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June 14, 2011 11:14 pm

My Daycare Journey

avatar by Mimi Hecht

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"Working from home with an adventurous and constantly hungry toddler is akin to riding a boat on pavement - it just doesn't happen."

So how exactly did I know it was time to send my first child into the world of daycare? How did I realize I was ready for the next stage of his barely two-year-old life, sending him off every day into some other woman’s competent arms?

In short, I was going nuts.

There, I said it. I know, I know – that’s not exactly a feel-good explanation, not a thought-out analyzation of his little-man needs. I was just losing my mind. You see, I’m not a stay-at-home mom. I mean, I definitely do stay at home, hardly ever putting on makeup or any other shoe wear but slippers. But it’s not because I belong to the noble group of women who dedicate all their days towards caring for and occupying their little ones at home. It’s because I work from home. And let me tell you, working from home with an adventurous and constantly hungry toddler is akin to riding a boat on pavement – it just doesn’t happen. Every time I would sit at the computer to work, my 20-month old would think I was starting “Elmo” or “Eli” from Mitzvah Boulevard. When he kvetched and shrieked his way into my lap only to discover a boring document of “ABCs,” the scream got louder. The result? No work. Just lots of puppets.

I started feeling really bad for him, like keeping him at home was doing him a huge disservice. The toys aren’t good enough, the space isn’t big enough, the company is, well, quite frankly, boring. Oh, and I was due to give birth with child number two! Suffice to say, sending my son to daycare became a no-brainer.

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But that didn’t take away the guilt. Oh, the guilt! I’m his mother! What’s wrong with me and my life that I have to deposit my not-yet two year old into some other woman’s love? Am I going to damage him forever? Will he blame me for not extending the full mother-son bonding way into his toddler years? I cried just thinking about it. My son is my confidant, my sidekick. I wasn’t ready to end our every-day-together routine, for him to experience hours away, without me knowing every detail of his day.

I pushed off the decision, merely meddling in researching some local options. But before I knew it, I had the baby and was home with both boys. The situation entered code red – we had to make a decision. Thankfully, we found a daycare nearby with a small group of kids, started by someone I knew and trusted. He was going to start the following week. A new phase for our family had begun.

Day one went very smoothly for my son, but was fraught with emotion for me. The guilt in sending and “ruining” my son turned into a whole new kind. I dropped him off and he actually turned to me and said “Bye bye, Mama.” It was as if he cursed. I wanted to scream, “Excuse me?! What did you just say?! You will not talk to me like that! You need me! I am your mother! You will cry and throw a tantrum when I leave you, you hear me?!”

It was worse when I picked him up. He was laughing and playing on a bike. He was super clean and actually smelled good. He had been fed chicken soup. Like, you know, real food. He was taken care of with the prowess of a supermom. The kind of mom that I clearly am not. At home, I let him get messy. He eats whatever I can convince him to take. And I do not own a cool bike upon which he laughs. I quickly realized that I actually wasn’t damaging my child, I was in fact giving him to someone who can offer him more than I can. So then that became the issue. It killed me. I wanted to quit working, drop all my projects and vow to become the supermom my kid deserved. You know, his biological mom.

Given that dropping my work and mothering full time was not a real option, I had to learn to navigate the emotions of having a kid in daycare. First of all, I started calling it “playgroup” instead. It turns the focus from doing me a favor to doing something beneficial for my child, which is truly the case. I started making sure that I was totally present when he came home, not still glued to my work. This meant that the time I spent with him was more calm, more focused, more enjoyable.

I started acknowledging that to raise a healthy child, you have to share the burden with others. It’s the very practical realization that, indeed, it takes a village. If my child has to go elsewhere for a few hours a day because I can’t give him all attention, play and care he deserves, then I am all the better for realizing it! I should consider it one of my – yes my! – good choices as a mother. And who am I to feel guilty and inadequate when I now greet him as a happier, more sane mom? Not to mention I actually get dressed these days.

So in the end, sending my son to playgroup was a win-win situation for everyone. Most importantly, I have grown the maturity to realize that no matter how much wholesome food, cool toys and fun projects a caretaker can provide my child…I am still his mother. When I pick him up, he is delighted to see me – yes, me, the woman who supposedly abandoned him! It’s a simple truth that he needs, loves and counts on me more than anyone in the world, that the moments I give him my absolute all are more powerful than an entire day of another woman’s perfect care.  So now, when he waves goodbye in the morning, I don’t feel guilty, or like this lady is slowly stealing my child. Instead, I am simply happy he knows how to have fun without me. Because, after all, he grew from my loins. And the most clean, educational and fun playgroup can’t take that away from me.

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