My son, Jacob, started daycare last week. He goes three days a week to a centre with play-based focus and a preschool curriculum. Which means … I don’t really know. What I do know is they have lots of toys and age-appropriate activities set out, they let the children follow their own interests, and they strive to teach them social skills. I like it there. They don’t use time-outs, they don’t have any screens to park the kids in front of, and they offer an environment that I couldn’t re-create at home.
(Why does there always have to be a but?)
In the week before Jacob started I visited with him a couple of times. One day we stayed for lunch, and that was high times. He was so excited about his school lunch. He carried his lunch bag into the building by himself, in the manner of a parent carrying their new baby. Carefully. Proudly. When it was finally time to eat that school lunch he could barely contain himself.
On Jacob’s first real day at school I explained that I would leave him there, and he was OK. He didn’t even look at me when I said good-bye. I decided to pick him up right after lunch so that he wouldn’t have to stay for nap time. I suspected that nap time would be the hardest part of the day for my non-napper, so I wanted to get a good first day under his belt before we went any further.
On Jacob’s second real day at school I decided to be there for nap time. One of the teachers suggested it. He was a little bit sad at drop-off, but before I even left the building he was off playing again. When I showed up at nap time, things were different. Jacob was sad. Jacob didn’t want to have a rest. Jacob wanted to go home. “Come on Mama, let’s go! I don’t like it the nap time!” I settle him on his cot, and laid down beside him. He needed to get up to pee. He needed to get up to have a drink. He needed to get up to visit his friend. He needed to get up to go home.
On Jacob’s third real day at school things didn’t go so well. When I gave him a hug at drop-off, he clung to me for dear life. I’ve read all of the tips and I know that prolonging the separation does no good, so I remained calm as the teacher pried my screaming child off of me. I said good-bye calmly, and managed to make it to my car before I broke down crying. It just all felt so … wrong.
By the time that I picked Jacob up that afternoon, he appeared to have turned a corner. He was cheerful, and asked to stay to finish his snack. His teacher told me he only cried for a couple of minutes and she was with him, and I believe her. On his fourth day, yesterday, he cried when I left, but he didn’t cling to me. At pick-up he said that he had fun at school, but not at nap time.
Let me tell you, if anything’s going to crack your cheery-faced decision that daycare is the right choice for your child, it’s having to walk away from them while they cry out for you. While every instinct is telling you to turn around and grab your child and run far, far away, you have to hold it together. It sucks.
But why? Why do I have to hold it together? I know plenty of other people who don’t put their not-quite-three-year-olds in daycare, it’s not like it’s required.
The truth is that I need to make some money to help keep my family afloat. And trying to squeeze in time after my kids go to sleep is just not working. Trying to work while they’re awake is even less feasible, especially if I don’t want to park them in front of the TV all day. So I trust that I’ve made the right choice in selecting a childcare setting, and I trust that my kid is ready for this (even if he doesn’t like it), and hope with every fibre of my being that it will all be OK. Because when I’m sitting in that car, crying and feeling like the worst mother in the world, I really need to believe that it will all be OK.