Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Daycare: Survival of the Fittest

 When you are expecting a baby, people give you all kinds of unsolicited advice. Men and women alike almost come out of the woodwork to pass along some nugget of information (or horrifying labor story) that they simply must share. Sleep now, because you won’t after the baby comes. You’ll expose the baby to radiation if you face the microwave while it’s running. Don’t lift your arms over your head or else the umbilical cord will wrap around the baby’s neck (I’m not making these up people – these are all pieces of advice people actually passed along to me).

And these tidbits of advice don’t dry up once the baby is born. Sleep when the baby sleeps. Eating broccoli will give your baby gas. Make time for a date night with your husband once a month (yeah, right). In short, everyone has an opinion as to how you should be living your post-baby life.

It isn’t until you hit daycare that the advice dries up. At the moment you need it most, suddenly the people who couldn’t contain their opinions as to what you should and shouldn’t do are unbearably quiet.

Some of the silence may be the result of the stigma that still goes along with sending a baby to daycare. Any working mom will tell you that the statement that you send your child to daycare is almost always followed by an uncomfortable silence. People just don’t know what to say once you tell them that you’ve decided to leave your little, tiny baby with a room full of strangers and snotty toddlers. I truly believe that the first time a working mother experiences that silence is a defining one. In that moment, the working mother is judged. She’s judged for choosing work over her children. For not having enough money to hire a nanny. For whatever. The working mom may not know what she’s being judged on, but at that moment, she knows she’s being judged. And it sucks.

But that is a post for another day.

The point is, right when you really need someone to tell you what to expect with daycare, there’s nothing but crickets. Oh sure, daycare gives you a packet that tells you to do things like bring an extra bottle and a set of back up clothes in case the baby spits up (or worse). They tell you to bring your child’s security item so at nap time he’ll have a familiar friend. But it’s what that little packet doesn’t tell you that you need to know most. So here’s our list of things you should know about daycare:

1. Never send anything you want to see again (other than your child) to daycare. Daycare is like the Bates Motel: what goes in won’t necessarily come back out. Blankets, shoes, hats and back-up clothes seem particularly subject to this rule.

2. Your child will never come home from school in his/her own backup clothes. From the best we can tell, it doesn’t matter if your kid has his own cubby, drawer or locker, when daycare puts your kid in back-up clothes those clothes are almost never his or her own.

3. Your child will come home dirty. We cannot emphasize this enough: your child will come home from daycare filthy. Never, ever plan a trip to the store or (God forbid) a visit with the in-laws until you have time to bathe the kid. We don’t know if it’s the paint or the playground or lunch (well, we know it is often lunch), but every single surface area will need cleaning by the end of the school day.

4. Always have a pair of back-up shoes in the car. No parent wants to buy two pairs of shoes for kids who will grow out of them in a matter of weeks, but if your family doesn’t wear shoes in the house, having a second pair of back-up shoes is a must. Imagine the floor around your toddler after he eats. Now multiple that by 10 toddlers. And your kid in his socks. You’ve just justified buying the back-up shoes.

5. Don’t rush out every time daycare sends you a note that diapers/wipes are getting low. When our son first started daycare, I would rush out to get diapers/cream/wipes every time the teachers sent home a note saying he was running low. I felt like if I didn’t immediately get what he needed, he would somehow suffer. Eventually, we had a second baby (or I had a trial, who can remember?) and middle of the night trips to the 24 hour Walmart just weren’t an option. And you know what? Nothing happened. He never came home without a diaper. Sure, there was a time or two where he went to school in Pampers and came home in a Huggies, but so what? I finally figured out that if we were borrowing diapers from other kids it stood to reason that other kids were borrowing diapers from us. And if borrowing a diaper from my son meant some other harried mom didn’t have to rush out at 2 am to buy her kid diapers, then I’m proud to have done a little something to make her life easier. And I thank her for extending the same courtesy to me.

6. From time to time, send a snack for the entire class. When our son was 2, he started to understand what it meant to have friends. One day, one of his friends brought in a special snack for the entire class. Our son talked about it all night long. It was just a regular day made special by a snack. When about a month later our son asked to bring in a special snack to share with his friends, how could I say no? In that simple request I learned he was happy. He had friends. And he had learned the joy of giving. Special snack day turned out to be special for both of us.

7. From time to time, send a note of appreciation to the teacher. It is a sad truth for most daycare families that you child will spend more of her waking time with her daycare teacher than with her parents. For that reason alone, daycare teachers shoulder a heavy responsibility in the development of our children. And, at least in our case, the teachers have often gone above and beyond to not only help us raise kind, loving children, but to help us manage our hectic lives. A simple thank you does not even begin to cover it.

8. Don’t worry about dressing your kid in cute clothes. No one is judging you based on the clothes your kid wears to daycare. See number 3.

9. Go to the Parent-Teacher conferences. We learned this one the hard way. It seems silly to take off of work to go to those transition conferences where your infant’s teacher tells you all about what your kid can do, but trust us – it is so worth it. There aren’t words to describe the pride a parent gets from hearing a third-party describe her child’s accomplishments. But more importantly, you’ll learn that the teacher really knows and loves your child. And, if you’re me, you’ll know that your decision to keep working was not at the expense of your children.

10. Remember that we’re all in this together. In our time in daycare we’ve determined that there are two types of daycare parents: those that show up fed, in ironed clothes looking refreshed and relaxed, and those (like us) who are already late to work and whose kids aren’t even wearing shoes yet. No matter which kind of parent you are, our kids are all in this together. So let’s help each other every chance we get.


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