Today was Cora's last day at the daycare she's attended since she was 3 months old. While we were happy there, there's a Montessori school basically across the street from our house that will be so much more convenient now that the two big kids are attending elementary school down the street, particularly since James works from home and does all the drop-offs. From 8 a.m. - 1 p.m., four members of my family will be in 3 different buildings within 0.5 miles of each other and our after-school nanny can walk over to get Cora any afternoon I need it. We have 3.5 more years until Cora is in Kindergarten and overall I think this switch is going to be more than worth it in everyday ease and convenience.
But it was sad to leave. We got hugs all around and Ms. Yolanda, aka "Nani" according to Cora, cried when Cora hugged her goodbye. Cora has adored Nani since she was an infant and one day a few months ago when I was picking Cora up and she was giving Yolanda a fierce hug and blowing lots of goodbye kisses, I said laughingly, "Cora loves you so much Nani!" And Ms. Yolanda replied, heartfelt and seriously, "I love her too." And she does.
I've had a blog draft on my "daycare kids" for more than a year- for whatever reason, I just never quite finished it, but today seemed like a good day. I will say at the front that just because daycare has been great for us, that doesn't mean that I think it's better than other things. I don't. I had a stay at home mom and it was amazing. My childhood is basically one big mess of happy memories and chocolate chip cookies. And I have friends who've had full time nannies and swear it's the best decision they ever made. There are lots of options and combinations of childcare to make your family work. And I applaud anything that makes your family work. But daycare is an option I feel like either gets knocked a lot ("stuck in daycare" is an annoying as hell phrase that gets used too often) or is described as some last resort, so here's a daycare-positive post for anyone needing a boost or weighing childcare options for the future.
"Daycare kids" is a phrase that made me flinch back before I had Landon and I cared about what people thought of our family choices, mostly because I didn't yet have any evidence to support my conviction that I would indeed want to work after having him and that choice (that was not really a choice) wouldn't ruin the lives of anyone. But now, having daycare kids, being a working mom- these are badges I wear with pride. My kids are awesome, like seriously awesome and happy and fun and polite and James and I enjoy being with them SO much. I'm sure they'd be awesome if James or I stayed home with them too (well, I hope so anyway), but there's no way anyone could convince me that anyone could possibly be any better. Or happier, or more joyful or polite or secure. So now, when I get the unfortunate, "I just wouldn't want my kids to be stuck in daycare all day" or "I just wouldn't want someone else raising my children" or "I just want to make sure my kids are being raised with my values," I just cheerfully reply, "Oh, we love daycare!" Because we do, and any implication that my kids are "stuck" enduring live music, dance class, stretch-n-grow, art, centers, science experiments, circle time, singing, outside time, and school work learned in far more creative ways than I could come up with, with teachers who love and care for them, is just silly. And the values of "we don't hurt our friends" and "take turns" and "be respectful" are hardly controversial. And, of course, absolutely no raising of children is happening in the morning, evening, holidays, and weekends- it's all done in those 40 hours a week. Though I suppose if daycare is in fact "raising my kids," that's fine because they're doing a bang up job.
I remember being in Chicago and still somewhat sensitive about the whole childcare situation (every mom in my life had always been a stay-at-home mom so this all felt very new and subversive) and I was talking to the wife of one of my professors. They had two kids and she was asking me what we were doing for childcare and I told we'd found a small daycare we liked. And before I could launch into my justifications and all the itemized reasons we were clearly allowed to like it, she got a big smile and said, "Oh, we love daycare! It's been wonderful for us." And that little phrase, and the smile and confidence of the statement, it meant so much to me. And now, 8 years later, I have that same confidence as a mother of a happy, confident, well-adjusted 8-year-old, 5-year-old, and 2-year-old.
Some of the positives we've found: our kids are pretty confident in new situations (certainly more so than I ever was), they're open to and get along well with other kids, they share, they're independent, they're respectful and polite and full of "pleases" and "thank-you's." From their teachers we've learned things they could or should be doing developmentally. We've learned ways to phrase things we might not have thought of, like "you need to rest your body," which for whatever reason, a 3-year-old Landon found far less insulting than the suggestion that he needed nap, and we learned the idea of creating a "safe space" to calm down after a tantrum. We were also constantly discovering new things they could do and expectations we could have - oh they clear their lunch trash? put on their own shoes? At the time I was busy still being impressed that Landon could walk. But more than any of that, I think daycare has been wonderful for us because it has brought additional people into our kids' lives who love them. We don't have a large family and none of them are local. James's family isn't part of our lives, my parents still work full time, my brother and sister are busy and far away- for the most part, we're on our own. And that's fine, but I think it's nothing but good that my kids have had other adults in their lives who they love and trust and who love them in return. We still send a Christmas card and receive a lovely reply from Maya (Landon's caregiver from 3 months to 11 months) and our old daycare in Austin, and Claire loved going with me to pick up Cora because she could see and hug her beloved Ms. Susan from daycare before Kindergarten.
And even though one day it will be lovely to have all three kids in (free!) public school, a part of me will miss it. I loved picking up the kids at the end of the day and hearing someone else tell me how special they are. I love that Cora's teachers find her as funny as we do and I love standing in the classroom, holding my toddler who is alternating between fiercely hugging my neck and blowing kisses at her teachers, while they regale me with stories of her intrepid Cora-ness. I show them pictures of the kids from the weekends or special events. We laugh over the intricacies of a child we know better than anyone else. Far from an impersonal forced relationship, daycare has in fact been deeply personal. Not with every staff member, but with so many. In our Austin daycare baby Claire was beloved by the sweet older woman who sat at the front desk. Often, when I arrived for pickup, I'd find Claire sitting in Ms. Mary's lap, smiling at passersby. On the day we moved to Fort Worth and I went to pick up the kids for last time, I found Claire sitting in Ms. Mary's lap, with tears running silently down Ms. Mary's face. Ms. Mary loved her. Claire may not remember her, but I think she knew she was loved. And that's something I simply never expected when we started on this working parent path.
One last thing, we have attended 5 different daycares in the last 8 years- switching due to moves, schedule changes, and child personality changes (our first daycare in Fort Worth was awesome for Landon, but not right for Claire, so we switched after 2 months). If I wish I'd known one thing it's that the daycare you pick for your baby is not necessarily where you'll be when they're five. Pick what's right for you and your situation and needs at the time. So for your infant, pick somewhere warm and happy, where you see the babies being held, and the holders of the babies smiling. Odds are the toddler room will follow suit, and if not, it's easier to find a spot for a toddler in another center than it is to find a spot for an infant. And who knows, you may find yourself moving to Fort Worth partway through your daughter's toddler years anyway. Kids generally adjust much quicker and easier than you think; and generally much quicker and easier than you.
So Cora moves on to a new school tomorrow. Our sixth; her second. I'm a little nervous. I may love daycare as an overall family choice- and I do- but I so want her to quickly feel comfortable and as happy as she was at our previous school. We have friends whose kids have attended with rave reviews, so I think it will be great, and I hope that very soon I'll be chatting with her teachers at the end of the day and laughing over some Cora story while she blows kisses to her new friends.
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