My son begins kindergarten two weeks from today. I have barely let it enter my head because I am up to my eyeballs in work and other obligations but when I do think about it, all I can think of is what got us there. Ben is our true daycare baby. Claire was three when I went back to work but Ben was barely 18 months. He has pretty much grown up in daycare and it shows. For us, that is only a good thing. My kids would not be who they are without daycare and their amazing teachers.
It is very scary to trust another person with the thing on the planet that matters the most to you- the ultimate leap of faith, if you will. I vividly remember our first daycare drop-off. Ben nursed until mere weeks before I went back to work for the first time since having our daughter so I was full of hormones, guilt and nerves. I had so much doubt and wondered whether we were doing the right thing. I dropped him off first in the young toddler room and took Claire upstairs to the preschool room afterward. I had to turn around to cry so she wouldn't see- I had been their sole care-giver their entire lives and I felt like I was betraying them somehow. I called my mother that night and cried to her telling her that I felt like if my kids were aware of the situation, they would ask why staying at home with them wasn't enough to make me happy. The job I took was not going to make me a ton of money beyond the cost of daycare but after almost four years out of the workforce, I simply wanted to get my foot in the door. At that moment, leaving my children with someone other than my family for the first time, I started to doubt whether it would be worth it.
That answer came to me slowly over time. When Claire came home happy and chattering away about her new friends, it became worth it. When she finally fully grasped the number two end of potty training because of her wonderful teachers and their endless patience, it became worth it. When Ben started sleeping through the night reliably for the first time in his entire life, it became worth it. When we saw how much their teachers deeply cared for them, it became worth it. Over time, my doubt began to erode and I could only see the positives in what we had decided to do.
By the time Claire was ready to begin kindergarten, I was very attached to our daycare. She had the world's best teacher, Miss Cassandra, who loved those kids so much she could hardly look at them without crying the week before they all went to kindergarten. To anyone who says that a daycare teacher could not love your kids the way you do, I say meet Cassandra. It has been two years since she taught Clarie and I can still see "the Cassandra" in her- in how she is so loving and patient with her brother and in the kind way she speaks about her friends at school and summer camp. I know my husband and I influence them some, but let's be real- with my work schedule, they spend a good 9 hours a day out of our sight. Anything good that they are at this point is largely due to daycare and what they learn there. I am not ashamed to admit it- a village has absolutely raised our kids.
Now that Claire is about to enter second grade and Ben is starting kindergarten, I take stock of where we are. Claire is beyond grade level in all subjects and we are not exactly the home-schooling type- I can only blame daycare and everything they taught her. She is a September baby and began school at four years old but she has always been at the top of her class- needless to say, she had a phenomenal head start. I don't say this to humble-brag or pat myself on the back because I take very little credit- she learned so much at daycare. Both of my children are unusually social and outgoing- to the point where they charm everyone they meet. They are articulate and unafraid to speak to adults that my husband and I introduce them to. I know where the bulk of that confidence comes from and it certainly is not within the walls of our home. I am so proud of who they both are and we have daycare to thank.
Now, after four years, we reach the end. I know Ben is in denial of some form. On our drive home last night, he told me that daycare was his favorite place and that he never wanted to leave. On our way out, I had a hushed conversation with the director where she asked if we had been discussing the upcoming change with Ben about going to kindergarten soon. I told her that we had, ad nauseum, and she said that he told her he was never going to leave daycare. I talked to him last night about how kindergarten was going to be wonderful- that he would be with his Sissy again and that she would walk him to and from before/after school care and make sure that he was alright. He seemed ok with it all after our reassuring talk but I'm not sure that I am.
The fact is, this is more than just changing the building where we drop off our kids. Ben is our youngest so for us, this is the end of an era. An era where we hauled kids, diapers and wipes in the early morning hours and washed daycare bedding every week. An era where we got sweet little "reports" tucked into a cubby about what they ate that day, how they napped and whether they got along with their friends. An era where the order of the day was having fun and anything they learned was a bonus. This is the last of "babies" in our household and my heart can barely take it. We have two elementary school children now and I'm not sure I am ready but the best part is, they are. They have been prepared for school in a way that I never could have done on my own. I know in my heart of hearts that I was not going to be enough for them- I was never cut out to stay at home. I am endlessly grateful for all that daycare has done for my children- for our family. I know I will see their influence in my kids for the rest of their lives and I cannot be anything but humble and full of gratitude. We will never forget these women that helped shape our kids when we were out making a living. It is the greatest gift we could ever receive. I hope they know how thankful we will always be.
(Image: Tyler Olsen/Shutterstock)