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Saying Goodbye to Daycare

I don’t like to let myself get too sentimental about my kid, probably because I know it’s like quicksand—if I take on step into nostalgia, I’m going to be sucked completely in. Sometimes I get a little melancholy about my son growing out of the parts of him that I love, both physically and emotionally: his cute little feet, his round tummy, his full cheeks, the excited way he greets me, the way he experiments with words and humor and just says whatever he feels (most typically saying the word “hedgehog” as an ice-breaker.) But then I try to shake myself out of it. So far, I haven’t looked back and thought “I liked him better than he was before this,” and it’s also a good thing to have a child who grows and thrives and becomes his own person.

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We have a new milestone coming up though, and I think this one will be especially hard. In the fall, our son will leave daycare and start preschool. It’s not that big a deal in the grand scheme of things—different address, same idea. But I’ll be sad to know that our son’s little daycare community won’t be a part of his life anymore. Our daycare provider, Diana, has been with us since he was 12 weeks old. She’s been like another parent to him—and to us. She’s accurately diagnosed ear infections and pinkeye in him before we took him to the doctor. Once, when he was hospitalized for a few days, she called daily to check on his status. She has helped me appreciate just how lucky I am to have my son as my son, reaffirming what I proudly suspect—that he’s smart, outgoing, and happy.

This is his first major shedding of skin in terms of saying goodbye to his babyhood.

There are, of course, bad daycares out there just as there are bad schools and bad teachers and bad parents, but to me, a good daycare like ours embodies elements of a good school, good teacher, good parent. Assuming all the important parts are in place (clean and safe environment, experienced, professional caretakers), I personally can’t see what there is to fault in the daycare system if it’s the right choice for a parent.

Even though it might seem antithetical, just as having children has made me appreciate what a valid choice not having children is, having my son in daycare has made me realize, with awe, what a full-time job being a stay-at-home parent is. Anyone who has spent a snow day or unplanned weekend at home with his or her child knows how exhausting (and, of course, enjoyable) it can be, and that’s without putting in any sort of effort to educate, discipline, and teach your child.

I’m a smart person with a reasonable emotional IQ and I don’t think a terrible mother; however, I don’t have experience in early childhood education, or much practice in 24/7 childcare. I can guarantee you that had my son stayed at home with me the past two years, he wouldn’t be where he is in terms of language (some Spanish now as well as English!), manners, food adventurousness and social IQ. I’m glad that he has spent these first formative years with professionals who have helped form him into a wonderful proto-human, and all I have to do is write checks, be grateful, have fun and try not to undermine their work.

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The best part of Paul’s daycare is feeling confident that he is ready for preschool (well, once we get potty-training nailed down.) I have total faith in his ability to be with other children, to listen to grown-ups, to be willing and excited to learn and explore and grow. Daycare has primed him for this next step.

And so, when he moves on this summer, it’s more than him just outgrowing his daycare or “finally” being old enough to go to a “real” school. This is his first major shedding of skin in terms of saying goodbye to his babyhood. I know I will look back at the photos of him with his daycare friends and his little art projects (that I know full well that Miss Kim and Miss Jessica had more to do with than he did) and feel a pang at this milestone, but because it was so good for him, I know it’s the right time, too.

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