Next week, school will start and many of you (including some friends I know!) will be sending your children to daycare or 'school' for the first time. Whether for a few days a week or full time, making the decision to send your child to daycare is not an easy one. We began sending Penelope when she was a mere 6 months old and it was one of the hardest things I've ever done in my life. I look back on that first week and wonder how I got through it? In the months leading up to that first day, I wouldn't even allow myself to think about it, let alone accept it. But here I am, over a year later. We've made it through so far and I'm here to share a few things that I've learned with all of you first timers.
1. You are going to cry. Probably a lot.
During the days leading up to her first week, I cried myself to sleep. I kept thinking to myself (and whining aloud to Shaun), what if she needs me and I'm not there? Not such an unreasonable thought. I cried each day any time I thought of this. When I finally brought her that first day, I put on a brave face until I handed my sweet baby over. And then the floodgates opened, and I cried. I cried the whole way to work and a few times in the bathroom stall throughout the day. The next day, it was a little less. And even less the day after that. Eventually, I stopped crying. I saw her happiness each morning as she was surrounded by loving caregivers in a safe and fun atmosphere with children her very own age. And my tears were replaced with smiles.
2. Remember that schedule you finally got her accustomed to? Yeah, that's going to change.
I wrote out Penelope's schedule in fun colored markers on bright white paper and proudly handed it over to her 'teacher'. I'm pretty sure that was deposited right into the garbage. Once your child is in daycare, they are a whole new plan that may follow the whole class or vary by group. Either way, you just have to accept it. Since P hated naps when she was younger, I realized that I should be excited for the professionals to get her on a new schedule!
3. She will learn to do things without you.
And it sucks. It sucks hard. I remember dropping Penelope off one morning and being told that she was crawling. Like, no big deal. She started crawling. I felt so devastated because I had yet to see her crawl. It made me sad. And made me realize that there will be things that I'll miss. I'm a full-time working Mom and that's just the reality of it. So I asked them not to tell me those things. As long as she was progressing...Great! But I wanted to pretend like seeing her crawl on a Saturday morning was the first time she did it. And so I did.
4. Your child will get sick.
I always read and hear about how 'daycare kids' get so sick all the time. Well, it's kind of true. Penelope certainly is not sick all the time, but P has had two rounds of Coxsackie and at times, a seemingly constant runny nose. We got through it. In a way, I'm glad that she is exposed to germs so she can build her immunities!
5. You will get sick. And maybe your husband too.
I've had 3 debilitating stomach bugs since P started daycare.
6. The first time you see the center's number light up your phone screen, you will probably have a small heart attack that may take a few years off of your life.
The first time this happened, I was completely rattled. I saw the number and just panicked. It turned out that they were calling all of the parents with a reminder that the tuition payment deadline was approaching. So, yeah. Heart attack unnecessary.
7. She will make friends.
And really, what is cuter than that? Penelope has made friends in daycare and when I ask her if she is excited to go to school and play with her friends, her face lights up. Her teachers tell me that she and another girl played together every day last year and they'd wait for each other to wake up from naps. Does it get better than that? I want Penelope to be comfortable around kids all the time. I know it will make her a more patient child and someday, hopefully, a great big sister. I know she would not be getting that same interaction with kids her own age; learning to share, learning to play, learning to socialize; if she were at home with a nanny or even with me.
8. She will have fun.
After sending P to daycare for over a year, I would never take her out or look back and regret our decision to go from nanny to daycare. In fact, I can't imagine her being cooped up in our apartment, day after day, with me or with anyone else. At daycare, she has a big room to play in, special chairs for breakfast and lunch, and exciting, new toys to discover.
9. You'll wonder if you are doing everything wrong.
Isn't that the everyday life of being a parent? I second guess everything that I do as a mother. And at the end of the day, as long as I know my girl is happy and so, so loved, well, I feel like I've done my job. It might not be a perfect set-up, but what would be?
10. You will be ok.
It won't always be easy. In fact, like so many other parts of parenthood, it's really, really $&@!-ing hard. I still cry some days when I have to leave her. Last week was especially taxing since P was teething and had a raging, blazing diaper rash. It broke my heart to have to bring her to someone else for the day and head off to work. I worried all day long. But knowing she was in excellent care and that she was happy every day at pick up got me through it. I think it's usually harder on Mom and Dad than on our little ones. So many days I hate being a working mom (many days I love it, too) and I can't help but wonder if I'm making the right choice for my sweet baby doll. When I see her happy smile, her little round belly and chubby cheeks, and those long yawns and eye rubs at the day's end, I can't help but feel as though I am.