When I first started looking for a daycare, back in the halcyon days of June 2008 when Gwen was two months old, I had certain prejudices and preferences. I really wanted Gwen to be in a centre, not a home-based care, and here is why:
- I wanted her to be around several kids her own age and older
- I wanted her to have access to lots of different toys and equipment, both inside and outside
- I wanted her to get opportunities to do field trips into the community: to the library, the playground, the mall to see Santa Claus, etc.
- I wanted there to be backup care available should her main caregiver become sick
I had an image in my head of what in-home care was like.
- It would be run by a bored, distracted mom who was not only tending kids (her own and others), but also trying to get the laundry done, prepare dinner, etc.
- It would be held in a darkened room with no windows and/or a small living room that allowed the kids little opportunity to explore
- There would be a small selection of old, half-broken toys
- There would be one or two other kids, so much older than Gwen that she was unable to relate or gain anything from socializing with them
I've spoken to and met many caregivers over the past week, and I am sad to say that the stereotype does exist. I encountered:
- The caregiver who wanted to switch Gwen to one nap a day as soon as possible, because that way the younger kids could nap together, the older kids could watch tv for a couple of hours, and she could get some time to herself
- The caregiver who presented me with the most beautiful "Better Homes and Gardens" living room, with knick-knacks perfectly aligned on every surface, and three small toys in the center of the floor, and told me that Gwen would just love to play there
- The caregiver with four kids of her own and a living room the size of a postage stamp, which smelled overwhelmingly of cigarette smoke and cat dander
Yesterday was a roller coaster of a day. From very early in the week, I'd picked one provider as my favourite, and after having a 25-minute phone conversation with the owner, I was absolutely sure it was the place for Gwen. However, Chris wanted to check out lots of other options to see everything that was available. I respect his approach, but I don't think he sees the cost: the fact that we are disrupting people's work and personal lives when we have very little intention of selecting their care, and the fact that spending so much time popping in and out of these various locations is hard on Gwen's schedule and well-being, too. In any case, we couldn't get in to see My Favourite Spot until Friday afternoon.
On Friday morning, we went to see another care provider. And truly, there was nothing wrong with that place at all. The woman was kind and gentle, the space was suitably large, the kids were fun, the yard was gigantic. But upon leaving, as I reflected that I couldn't find a single thing to complain about, I knew I still didn't feel good. It began to dawn on me that perhaps this was a preview of what it will be like in fifteen years or so when Gwen brings home a boy for the first time: it won't matter who that kid is, he won't be good enough for our daughter. Maybe daycares are the same? I started to prepare myself mentally for a disappointment in regards to My Favourite Spot.
That afternoon we piled in the car and headed out. We were tense and quiet. I think we recognized that of all the ads I'd seen and answered, this one looked the best, and that if it wasn't right, we didn't really know what we'd do next. All the places whose waitlists we'd been on since last summer had called back to say they still didn't have space - an appalling situation. We were predisposed to like this place, but also felt afraid that it might be too good to be true.
On the contrary, when we arrived, everything was just as I'd hoped. The space - a large addition on the side of a gigantic country house - was bright and airy and PACKED with wonderful toys and equipment, with shelves running the length of the room to store the toys that were not in use. There was a gigantic fenced yard in the back with lots of climbing equipment and slides for the kids to play on. A large table with booster seats on every chair. Separate napping rooms for every child. Cubby holes for their outside clothes, diapers, and so on. A dress-up box. A kitchen where the snacks and meals were prepared.
The caregiver herself, a woman named April, was just as warm and lovely as when we'd spoken on the phone. The crowning glory for me is that she is currently taking the Early Childhood Education program, which tells me that she is both serious and passionate about what she does: she's not going to close up shop in a year or two when her kids enter school, which was another concern I had. She also has a background in nursing, so I know that any medical issues or accidents that come up will be handled appropriately. And another huge plus - she has a backup staff who come in when she is doing her practicum work, sick, or taking vacation days, so we won't need to worry about making alternative arrangements for Gwen's care.
We stayed and talked to her for about 35 minutes, and probably would have stayed longer if not for the fact that Gwen, fractious after missing her afternoon nap, made it clear that she was ready to leave. As we headed out, I reflected that I didn't feel the huge weight off my shoulders as I had expected to feel in the wake of the decision finally being made. I had hoped to be flooded with relief and even joy and excitement about finding quality care for Gwen.
I am relieved, but there's still anxiety there. I thought that if I found the right caregiver I would feel instantly comfortable about leaving Gwen there. But it seems I am still nervous about leaving her at all, in anyone's care. More nervous than I expected. I will still do it, for her good as well as my own. And I know it will get easier. I just feel surprised that that anxiety - smaller than many people's, I'm sure - is still present at all. I'm not even sure what I'm nervous about, as I do trust April immensely. I guess I just worry about how Gwen will respond to being without me for an entire day.
Two months left till we find out.