A Womb of One’s Own: Daycares

I’ve been lucky enough to stay at home with my son for the first nine months of his life, and will continue to do so until he’s a year old. This summer, however, we have to go through the great separation. Yep, it’s time for childcare.

Being a stay-at-home mom (or SAHM in message board parlance) has been pretty amazing. I know his favorite foods, I’ve seen him roll over, he falls asleep in my arms at least three times a day. Sure, parts of the experience blow (like having a small crawling shadow who wants to be picked up NOW RIGHT NOW), and I miss talking to adults, but I feel like I’ve done the best I could for my family. And now, what’s going to be best for my family is putting Gabe in childcare and doing directed fieldwork this summer.

I’m an over-preparer, and so the process of finding a daycare is overwhelming. How do I find one? How do I evaluate it? How can I find reviews or talk to parents who’ve had kids there? Why don’t more of them have websites? For goodness sake, must they all be “Lil’ Heroes” or “Gramma’s House”? Is there a maximum grasp of grammar and spelling allowed to post childcare on Craigslist? Do you get higher priority for placing ads in all caps? I was an English major, I can’t bring myself to leave my spawn with someone who hasn’t fully internalized the concept of only capitalizing proper nouns.

In more serious worries, I think about the horror stories I’ve heard. I was in daycare briefly, until my mom came to pick me up and found her three-year-old daughter alone in the backyard next to the pool. How do I know that the care provider doesn’t have a creepy relative who’s allowed around the kids? Are there animals near the kids, do they have their shots? Gabe loves animals with both hands, what if their animal doesn’t like that? What if he pulls a bookshelf on himself? What if he eats an electrical cord? What if another kid gives him pinkeye? What if he misses me?

I know this is an important step for both of us, and it’s a good practice run. By doing childcare part-time this summer, we’ll both be more prepared for full-time childcare when I find a job (which will hopefully be soon after summer quarter, because student loans are terrible). But how do we do this? How do you separate yourself from your smaller half? How do you hand them to someone and say, “Godspeed, here’s a thousand dollars”? How did you find your childcare? What should I look for? How has having your kid in childcare affected your relationship with them, with yourself, with your spouse?

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Jessica Werner

Free-range librarian in Seattle. A sucker for happy endings, teen angst, and books that make me want to sell my possessions and travel the world. Incurable homebody and type A. Send love letters and readers advisory requests to jessica.werner@gmail.com

10 thoughts on “A Womb of One’s Own: Daycares”

  1. Oh man I understand. I had 6 weeks maternity leave and then BAM daycare.

    A friend recommended a lady who happens to be close to my job and speaks Spanish. I basically didn’t look after that because I get overwhelmed so easily.

    Luckily, it’s all worked out great. I’ve arrived early a couple of times to pick la Monita up and found her well loved. Additionally, even though she’s only 3 months now I think she is very well adjusted with new people.

    (now for me to get over my irrational fear that she’ll grow to like the babysitter more than me. And to get over feeling badly for being a working mom)

  2. I’ve got no personal experience in this topic but I recently reread The Gift of Fear, and there is a section on schools, with a list of questions he recommends asking that the school should be able to answer. I’m sure it could be adjusted to daycare.

    As a baby-sitter, I have to second the people who recommend no lingering when you drop him off- kids usually stop about 5 minutes after the parents are gone otherwise. Best of luck!

  3. As a former childcare worker, maybe I can add another perspective and some reassurances.  I have worked in two different daycares and as a nanny for a family.  I can’t and won’t tell you that there aren’t bad childcare providers out there because I’ve seen and worked with some.  I will say that the overwhelming majority of people who go into childcare are there because they absolutely care about and love the children they work with.  Personally, I can say that my life has been completely and utterly transformed by the love and trust I’ve received from the children and parents I’ve worked with.  There is absolutely nothing so uplifting and humbling.

    As for what to look for in a daycare center, most important are the people who will be working with your child.  Take a tour and talk with the teachers.  Are they happy and enthusiastic about their job and the children?  Notice their interactions with the children.  Are they patient, compassionate, and firm?  How long have the teachers worked for the center?  Just like with any business, employee loyalty is pretty telling about the atmosphere of a place.  After the people, I would say the facility is very important.  The person leading the tour should be willing to let you into all areas of the facility, and they should be clean.  (Check the bathrooms, I can speak from experience when I say they’re the hardest to keep clean!)  Also, I don’t know how it is in your state, but in FL, there are very strict regulations that must be adhered to by daycare centers, including child-to-teacher ratios and down to the drops of bleach per water for cleaning solution (this varies depending on what is being cleaned) and the number of inches between nap-time cots (18, if you’re curious).  It was not at all unusual for a state inspector to show up to check that these rules are followed.

    As for being able to emotionally let your little one go, you absolutely can do it, and it will absolutely be difficult.  I would recommend creating a ritual, something like a kiss, a hug, then blowing a kiss from the window as you leave.  It gives the child (and the parent!) something to focus on besides leaving.  Your little guy will cry sometimes, maybe every morning, but the longer you linger, the worse it makes for the child.  As a teacher, this was my number one pet peeve.  Some parents, feeling guilty or not wanting to leave, would linger for nearly an hour, feeding the child’s distress, which would then last longer past the parent’s departure and disrupt the class.  When the parent lingers, it shows the child that there is something to fear here and a reason to be upset.

    Also, Gabe is going to get sick and going to get sick often, especially at first.  No matter how clean the facility or how diligent the staff, it is inevitable.  I spent the first year as a preschool teacher with a never-ending bug.  After 3.5 years with the little germ factories (affectionately labeled thus of course), I don’t really get sick anymore.

    Sorry for the book, but I feel like the voices of childcare workers are often overlooked!

     

    1. Good words, Athena– I taught preschool for 13 years– and that first year of teaching was doozy germ-wise. I think the same thing goes for most children- the first year they are in close quarters with other children, they are going to get sick. My daughter started full time care around her first birthday, my son started when he was four months old. Both got many colds.

      The bonus? Is that now, they NEVER get sick (knock on wood). As in, they have each missed all of one day of school this entire school year for illness.

      As a teacher, I can tell you this will happen if they start school at 1 or 2 or 3, or even 4 or 5 years old.

  4. I’m not a mom yet, but I just visualized myself in your shoes and realized how hard it will be once (or if) I get to that same point. The idea of leaving my (hypothetical/future) child with someone else for a whole day makes my heart hurt! :( How is this possible?! That said, I don’t have much advice in finding a daycare, but I would say go with your gut feeling and good luck finding the best place! :)

  5. Both of you- Ipo & Susan, can do it!!! Is it overwhelming? Yes. Is the first day the looongggesstt day of your life? Yes. Does it get easier? Yes.

    Short version of what I did (and there may be some archives around here on the topic)- I got referrals from friends & called a couple of in home places .For some reason, I don’t remember why now, I ended up not looking at any of them- either they were full, too far away or I didn’t get a good vibe on the phone.

    I stopped in a few commercial places, and from there, I picked the one I liked the best. It ended up being the place both of my kids went until they were old enough to start Montessori preschool. We stopped by the other day, and many of the staff members are still there and were THRILLED to see the kids :)

    I’d say a) ask around b) go with your gut.

    Ask about ratios/licensing/sick-kid policies/vacation policies, definitely drop by unannounced at least once.

    It’s a big adjustment, but it can be done!

  6. My friend had to go back to work quite soon after having her second son because her husband runs his own business that isn’t quite profitable yet, so put her boys in childcare. Her oldest really loves it, he seems to thrive. He’s very good with different people now (he wasn’t so much before daycare) and he loves to show you what he’s learned (I have now heard a song called “Wind the Bobbin” many times but when it’s sung by a ginger 2.5 year old with a mixed English/Kiwi accent, it is very cute).

    My mother had this weird thing against kindergartens (something about mat time, I don’t go into it with her because it’s weird) so we went to Playcentre. Playcentre is essentially a co-operative day care with one or two trained teachers and a whole lot of parent-helpers who run the place as well. Mum was part SAHM/part working from home so this worked well for her. When she was required to be parent-help, she could be but when she wasn’t, she could dump us there and go and do her drawing. It really seemed to work for our family and Mum was really into it (going so far as to wean my younger sister at 6 month so she could go to the National Conference for Playcentre without her. However my sister was a shit so I’m not surprised Mum weaned her ASAP).

    I’ve got another friend whose goal it is in the next 2 years is quit law, have a baby and train as an in-home educator which is very popular around here. I’d be really interested to see how that works out for her.

  7. We are thinking about child care this upcoming fall, for socialization – just part-time.  Montessori, because I went there, and I hear great things, and I went and visited it and it looks amazing.  All of the kids were playing quietly on little rugs.  And it’s not too expensive, because we live in an economically depressed area.

    But.

    I’m supposed to call them and fill out paperwork, and every time I think about it, I wonder if maybe we shouldn’t push it back to the spring.  Sofia would/will love it.  But technically for the school part they are supposed to be 2 years and 8 months, and she won’t be quite that old in the fall, and…maybe we’ll push it back.  I’m scaaaaared.

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