I agonized over putting my son in daycare. So I put it off as long as I possibly could. After a 13 week maternity leave, followed by another eight weeks with my extremely brave mother-in-law watching Jackson while my husband and I were at work, off he went.
Even though we toured all the local daycares near our home, asked 57 interview questions—literally—and selected the best possible daycare we could find, I still felt completely uneasy about it. But I wasn’t sure why.
So I took action. The less time he spends there, I thought, the less that could go wrong. Enter complete overreaction. To eliminate the time Jackson spent at daycare per day, I did the following: got up at 4:00 a.m. to work from home for two hours before Jackson woke up; stopped wearing make-up and styling my hair; skipped showers; stopped exercising, flossing, and tweezing my eyebrows. I stopped doing anything for myself that didn’t necessarily need to be done.
I convinced myself that doing these things was selfish, because it meant Jackson would be in daycare for a longer period of time. And somehow, I thought that made me a bad mom.
My husband didn’t think it was possible, but things got worse. Several months had passed since we first put Jackson in daycare, and it showed. The mail started piling up, laundry baskets were full, and let’s face it, I smelled bad. Even the days that Jackson slept in longer and I got to work for an extra hour or so while he slept, I still picked him up early instead of spending that extra time doing any one of the many things I was neglecting. I became so obsessed with the amount of time Jackson spent at daycare that I lost sight of everything else.
My husband tried to help. “Cari, it won’t kill him to be in daycare an extra hour. When you’re done working go for a run, or get your nails done. Do something.” If looks could kill. I couldn’t see it. I couldn’t see that I was spiraling out of control and had completely lost sight of why I was doing this in the first place.
Then, something happened. One day after work, I jumped in the car to pick-up the babe. My tank was near empty. Although I pass a gas station on the way to his daycare, I decided to pick him up first…because it was getting close to 3:30 p.m. and God forbid Jackson spend an extra 10 minutes there.
When I walked into Jackson’s classroom, it was a typical day for him. He was squealing with excitement playing with his friends on the bright yellow school bus infant activity set. I tapped him on the shoulder, he gave me a hug, and then he reached back down to continue playing for another couple of minutes before I scooped him up. As we walked out of his class, he blew his teachers kisses as best he could. Then, we went to the gas station.
As I stood outside the car pumping gas, I glanced down to smile at him. There he was: hot and miserable in his car seat, glaring at me as if to say “seriously, mom. You couldn’t have done this BEFORE you picked me up?”
That’s when it finally dawned on me. Why am I agonizing over the amount of time he spends at daycare, down to the minutes, seconds even? He loves it there. My son’s basically the school mascot of his daycare. He claps his hands when we pull into the parking lot every weekday morning, he reaches out to hug every faculty member as we pass them in the hall, and he loses his mind when the older preschool kids shout “baby Jackson!”
So who was I doing this for? Clearly not him.
Although I was a so-called daycare kid too (and loved it), sending Jackson off to be cared for by other people terrified me. At first. Even well after Jackson and I both learned to trust and love the women at his daycare, I still insisted he shouldn’t spend that much time there. I could never figure out why, because I didn’t actually have a tangible reason. I didn’t even have a motherly gut feeling, either. I made an assumption and acted on it.
But why? There had to be a reason. It wasn’t until actually writing this that I figured it out. I was afraid of not being present in his life. I confused quantity for quality.
But sending my son to daycare doesn’t mean I’m not present in his life. Whether he spends five hours a day at daycare or nine has no bearing on our relationship. During the day he thrives at daycare. Mornings, evenings, and weekends he spends quality time with his daddy and me.
I still wake up at 4:30 a.m. most mornings. But now I spend that extra time doing something for myself. Right now, I’m showered, shaved, properly dressed with styled hair, writing this piece while listening to my sweet baby boy breathing heavily through the baby monitor.
When it comes to sending Jackson off to daycare, there’s a lot to worry about. That chocolate sauce in the toddler room fridge, that’s not for the kids, is it? Is he eating enough healthy snacks, or eating too much junk food? He’s not biting the other kids, is he? You’d tell me if he was getting bullied, or even worse, bullying another child? The list goes on and on. What’s no longer on my list? The amount of time he spends at daycare per day. I don’t worry about that…anymore. There’s just no reason to.