A Facebook friend recently posted that she will soon need to send her six month old baby to daycare for the first time, and she’s quite sad and worried about it. I, and many other working Moms, completely understand her anxiety. Turning your helpless little baby over to strangers for 8+ hours a day is not an easy thing to do! Her post made me reflect on our daycare experience and how much has changed since that very first morning…
Truman was 7 weeks old when I returned to work. I had originally wanted to take at least twelve weeks off, but it became quite apparent that twelve weeks without a paycheck was not going to be possible. I worked for a smallish company that did not offer short term disability plans and there is no option for state short term disability coverage in Nevada. We tried to save ahead of time, but Mike had just started a new job, we had travelled home to have my baby shower and money just hadn’t had a chance to pile up in our account. At five weeks postpartum…I knew. I started looking at our daycare options.
I was uncomfortable with everything. I didn’t want a big center where he might be one of ten needy babies. I didn’t want a stay at home Mom trying to make a little extra money, but who may give more attention to her own kids. I had seen the horrifying nanny-cam videos of housekeeper/nannies beating up little babies, and I didn’t have the means to outfit my whole house with cameras. I was sick to my stomach and absolutely sure I would never find the right sitter. I started making phone calls.
My first call was to a licensed in home daycare provider, named Margie. She was half way between my work and home, had a very thick Argentinian accent and sounded a little short on the phone. I set up a meeting with her. My second call was to another licensed in home provider. A lady named Laura who told me all about her years and years of experience and was bubbly, and sweet. She lived a little farther away than I liked but I set up a meeting with her anyway. The third call was to a lady named Donna. She talked for a long time, and told me that she currently had six children in her care but could take one more. We were on the phone for over thirty minutes and I never heard a kid in the background. That made me a little nervous. She also had three dogs, which also made me nervous. Don’t get me wrong, I love dogs but three dogs and six other kids sounded a little busy for my taste. I told her I would call her back to schedule a meeting… and I never did.
I met with Margie first. Her house was quiet, clean and comfortable. She was in her 60s, smiled a lot and talked my ear off. I loved her. She had thirty years of experience and currently only had one other child in her care, a one year old who had been with her since he was eight weeks old. She showed me her house and where Truman would sleep, eat and play. Margie was licensed by the state and had all of the very official looking paperwork. She talked to Truman and held him. I decided that I wanted Mike to come back with me and meet her.
Mike and I went to Laura’s house together. We pulled up in front of a beautiful two story house and she met us at the door. Laura was in her 50s, blond and pretty and welcomed us in. We stepped foot into her house and the smell of air freshener was so strong I could taste it. It smelled like every outlet in her entire house was occupied by a Glade plug-in. My eyes watered, my nose burned…I didn’t want to be rude and run away but I certainly felt like doing it. We followed her into her living room, and sat down. She told us about her daycare, the four kids she currently cared for and we could see the bright and busy play area right next to the living room. She explained that the cribs for the babies were upstairs because that she felt they slept better away from the bigger kids. I felt uneasy about that, imagining her leaving toddlers alone downstairs to go get my crying baby from an upstairs bedroom, if she was even able to hear him in the first place! Then, what if she fell down the stairs while carrying him? It was at that moment, I noticed the cat. It slunk into the room off of the staircase, a large striped guy. He headed toward a closed door that had a little cut-out. As he went through the pet door, another cat came out of it. The third cat appeared in the living room from the dark foyer where we had entered the house.
“Oh, they all come out after the kids leave! Most of the time the cats just stay upstairs.” Laura said cheerfully.
Upstairs. Isn’t that where she just said my tiny baby would be sleeping? I looked at Mike and read it plain as day in his eyes. Cat lady is out of the question. As the other cats came in the room to meet us, one after the other, I became more and more anxious to leave the house. I am completely fine with cats. I have a cat. I am not completely fine with eight cats in a daycare setting, sorry cat lovers! The plug-ins must have been necessary to mask the litter odor of eight felines. They were licking and rolling around and scratching the carpet. I kept imagining one of them climbing in a crib with my baby and clawing him to pieces! I imagined picking him up covered in cat hair… I started getting itchy. We stood and thanked Laura for her time and bolted toward the door. I could still taste Glade when we got home, and Truman’s eyes were red for the entire next day!
Mike came with me back to Margie’s a few days later. I felt even more confident after speaking with her the second time and Mike agreed. She was our lady. A week later, I was dropping Truman off for the first time. I made sure I had a lot of extra time that morning. I walked in loaded down with his stuff; bottles of breast milk, clothes and diapers, wipes and blankets, toys (which he wasn’t even old enough to play with yet!) and of course, the THREE PAGE MANUAL on how to care for my baby. The manual explained his eating habits, diaper changing procedures, how to put him to sleep, when to pick him, and what to do with breast milk, among many other things. She read it quietly with raised eyebrows and a strange little smile. I had been a mother for 7 weeks. She had been a mother for 40 years, and a daycare provider for 30. In my head, none of that mattered. There had never been a baby as important in the Universe as my baby! She must have thought I was nuts, and a huge pain in the ass.
I told her I would be coming at lunch to feed him and I nursed him right before I left. I handed him off to her and just stood there for a few seconds. Margie assured me that he would be just fine and I’d see him in just a couple of hours. She wished me a good day. I plastered on a smile and nodded. The tears were flowing before I made it to the door. Sobs and snot and the really ugly cry-face happened the entire way to work and I barely pulled it together before I went in. It was the hardest thing I’d ever had to do. Harder than labor. Harder than the first night home. I was sure I’d never be able to leave him again. It was the longest morning of my life.
Come back tomorrow to read part two!
*Most names have been changed.