As a working mom, I have a love/hate mentality about leaving my kids in someone else’s care for what amounts to about 40% of the time my child is awake, each week. Sometimes there are things I think should be done differently, sometimes I question how well I really know what is going on there when I’m not around, and sometimes I have concerns about the sheer volume of donuts my child may or may not be consuming. It’s easy to get frustrated. It’s easy to get panicked inside, feeling like I may not be doing what’s best for my children, by sending them there. Because no one that I’ve found will take care of them exactly like I think they should. Of course, if I stayed home with my kids every day, I’m quite sure even I would not be able to take care of them exactly like I think I should. I am trying to take a step back and look at the big picture, and when I do, even with my cynical and critical eye, it sure seems like there is a lot to be grateful for. I need to remind myself of this.
They create stability and routine. Everything has a time and a place at daycare. Shoes always go in the cubby, coats always get hung up on hangers, and show-and-tell is always on Thursday. There is allotted time each day to play with baby dolls and listen to stories and create mini-masterpieces and no one leaves the lunch table without asking to be excused. This isn’t in the fake sort of way, like we have at home. They really mean it, and they follow through. As if that wasn’t impressive enough, daycare usually incorporates a catchy song that accompanies each time and place. My kid whistles while she works.
They get my kids to do things I wouldn’t be able to by myself. I can’t recreate the peer pressure of eleven other kids at home. The motivation to clean up, or stay in their seats during mealtime is often the result of being a part of the group, and being able to participate with their peers. There was a brief period of time when Baby Grouch would linger and let the other kids pick up all the toys, while she just looked at them and stared. “Nope”, she said with her eyes. “You guys can do it”. At home I utilized a few strategies to work on this. I was a broken record and said, “Clean up. Clean up. Clean up.” I told her she could do something fun, but only after she cleaned up her toys (and hoped that what I offered was a motivator that day). I physically held her and made her sit until she cleaned up the cheerios she spilled on the floor. But that gets tedious and would be ridiculously impossible to do all day, every day. Sometimes I just cleaned up the blocks for her. They did not have this problem at daycare. Once she figured out that she wasn’t allowed to move on to the next group activity without doing her share, she became a cleaning speed demon.
They teach social skills in an authentic setting. I can’t recreate Johnny stealing Toddler Grouch’s light up bouncey ball or Susie giving her a hug and asking if she is okay when she falls and skins her knee. She says hello, she shares, she waits to take a bite of birthday cake until she sings to her friend and they take a bite first. It was a weird feeling when I realized my one-year-old had friends that I knew nothing about, other than their first names and fuzzy images of their faces. But it begins that early, folks. They play very well together, but of course sometimes they fight. My daughter got put in time out the other day for going on the slide and then putting her feet out, purposely kicking another kid at the bottom. I’m glad this happened. On one hand, I’m glad she got annoyed enough to fight back – I think she needs to be more assertive – sometimes she is so laid back she is the one who gets pushed around. I also want her to learn how to do so appropriately, and I know they help provide her with words to use so she can assert herself with her speech, rather than with physical force.
They clean up my kid’s shit. Seriously they wipe their asses. A lot. Not to mention spit up, puke, snot and other bodily fluids. I usually don’t mind changing diapers, but I am not under any illusion that my kid’s diapers are full of rainbows and flowers. My kid’s shit always stinks.
They put in a ton of hours. Our daycare is operated by a mother/daughter team, and they are open almost every day, and rarely have a sub. They open at seven-fifteen and close at five-thirty. They have no true coffee breaks or lunch breaks. During the winter, they must be sure to have the driveway shoveled, and, since the daycare is in the basement, they also have to shovel out the area in the backyard surrounding the windows, per fire code. Living in Michigan, this equates to a lot of time and energy. They run their daycare like a preschool, and have weekly and monthly themes, they have activities planned for every day. They organize, and clean and sanitize equipment on a regular basis. My kid is in a safe and orderly environment.
They provide sensory stations so I don’t always have to. They have fingerpainting and bubbles and sprinklers and moon sand and glitter glue. They turn paper towel rolls into pencil holders, hot air balloons and binoculars. They turn handprints into butterflies and flowers. They are probably so grateful for the existance of Pinterest. The kids play outside almost every day, in the summer and in the winter, and they return my child with relatively clean hands, even after she spends an hour digging in the dirt and rocks (one of her favorite things to do). My kid loves to stick and scoop and smash, and I love that she does this so often there, so I don’t have to clean all of that joy off my floor every day.
They go above and beyond. For every birthday and holiday, they make sure my kids feel special. They have birthday crowns and the birthday kid gets to lead group activities and get sung to. They have holiday parties with special outfits and special games. Our daycare sometimes gives little presents for big occassions. They pick gems from the “birthday box”, they get wrapped presents to open at Christmas. I’m paying them about three dollars an hour and they are using part of that money to buy my child things she loves – baby dolls, books, one of those horseheads attached to a stick. They don’t have to do this, because they are already making her feel special in the other, more important, ways. My kid is a teeny bit spoiled.
They provide a needed service, and sometimes a needed break. I’m not gonna lie, sometimes I go for a jog after work before picking up my kids. In my head, daycare is for when I’m working, so I sort of think of it as free babysitting at this point, even though they as a business have determined the hours and rate that I am paying for. I’m a better mama when I take care of myself, and it couldn’t happen unless I felt like my kid was in a safe place.
They love my kids. In their own way. They play with them. They hug them. They want them to grow into good people. They know them inside and out, in some ways maybe a little more than I do. At least a little differently than I do. And they get that same feeling of happy-sad when they grow up that I do. Sometimes, though, if you care about someone a lot, they don’t always measure up to your expectations. This can lead you to be tough on them. Which brings me to my next point.
They aren’t always nice. There’s a reason I didn’t decide to have Grandma watch the kids. She’s too nice. She’ll put on my kid’s shoes for them, and clean up their toys for them and will give in when my children scream and cry that they don’t want to do something. She will feed my children french fries and cookies and chicken nuggets every single day. She will pamper them. That said, it isn’t always easy to accept that my kids aren’t being pampered all the time. I remember my first heart-punch, hearing how my daughter “didn’t want to do anything for herself” one day. When she was six months old. Seriously? And I know there are times when the ladies might be a bit snippy. Maybe even a little shouty. I’m pretty sure Toddler Grouch didn’t come up with, “Don’t play those games with me”, by herself. It isn’t something you might want to hear, or think about, but let’s face it: they’re human too. As far as my kids are concerned, I figure that learning how to deal with people who are sometimes moody is a valuable life skill. That said, my natural instincts are to swoop in like a bird and snatch up my kids in an instant if I suspected any real abuse. I’d probably peck out a few eyes in the process, too.
They teach kids how to do shit. My kiddo was carrying and setting up her own cot at eighteen months. I watched once, peeking my head out from beind the stairwell and my jaw dropped. I saw her working with a partner to lift and carry her end of the cot, and walk it from the nap room to the storage closet. Then she went back and helped her partner (who was a little older and held her hand and reminded her where to go) carry hers. They get these kids to do amazing things. More things than I will be able to witness, since they can’t record every event or give me a play-by-play of the entire day. I don’t know when my child would have given up bottles, used a sippy cup, put her own coat and shoes on, sang (and danced) the hokey-pokey, the itsy-bitsy-spider, ring-around-the-rosie, counted to thirty, sang the ABC’s, recognized shapes, been able to safely climb up and down stairs, use a fork to feed herself, learn the days of the week, et cetera, if daycare hadn’t taught her. Yes, she would have learned it all, eventually, but she has certainly learned that she can do things independently at a much earlier age than I would have thought possible.
Anything I missed that I should be thankful for?