Driving past the entrance of the daycare center, I mentally resist the inclination to turn. For ten years I have made that turn almost every single week day. Almost 2500 times I have entered the parking lot, unbuckled a child and walked into the building. There have been days when I have choked back tears as I left a small infant in the hands of a daycare worker or sat them on the carpeted floor and kissed their head goodbye. There have been days when I’ve left a kicking and screaming toddler in the restraint of a teacher. There have been days when they’ve taken off running and never turned to say “Bye Mom.” And, there have been days when I’ve right-handedly barrel-held a three-year-old while carrying the rejected coat and left shoe in my other hand and shoved the boy into the waiting arms of his preschool teacher’s and growled, “Bye, I love you” as I’ve turned and stormed out of the door. Tell me we’ve all had those mornings!
Every day for ten years I’ve dropped off one or two of my boys (and sometimes my sister’s kids) and returned to pick them up. I can’t say I’ve always been happy with the choice of using a daycare center, though I have been happy with the one that I’ve used. Although staying home with my children was my initial desire, it has never been an option. As a single adoptive mother, I am the wage-earner. This is it. In the beginning of this parenting journey (that is, when I had one child and lived with a sister with a “very good” job), I was able to work part-time and had a wonderful blend of child time and adult time. But soon the financial demands led to full-time work and full-time child care needs.
Conservatively, I’ve spent over $100,000 on childcare expenses (about $230/week per kid). Sure I regularly debated more “cost-effective” options, but the comfort that I had with this particular center and knowing that it was “quality” child care always kept me there. When I was in grad school, I participated in a national study on the effects of child care, comparing kids who were home with a parent and those in a family or day care center care. Time and again, the “quality” of care aspect showed up as important for future social-emotional and intellectual development.
If I couldn’t be home with the boys, I wanted the security of knowing that they were well cared for. I wanted to know that the center was open every day. I sloshed through the sequential illnesses they picked up and brought home (in ten years, I only stayed home once because I was the one sick – every other time it was for a sick kid!) because I knew they were in a good place. I wanted a place that just laughed when I called and said “there’s another foster baby” and they had a spot for him. I wanted a place that didn’t judge when Little Guy wore his shoes on the wrong feet 99.99% of the time. I wanted a place where everybody knew my name. Sure I saw a lot of “teachers” come and go, and the directors and assistant directors come and go, but I stayed because of the incredible staff. There are so many who have touched us and one teacher in particular was there year after year from the moment I handed Super Tall Guy to her at the age of 6 weeks to the last hug of the Little Guy when we left last week. Miss Kathy and I were in this together. Every single morning after moving up to the next classroom, the Little Guy still walked out of his way to circle through Miss Kathy’s classroom. If she was doing circle time, we’d wave. If she wasn’t (too) busy, we’d stop for a little update on boys’ antics over the weekend or the latest sport Mr. Ornery was trying. You can’t replace that relationship.
Every day for ten years I walked into that building.
And, I walked out of that building almost 2500 times too. I have walked out with anxiety and confusion as to whether this was the right thing to do. I’ve walked out with anger at the troubles and struggles of a rough morning. I’ve walked out with a smile at the silly exchange with a kid or the hug of one of the boys’ little “friends.” I’ve walked out and given a teary-eyed new mom a smile of encouragement and said, Don’t worry. It gets easier and
the kids are happy.” I’ve walked out with peace and comfort knowing my sons are safe and loved. And I’ve walked out with sadness to be leaving for the last time, to be ending a stage of my boys’ lives, to be missing the friendships I’ve made over the years with this “family.”
Yes, there have been times that I’ve struggled with feeling that I’m leaving my kid in a big box building for the day, but now I struggle with missing the routine, missing the friends, missing the comfort and innocence of those early years of life. The Little Guy is ready for his next step. He’s excited about kindergarten. He doesn’t look back. Life is ahead and compelling and interesting and calling to him. But I know of that life, my little man. I know of that life.
And I wish for you just a few more days of Miss Kathy and your daycare center home.