Case Study #2: A friend of mine who now has teenage daughters told me that she fretted about putting her kids in daycare after being a stay at home mom for a few years. She put them in two days a week. Shortly after that she upped it to four days a week. She loved having her girls in daycare so much (they liked it too) that she then opted for the extended day two days a week. She said it was glorious.
Case Study #3: A third friend of mine with two kids said, "Life gets so much better when they're in school seven hours a day."
Hmmmmm...maybe I should take the hint.
I have been toying with the idea of daycare for a while, but here in Massachusetts it is ridiculously expensive. Daycare at any of the big facilities will cost me $1000+ a week for both kids - and that's if my boys go five days a week. If they go less than five days a week it becomes more expensive per day. I checked into some home daycare centers and between the fact that I just got a bad vibe from all of the providers I talked to except for one and it would still cost me $800ish a week it just wasn't worth it. My mind, however, kept going back to the day in the park when I saw a group of kids with their teachers exploring bugs with a microscope and I thought to myself, "I can't give my kids that!" Although 20 kids with two adults crammed into a room has some drawbacks, daycare can be filled with opportunities for Jeff and Aaron that I can't provide at home.
The tipping point came when we got the email saying that the boys finally got into the public school's three year old program this fall. (Hooray!!!) We had been wait-listed for months and two slots opened up and were offered to my kids. Starting this fall the boys are going to be going to school for four hours a day and I thought it would be important for them to get used to being in a school environment.
I made peace with the fact that even if I work while the kids are in daycare I will lose money. It's OK because I'll be out among adults using my brain and they will "practice" being in school. About two weeks ago I brought my boys to the daycare center for a "trial run." The center allowed me to drop off my kids for about two hours to see how they would do.
When we got there Aaron and Jeff were a little suspicious of what was going on. We walked into the classroom while story time was going on. The director allowed me to stay in the room and play in a corner with the boys for a while. I asked her how I leave and she said, "You know your kids best. You figure it out. There's no one right way to leave your children for the first time."
Jeff was OK with me leaving. He is often happy playing by himself. Aaron needed some more convincing. I explained I would be right next door talking with the director. I left the room and waved to both boys through the window. Thanks to sign language I told them again I would be next door talking with the lady and I would be back in a little while. Aaron accepted that.
I talked with the director for a few minutes and then, right as I exited her office, I heard the "Daaaaaaaaaaaaaddddddy!!!" scream from Aaron.
"I need to just leave, right?" I asked the director as I started to get emotional.
"Yes. Let the teachers do their job," she said.
I left and felt ecstatic with my hour or two of freedom and scared for my boys but knowing I was doing the right thing. I sat down on a bench trying to figure out what to do when my phone rang. It was the center director. "Uh oh," I thought. I had left the center five minutes ago at most.
"Just wanted to let you know Aaron is playing trains with his brother and another boy." said the director.
I needed to hear that. He was OK. I could now go buy my sugar coated nuts without feeling guilt. Well, I'd feel guilty for not eating a stalk of broccoli, but at least I wouldn't have guilt about dropping my kids off at daycare.
An hour later the center called again. "Uh oh," I thought again. "What now?"
A familiar voice told me, "The teachers are taking the kids to the park. Is it OK if we take Jeff and Aaron? They really want to go."
Phew. Not a crisis. Everything is OK.
I got to the park right around the same time the daycare center arrived. I saw my boys holding a long rope with rings with 18 other kids to help keep them together. It made me excited to see them be a part of a class and sad that I wasn't there for them. I stayed back for a few minutes and watched them play in the park. Eventually I sat down on a bench and after a few more minutes Aaron spotted me and ran over to me.
We all walked back to the daycare center. The boys didn't want to give up their pinnies but the director said she would keep them in a special spot for the next time the boys come.
I was told Jeff cried once when everyone lined up to go to the park. It was probably just because of all the commotion. Besides that he was fine.
Both boys survived their first day of daycare. More importantly, I survived. They were not thrilled with their experience, but they didn't meltdown either. I'm now trying to get all of their paperwork and medical records in order so they can officially go to daycare a few more times before school starts. It's the beginning of a new stage, soon: school. Life without me. Life outside of the house. A set schedule. Friends. More play dates. Exposure to different superheroes, candy, and bad ideas from peers. It can be nerve wracking having your children grow up, but in the end that's what we all want. We want our children to grow up and be a part of the world and I'll remind myself of that every time their world gets a little bigger and my role gets a little bit smaller.