Tuesday, July 24, 2012

My daycare story

I love my kids' daycare. Not very many parents can say that, and I'm so grateful every day that I can. It makes such a world of difference. But we took the long way to get where we are. Here's how we finally made it.

Before Natalie was born, I read article after article about how to choose a daycare for your child. There were lots of criteria outlined, I'm sure, but one sentiment stuck with me: Send your kids to the best possible daycare you can afford. Even if it means pinching pennies, and even if it means driving out of your way. We tried Natalie with a home caregiver for a few months, based on the recommendation of my manager at the time. She was okay, but Natalie required a lot of attention when she was an infant. I think she was colicky, poor thing. And her caregiver couldn't give that much attention to her. So we started looking at daycare centers. The one we liked the best was also the most expensive (of course!): The Goddard School. We crunched the numbers and decided we could afford it if we buckled down. Infant care is expensive! Like over $200 a week expensive!

But Natalie thrived. She was given the attention she'd been missing. Her teachers were genuinely concerned when she didn't sleep or cried more than usual. They asked us for tips and tricks to make her life (and theirs too) easier at daycare. They thought of things like rearranging her crib so it would be darker and quieter for her to sleep. They wrote out careful and attentive descriptions of what she ate and how much, when she slept and how long, and what she was like when she was awake. For a mother whose commute was 45 minutes each way, who was devastated at spending so much time away from her baby, it was nothing short of amazing. Switching her to The Goddard School saved my sanity.

But it wasn't sustainable. Pinching pennies as we were, we couldn't afford things like wedding gifts for our friends or to do anything fun with Natalie like go to the zoo. I thought, sacrificing a little bit of daycare quality would be worth it if it means we can do fun things with her when we're together.

So we switched her into another home-care situation, but this time the caregiver was family. My father-in-law's cousin lived pretty far from us, but charged a lot less for care. And I reasoned she'd be attentive to Natalie, given that (1) Natalie is family and (2) Natalie is amazing. And she was attentive. Natalie made friends there and enjoyed being there. But of course there were caveats (there always are). The kids Natalie was in daycare with were older than her. She learned things quickly, like how to walk, and it had a big effect on her language skills. But she also learned to use violence when she didn't get her way. She started kicking us and hitting us, because that's what the oldest boy in daycare did. 

So we started looking again. I got a new job, and so did Matt, so we had a little extra pocket change. Plus, with Jackson on the way, we knew we'd be taking both kids to the same daycare, and adding an infant to an already full house was going to be a little much on any caregiver, no matter how experienced or attentive. So we had to switch. 

After much debate and consideration, we made our choice. The teachers were wonderful, but there weren't enough of them. You get what you pay for I guess. There weren't enough teachers to give full attention to the kids, so Natalie was experiencing no small amount of physical violence at school. She was bitten 9 times in the less-than-8-months she was there. At first, we believed the daycare when they said it was normal at that age to have some biting issues. Then we did some research, talked to other parents, talked to some other daycares. It wasn't normal. Not that much. And we weren't happy with the disciplinary process. Clearly it wasn't working. And in addition, I felt a little bit like Jackson -- because he's such a good-natured baby -- wasn't being engaged as much as I would have liked him to. Teachers could leave him in a bouncy seat or jumperoo and he'd entertain himself, sometimes for a long time. A couple of times we went in and the teacher said, "He just loves that jumperoo! He was in there for at least an hour today!" Great.

Back on the hunt we went. Luckily, The Goddard School was one of the first places I toured. I made a surprise visit and spoke with the new owner about the changes to the building and staff, and also the tuition. Everything met my expectations and more. The tuition was only $11 more per week than we were already paying, because Natalie would start in the next room up. (Each year, tuition gets a little cheaper, because fewer teachers are required -- bonus!) Old daycare provided free lunches for both kids, but The Goddard doesn't, so that was an added expense and a lot of extra time, but SO WORTH IT. Natalie didn't often each what Old Daycare provided for lunch, and it was hard keeping Jack on the diet I wanted him on (we introduced allergens slowly and systematically, but Old Daycare had a set meal plan that he could either be on or not, but not halfway).

So we gave our two week notice to Old Daycare. They wanted to meet with us to discuss the change. They were sad to see us go (told you my kids are amazing) and wanted to know what they could have done differently. I applaud their interest in evolving, and I hope they do. I really feel like the teachers (especially Natalie's teachers) bonded with her in a way they didn't with some of the other kids. I wish them all the best. 

But since leaving, we haven't looked back. Natalie used to cry when I dropped her off. Every day. Even after 8 months. I'd talk to her about her friends at school, and she'd tell me she didn't have any friends. The first thing she'd say every morning when she got up was, "I don't want to go to school." She doesn't do that anymore. At Goddard, she might cling to me a little bit, but she never cries. She's potty trained already, almost from day one at Goddard. She thinks her lunch box is really cool, and Goddard lets her bring a blankie and her Knuffle Bunny to school with her for nap times (Old Daycare was concerned about bed bugs, so they put a moratorium on snugglies).

And Jack? Jack is so much happier. He hasn't spent one minute in a bouncy seat as far as I can tell, and he's almost never in the jumperoo. The teachers actually interact with him, and one teacher especially has taken a shine to him. Yesterday when I picked him up, she said, "When Heather told me we were going to rearrange the cribs, I said, 'I know just where I want to put Jackson! He's going in the corner!' And it's worked! He slept so much better today!" They nicknamed him Big Brother, because he crawls around to the other kids and snuggles them (and because he's a chunker :) 

At Old Daycare, the infant rooms never went outside. Never. Not until the kids transitioned to a toddler room at 18 MONTHS. That was one thing I had a problem with from the outset, but I thought it would be okay as long as we played outside with him. But when I took him outside at home, he hated it. He hated the feel of the grass on his skin. Goddard takes the infants outside every day, weather permitting. I've already noticed he's more comfortable outside.

So there you have it. My daycare story. Some months we have to charge groceries because we go a little bit over budget, but it's worth every penny. My sanity is intact. Matt's happier because I'm finally happy. And I'm more effective at work, because I'm not constantly focusing on if the kids are okay at daycare. 

There are some caveats of course. It's expensive. They have scheduled teacher in-service days for training, which means a day off work just to be with the kids. (I treat that one like the blessing it is!) A big caveat for some parents is that Goddard won't allow children for part-time care (at least not the ones near us). Nevertheless, I recommend Goddard to everyone. But if you can't afford it (or if you can afford something even better for your kids), do the very best you can. You won't be happy with less.