June is back with a vengeance. My kids’ lunch boxes are frighteningly crusty and every morning I say a little prayer over their zippers, asking whatever higher power that watches over children’s lunches to grant them just one more day of zippy life.
We’ve gotten through the last first year of school that my children will ever have. There will be no more first bus rides, first school concerts, first class photos, and first parent-teacher interviews. From this point on it will all be familiar territory, to some extent at least.
Oddly enough, the end of this period of firsts has gotten me thinking about the days before my children started school—the days of daycare. Now, I know that daycare gets a bad rap in some circles. It is, after all, merely a warehouse where those of us selfish enough to work outside the home can dump our little darlings while we enjoy long lunches and office gossip.
But ah, daycare. The land of people who voluntarily choose to spend their days taking care of other people’s very small children. Wiping noses and often bums all day, every day, on purpose. Sainthood not being the most Jewish of concepts, I’m going to go with mensch; you have to be monumentally mensch-like to work in daycares. The hours are long and the pay is almost always short. It is selfless work.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about all of the amazing women (and one man) who took care of my kids during the combined six years they were in daycare, the people who became, during those years, as much a part of our family as grandparents. They became characters in our family drama, offering not just care and play but also parenting advice, love, and a shoulder to cry on. My kids’ daycare workers knew what worked for them, often better than I did, because they were seeing them as outsiders, less emotionally involved than I was in the day-to-day mess of parenting (and they were probably less sleep deprived too).
One educator researched how to make sufganiyot (something I had yet to attempt at the time) and made homemade jelly donuts for the whole daycare during Hanukkah. Another educator figured out that my son would accept rice milk in lieu of pumped breast milk for nap time, rescuing me from the agony of pumping (don’t freak out, he was 15 months old at the time). My daughter’s daycare was as close to a forest school as you can imagine in this cold a climate. They spent most of the day outside, in all kinds of weather, making forts out of sticks and snow and feeding the birds only to retreat inside for naps, hot chocolate tea parties, and owl crafts. Paradise… I wanted to go to daycare.
And yes, there were mornings when they didn’t want to go, mornings when I’d have to pry myself away from them as they screamed bloody murder. Those were rough mornings, and I did question the wisdom of daycare on those days. But, inevitably, I would get an email or a text later the same day reassuring me, often with a photo of a smiling toddler, that everything was fine. You would think that my own years in the trenches of classrooms and childcare would have taught me as much, but my mommy brain isn’t always the most logical and guilt is a powerful mistress.
Ultimately, as I look back on those years, I feel nothing but gratitude for the good fortune of having had all of those childcare providers in our lives. They made my children’s early years richer, happier, and fuller than they would have otherwise been. They kept me sane and reassured me when I doubted my own parenting skills. They were our village and, although we’ve found new villages as our children have grown, I’m not sure that we’ll ever find a better one.