The D Word

John’s been in full-time childcare (or close to it) since he was three months old. We’ve been calling it “school” all along, probably because I’m tiptoeing around a word I hate: DAYCARE.

I feel good about being a working mom. I get a lot of satisfaction from what I do professionally (most of the time, anyway) and I think I’m a better parent for it. I’ve said that before. But, I was still horrified by the thought of daycare. My mom stayed home with my brother and sister and I, and was always around, cooking, helping, encouraging and playing. The idea of handing my tiny baby over to another person — a stranger! — and asking that person to play such a major role in John’s life and growth was actually painful to think about. And the word “daycare” conjured up images for me of a pack of kids trapped in a dusty yard with faded plastic toys.

Fortunately, that’s not the situation in Middlebury. Thanks to some dedicated professionals and a lot of support from the college, there are some great options for young children in Addison County. Lovely facilities with small groups, lots of light and lots of room. But at first the centers  seemed loud, chaotic, and overwhelming, and I did not want any part of them. Five years later, I still feel like childcare choices are fraught with tension. Daycare? Nanny? In-home daycare? Stay home? No one solution is perfect, but overall, our experience has been really positive.

I think what you have to look at with childcare is not the forest, but the trees. A daycare center (still hate that word) is obviously loud and can seem nutso when you look at it from the outside. But when you get in there, it’s a community like any other, just with a bunch of little tiny people running around in addition to full-size people. You don’t see the chaos so much as you see groups of friends playing, or a teacher comforting a child, or a work-study student patiently answering what is probably the same question for the fiftieth time.

And speaking of the teachers, I truly, truly can’t say enough about the caring, devoted people who have taken care of John during the past five years. No offense to anyone else’s kids, but I generally prefer mine. I enjoy some of his friends, too, but I can’t say that I’d like to hang out with a bunch of one- or two- or three- or four-year-olds all day. Yet somehow we’ve met not one or two but a whole team of men and women who have — thank god — decided to take care of children for a living. They have been patient, thoughtful, helpful, engaged, and funny. I honestly don’t know how they do it, but I’m glad they do.

After all the worrying, our childcare (fine… daycare) days are now drawing to a close. John will start kindergarten in just two weeks, and then his school is really a school, and his teacher is the kind of teacher that comes with lesson plans and eventually homework. It’s the end of an era.

I don’t know what I might feel like if I’d made different choices, but I know that even on hard days, John has been cared for, at daycare, without question and far beyond the call of duty.  His teachers and friends are all a part of who he’s become. For that I thank them, and I wouldn’t change a thing.

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