When my daughter turned one, I thought it was time to start thinking about life beyond our little ranch home. Other kids. Other caregivers. Some kind of childcare.
For work-from-home moms like me, the thought of childcare is intimidating. When I decided to quit my newspaper job, I thought I wouldn’t have to worry about finding the right childcare center. But, like so many aspects of first-time-momdom, I was wrong.
At some point, I started to feel like my daughter, Celia, needed room to groove without Mommy, Daddy, or Nana hovering close by.
I started listening when other mothers at the playground talked about PMO, Parents Morning Out. Such programs generally operate in churches and offer the option of dropping off just one day a week.
A church within walking distance had a new PMO program, but it got terrible reviews from parents. They recounted horror stories of an ancient caregiver changing a toddler’s diaper in the crib and feeding another toddler on the changing table. When a child wailed for his mother, the caregiver rattled the loudest toys possible in his face.
Other PMOs got great reviews, so I thought I’d check them out.
My husband, Jason, only had two words to say when I mentioned PMO. Not now. Since when did parents who made the choice to have one stay home with their child start looking for daycare-as-socialization opportunities at age one?
I promised to hold off, but I still had a nagging feeling that Celia needed some mom-free playtime.
Then Jason mentioned joining a gym, something we avoided for years for fear we would pay for a service we wouldn’t have the discipline to use. Jason’s knees were bothering him, and he needed some low-impact cardio equipment to keep the love handles at bay. Though I walked a lot with Celia, I wanted to firm up my arms, abs, and butt.
And the big bonus: the YMCA offers child-care while parents work out. Celia could get the interaction with other kids and caregivers, and I would be just a few steps away.
I signed us up. Celia loved the card she got with her picture on it. By then, she was a walking, talking fifteen-monther.
The first time I left her, I was uncomfortable. The staff didn’t exude warmth. But it was a safe center, and I reminded myself that their only responsibility was to keep my child safe and content until I returned. Celia didn’t cry when I left, which wounded me.
I loved working out, and I found the child-care arrangement adequate. It became part of our routine. Over time, something surprising happened. Celia blossomed in under the caregivers’ hands-off approach.
One day I watched her struggling to climb a play structure. She couldn’t figure it out, and I couldn’t figure out why her caregivers didn’t help her. They just stood with their backs against the wall, watching about half a dozen kids.
A few days later, I arrived to find Celia climbing the structure by herself. When she got to the top, she crawled through a tunnel to the other side. She was so pleased; she gave herself a round of applause.
Once the staff got to know her, they warmed up. But they stuck with their philosophy to let the kids play without adult interference unless necessary. It’s free play, and it’s something I so rarely see these days it took me a while to recognize it as a good thing. Some days Celia grabs a book and races around with the book clutched to her chest. Other days, she stands in a crowd of older kids babbling nonsense. She is always smiling when I pick her up.
These days, she usually cries when I leave her. I don’t know why she didn’t cry those first few days, but now she does. A staff member points her in the direction of the toys and tells her it’ll be okay. By the time I step out the door, I can see her reaching for a book or bounding into the play kitchen.
For some twisted reason, those cries reassure me that I’m doing the right thing. I’m letting her go just a tiny, tiny bit, just enough to gain a little confidence. I’m also teaching her that as consistently as I drop her off, I’ll always be back to pick her up. When she sees me at the door, she drops whatever she is doing and comes running, arms wide.
Motherhood doesn’t get any better.