specific set so that her “bed” at daycare is as consistent as it is at home.
4. Nontoxic Hand Sanitizer
I wash Marlowe’s hands every day before we leave daycare, but I also keep this kid-safe hand sanitizer in her backpack to make sure we kill as many germs as possible!
Marlowe’s “comfort object” is a pink lovey that she holds and sucks her thumb. She keeps one at daycare to nap with (and in case she has an injury or meltdown). I bought extras when she started there so that I could switch them out and wash the daycare lovey every single day so as not to accumulate germs!
6. Aromatherapy Diffuser
No matter how hard you try to prevent it, when your child enters a school environment for the first time, she is bound to catch a few bugs. To help support her immune system, I use an essential oil diffuser at home with an immunity boosting essential oil. I diffuse it in the mornings while we get ready for school, and when she gets home to give her a little more TLC.
For more from Eva head over to her blog, Happily Eva After.
Photo: Courtesy of Eva Amurri Martino