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The Single Worst Thing About Daycare

Most of the time I feel good about sending my kids to daycare each day while my husband and I work to provide for them. My oldest (the one who can talk) even asks to go on weekends. I'm that fun. This doesn't mean it's always easy to leave my kids with a relative stranger, especially when they're babies and you just want to keep them snuggled up close. And of course, I can't help but read those horror stories that pop up in the news every once in a while about something awful happening to kids at daycare.

But daycare is where kids make their very first friends and learn to count and recite the ABC's. It can even speed up certain developmental milestones for children like potty training as they watch older peers master these skills, and teach kids resiliency and innumerable social skills at an early age as they navigate relationships with strangers—from avoiding the biter to negotiating the favorite blocks away from the hoarder (every group has at least one of each, I promise you).

However, there's one thing that really, really stinks about daycare, even those wonderfully safe, super fun and nurturing facilities. In fact, it's this single thing that every once in while makes me want to just turn the car around and drive in the opposite direction at morning drop-off.

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It's the nonstop, unrelenting, constant colds and other minor illnesses they bring home. There is never a dry nose in our house. We buy tissue boxes, children's Advil and nasal saline spray in bulk. The humidifiers are always humming, the thermometer always on the kitchen counter. I can wield a NoseFrida snot sucker like nobody's business.

Talk to any working parent with young kids in daycare, and they will tell you about the unexpectedly heavy toll these small but constant illnesses have on their household.

We've had the stomach flu three times in two years. I now stock at least two bottles of Pedialyte in the cupboard at all times because the diarrhea-vomit combo always kicks off around midnight. We've had Coxsackie innumerable times (a virus delightfully described as a cold with a rash), walking pneumonia, pink eye, a virus that caused a weeklong, head-to-toe hives outbreak that had my own daycare provider Googling, and back-to-back ear infections doused with round after round of antibiotics that eventually resulted in having tubes put into my daughter's ears.

Of course I'm not talking about life-threatening illnesses here. I'm aware it might sound a bit spoiled to whine about a runny nose in the face of more serious health issues or a lack of quality daycare providers. But talk to any working parent with young kids in daycare, and they will tell you about the unexpectedly heavy toll these small but constant illnesses have on their household.

There's the constant jockeying between partners about whose turn it is to stay home. The feeling that you really can't lose another day of work. You're falling behind! It doesn't look good. The exhaustion from kids waking up in the middle of the night from discomfort and needing Mom and Dad, sometimes for hours, before falling back to sleep. Running to the pediatrician at the last minute when you really don't have the time or energy. The expense (see bulk purchase, lost work time and pediatrician frequency), and the constant worry.

You worry about overmedicating your kid: Benadryl for this rash, Advil for the fever, steroid creams and antibiotics. But you also worry while listening to your toddler cough for an hour before falling asleep; you worry when the chronic cough of the winter turns into the summer cough and when you have to make a difficult decision about whether or not to put your 1-year-old under anesthesia for ear tubes. At the same time, you're operating at half speed because of the yearlong cold you've been battling.

I know what you want to say. But they'll have great immune systems! This is so very good for them! Let me tell you: No one with kids in daycare has ever said this or would say this to another parent whose kid is sick for the 100th time that year. My kids probably get two to three various ailments a month. This is NOT fun. Even my pediatrician said it to me the other day. And I couldn't help myself when I blurted out: "When? When will their immune systems benefit?" The doctor's best guess was that next winter, the year my daughter turns 3, will be better.

I'm doubtful. Aren't there new viruses always coming out? Will kids suddenly remember to wash their hands before shoving them into their mouths? Will they stop coughing and sneezing in each other's faces?

You will likely find yourself doing strange, desperate things in the midst of this. You might hang an onion next to the crib (yes, I tried this) or avoid kids' birthday parties because you can't stand the idea of one more cold or one more fever that will lead to one more missed day of work.

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So yeah, I like daycare. Sometimes. Sometimes, I also really, really hate it. Choosing daycare for your baby? Do yourself a favor and pick a pediatrician less than 10 minutes away who offers late hours, and find a back-up babysitter or nanny service you trust who is willing to watch your kid when they're too sick for daycare and you're out of sick days.

Images via Rose Sala

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