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One Year In: Reflections on Daycare and Work

“You hold him for every nap?” One of my son’s new daycare teachers shook her head in disbelief, raising her eyebrow. “We’ll have to get him used to sleeping in a crib then.”

(Pause)

“You need to practice at home.”

This first conversation with my son’s daycare teacher left me shaking, blinking back tears, and telling my husband we would never be bringing our son there. How could this teacher, this woman we didn’t even know, question our routines and habits over the past three months as we learned to love, soothe, and care for our little boy?

Her words, those three sentences at an open house, seemed to dismiss my decisions, preferences, judgment, and my son’s needs. And gave me homework.

No. Way.

I still had a month of maternity leave left, and no. way. would this teacher tell me how to spend it.

One Year In: Reflections on Daycare and Work

Sleeping in Daddy’s arms

***

“He pushed away his bottle this morning and cried. Then, when he finished it, he wanted more. You need to practice at home. And probably send more milk.”

Those words, spoken as I made my way through a darkened classroom full of napping babies, sent me reeling. My son was four months old and spent half a day at daycare for a short trial run. Internally, I cheered as I entered the classroom and saw my little baby, sprawled out, fast asleep in his crib. He can do it!

But then those sentences.

Narrative.

Interpretation.

Instruction.

Suddenly, there something else I was—we were—doing wrong.

I was due back at work in one week, and once again, I quickly walked out the door of his classroom promising mama would get him out of that terrible situation as fast as possible. The drive home was spent muttering about whether his teacher wanted to come to my house to wash bottles and pump parts, to hold the baby while I pumped so he could have a stupid practice bottle at home, and then pay our extra electricity and extra water bills incurred by said practice bottle. In hindsight, ridiculous. But in the moment? Totally rational. (And my husband received a slew of angry texts while at work to prove it.)

Safely back at home, curled in our rocking chair with my son nursing and napping away, I was in turmoil. I pulled out my phone to Google (not for the first time): legitimate work from home jobs. Remote library jobs. How to convince my employer to let me work from home.

Come on, I told myself. I help people find information for a living. Surely I can find something for myself.

On and on it went, each search less fruitful than the last. Going back to work was going to be my reality—at least for now.

***

One week later, morning drop off went better than expected. A day at work flew by. Normal tasks, meetings, schedules, procedures all came back faster than expected.

Suddenly, a week had passed. Then two. A month. Then another. A holiday break. A new year. Rhythms and routines of life continued.

But things were different.

Pump breaks, three times per day like clockwork. My phone constantly by my side, in case daycare called me. (They didn’t for four months.) Leaving for work later than planned so we could read one more book, take yet another cute video to replay all day long, or (less fun) change one more dirty diaper.

***

One Year In: Reflections on Daycare and Work

Baby Bear at Daycare

“I’m not supposed to have a favorite baby, but your son really is my favorite.”

“I will truly miss your son. If the classroom was full of babies like him, this job would be so much easier.”

“I’ll try not cry as I say goodbye to your son. As soon as he has had time to adjust, I’ll come visit his new classroom so I can hang out with my bud.”

It was the last week of the “school year.” Promotion week was coming up soon. The teacher I got off to a rocky start with turned into one of my son’s biggest fans, and I didn’t want to move him out of her classroom. Her co-teacher, who had constantly supported me through the year, was equally smitten with my little boy, no longer a baby, but still needing so much care. This co-teacher had become (unknowingly to her) my lifeline—without her stating over and over again that it was MY choice whether I sent more milk, allowed my son to eat the school lunch, or followed any of the suggestions they made, I don’t know whether we would have made it. But we did, and now we had to start all over again.

With her quiet words, I learned that though my son was in the care of others at daycare, I was still in charge. I am still the mama—even though we are apart all day long. I can still make decisions for his everyday needs in the way I think is best for him, within the daycare’s parameters.

***

The first week of August, 2017.

I walk into my son’s darkened toddler classroom, triggering the motion sensor lights. Where are his teachers?

When we met them yesterday, they seemed nice enough, albeit a little annoyed when I expressed concern over the nutrition of the afternoon snack (vanilla wafers and apple juice). Thankfully, I can send another snack, if I choose.

Then I saw the sign—drop off before 7:30 AM in room 8. I put away my son’s belongings in his cubby while chatting to my son about what a fun day he’ll have in his new classroom as my heart sinks.

We make our way to room 8 and are greeted by a friendly looking woman with short salt and pepper hair. I introduce myself, and she is a bit confused since my son isn’t part of her class, and I mention the sign. “Oh, yes,” she says. “First day of school. We’re all getting used to the new setup.”

There have been some changes at our daycare, so everyone is feeling things out together. I have no doubt that the teachers care—we have met enough of them over the past year to know that is true. However, now I am being asked to leave my son with someone I have never met. Suddenly, I don’t want to let him go. I go through the motions of our goodbye routine, praying all the while he doesn’t cry as I leave. I don’t think I can handle that. He doesn’t. One little victory. I make it to my car and drive to work on autopilot. My day feels like those early days back at work: checking my phone a million times and not being able to concentrate very long, but he was fine. I was fine. We made it.

That evening at home together was one of the sweetest in recent memory, and going back to reality the next day was likewise one of the hardest. The past week or so has been much of the same. I’ve had to fight the urge to make a rash decision to pull him out of daycare and quit my job. I assume, like last year, that it will get better.

As my son grows and changes, some things will get harder, and some things will get easier. My son did learn to nap in a crib. We did make it to one year (and beyond) of breastfeeding—and I didn’t have to send extra milk. Sometimes, it’s good to prepare for the future to help your child adjust, but I am so glad I didn’t fill my maternity leave with feeding and sleeping schedules or training for crib naptime. The things you worry about now may not be a concern next year—or even next month. 

What no one tells you about going back to work and leaving your child at daycare is that it is not a once and for all decision that you always are comfortable with and committed to as fact or as reality.

I am going to be a working mom, full stop.

I am comfortable with my son in daycare, full stop.

No. Life don’t work like that. Sometimes you have to say: Today I am a working mom because I have this responsibility to fulfill. My son is going to daycare today because we have paid for this week.

You have to talk yourself into it, and make the choice day by day at times because that is how your family is structured and organized now, in this season. I am fortunate to have some degree of agency in my choice to work and know that not all moms or families do. I have a comfortable job in a family-friendly workplace. My husband has a good job. We are financially secure enough to send our son to a quality, licensed daycare where I am not concerned about his physical well-being.

One Year In: Reflections on Daycare and Work

One year olds can still nap with Mama

Some days are harder than others, and if there’s anything that being a working mom has taught me, it is to be grateful for the time we do have together.

To be present in those moments, and to work to make the most of our evenings and weekends. Occasionally, I will catch myself on a Saturday trying to match elements of our day to his daily schedule at daycare because he is “used to” it. Maybe so, but I’m the mama. If I sense my son is craving a little extra cuddle time, then forget that crib nap—he can nap in my arms all he likes.

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