When I returned to work early, I wanted one thing sorted before I went back: daycare. By a stroke of luck (and some helpful friends who guided me in the search) we found a daycare that was affordable, close to our workplaces, and bilingual! Vive le français! Then I got that unfortunate e-mail…..she was pregnant. And so the search began again.
I visited two places; one was not yet operational and was spotless, with a whole playroom full of shiny, spanking new equipment. The other was less…shiny. The toys were well-loved and I just wasn’t sure. New is better, right? Little did I know when both of us returned to work full-time, our home would become a cluttered, lawless abyss of crayons and board books and stuffed animals and tiny socks and Mega Bloks and discarded food. That’s what happens when you work out of the home and have a small child. Or probably more generally, have a small child.
I picked the less shiny daycare, because I had a better feeling about the caregiver. I’m certain that the other caregivers would have worked out fine, and that the children they care for are happy and safe. But having a caregiver who shares the same attitudes about kids, who is calm and gentle and easygoing, has made the transition back to work easier. (She has a fabulous English accent to boot.)
The care has never, ever been shabby. Nina often asks to go to daycare even when she is not scheduled. (And when bedtime is going badly.) She loves the activities and the other kids, and she trusts her caregiver like I do. Every day, Nina gets to colour and play. She does crafts and reads books. She goes to the park and goes for walks and visits with kids in other daycares in the neighbourhood. She even has a crew of little pals that she heart-meltingly refers to as “my friends.” She attends lots of birthday celebrations, complete with cupcakes. Last October, she came home with a huge smile and the ugliest pumpkin I have ever seen, after a trip to the pumpkin patch.
Recently, I walked in at pick-up time and found the caregiver dancing Nina around the room to Raffi. I think my heart grew three sizes.
Sometimes I think that Nina likes her caregiver more than me, because Mama has to do all the yucky, business stuff like tooth-brushing, hair-washing, and bedtime. And sometimes I am a little jealous of the caregiver, because while I am at work every day doing my job, MY BABY IS HER JOB. I never feel like there are enough hours in the day to do everything that I want to do with Nina and she just keeps growing and changing, and ever so slowly, slipping away.
I strenuously avoid articles about the potential harms or benefits of daycare. There is no single study that is going to tell me whether daycare is harmful or beneficial, and I’ve made my choices about daycare based on what was good for our whole family, not only for Nina. I don’t want to read about women who deeply regretted staying home with their children, but realized that it was a mistake way too late, who lost their identities and feel taken for granted. And I don’t want to read about women who, like me, still sometimes feel uncertain about their choices, who wish they could spend more time with their kids, who are accused of “letting someone else raise their children.” I don`t know about anyone else, but since I became a mother my heart just can`t endure cruelty the way it could before. There are too many unkind, unsolicited, uninformed, mean-spirited words floating around in the parent community.
I can only speak to my experience, which has been mostly great. I feel like we have hit the babysitter jackpot, and I remind myself often to be grateful. Nina is well-socialized, she knows the alphabet and she can count to twenty and she knows colours and shapes. She tells me all about playing with her friends, and she is happy and dirty and her shoes are full of sand at the end of the day. She is happy to see me at pick-up time, but not desperate to leave her caregiver. And I think that is the closest thing to balance that I can hope for.