Second children get all the breaks. Their way has been smoothed by the sibling that came before them. The egregious parenting mistakes have all been made and learned from. The initial anxiety at having a child has subsided, and the rules have been relaxed. They even get a birthday cake with real sugar in it on their first birthday, instead of some whole wheat concoction sweetened with applesauce.
One of the things that we worked out with my daughter was childcare. We lucked into a great infant and toddler daycare that opened a month before I was set to return to work after my maternity leave, which meant that we got our pick of spots. Unfortunately, however, when Hannah turned three and she was too old to go there anymore, there wasn’t a space for her at the associated preschool centre. I was newly-pregnant, and working part-time outside of the house. I needed daycare so that I could continue to work and qualify for maternity leave with my new baby. We had toured a bunch of centres some months earlier, but there was no space at the place that was our first choice.
We ended up enrolling Hannah at a Montessori school in our neighbourhood. Unfortunately, neither the school nor the Montessori method were a great fit for my kid. Hannah preferred to spend her days organizing all of her friends into elaborate games. She wasn’t a fan of working independently on her own little carpet using the Montessori materials. While I had confidence that she was well-cared-for, she wasn’t as happy at daycare as her father and I would have liked her to be.
Six months after Hannah started Montessori, when I was eight months pregnant, a spot came open at our first choice preschool daycare centre. I initially hemmed and hawed a bit about it. Hannah had finally settled in to her new school. While it still wasn’t what I would call fabulous, she no longer asked if she could stay home in the morning. Would moving her again just upset the delicate balance, and put us back at square one? In the end I decided to chance it, reasoning that if things weren’t great I could pull her out after I stopped working and I’d have a whole year of maternity leave to work it out.
Jacob drawing at daycare
I needn’t have worried. From her very first day, Hannah loved her new daycare, with its bright, open space, big playground, dedicated staff and play-based philosophy. She attended for two years, until she started kindergarten. When my own work scheduled ramped up and I needed more kid-free time during the day, there was no doubt about where Jacob would go. He was not quite three years old when he started. While he didn’t adjust as easily as Hannah, not having been in daycare before, he soon settled in and eagerly anticipated his days at school. Like his sister before him, I watched him flourish during his time there, learning, exploring and socializing in a space that is designed just for preschoolers.
Hannah’s first day at the place I’ve come to think of as our daycare was July 1, 2008. Jacob started less than a year after Hannah left, on July 1, 2011. Today is his last day. For five years, with a brief interlude in between, I have been driving my kids to daycare three days a week. The staff has become like a part of our family. For Jacob, especially, who first visited the daycare when he was still in my belly, the place has been a fixture in his life that he could count on. I don’t entrust my babies to someone’s care lightly, but I have always known that I could count on my kids’ teachers.
It can be a touchy thing, talking about the decisions we make to leave our children in other people’s care. Among my fellow attachment parenting mamas, especially, daycare isn’t always viewed in the most positive light. If you add the fact that I work from home into the mix, I sometimes feel as if I need to justify my choice to use daycare. I know it has been the right choice for my family, though. At daycare my children have learned things I couldn’t teach them. They’ve had the opportunity to enjoy a space that I couldn’t duplicate at home, and meet a wide variety of children from a more diverse array of backgrounds than they would encounter within my own social circle. While they did that, I have enjoyed kid-free time to get work done, so that when my kids are at home I can focus my attention on them.
For the next month, I will have both kids at home with me, as we enjoy the last month before my son starts kindergarten and enters full-time public education. Before that starts, though, I will head to daycare for the last time to pick up my son. I will leave the treats that my children picked out for the teachers, and the pictures that they drew for them. I will pack up the spare clothes, the blanket for nap time, the rain boots and the hat. I will bring the memory book that Jacob’s teachers made for him, full of photos and artwork from his time at daycare. Of course, I will cry a little. Because I will miss this place, and the role that it played in my children’s lives. My kids may be ready to move on, but I’m not sure that I am.