When I’m stuck, I have found it helpful to imagine (and write down) what I’d consider the default situation. Once written down, I’m more able to see (and challenge) my assumptions.
We all know I’m obsessing about daycare options lately. (Husband: Don’t you think about anything else? Me: Not until I have a plan, no.) I’ll go ahead and publish my thought process for you in case you find my nerdery helpful.
Here’s how it works:
When I think about in-home daycares, what do I picture?
Lots of kids all running around like wild children. Older kids playing and squabbling in one area. Babies fussing and hanging out in a living room with a TV blaring in the background. One harried older-middle-aged caregiver scolding older kids while handing a baby a bottle. Snotty-nosed kids. Noise, noise, noise. A small, dark house with dirty carpet. A kid or two dozing on the couch with a blanket in front of the TV. Toys everywhere. The “play room” is actually the caregiver’s own child’s room; other kids are technically allowed to play there, but the owner of the room gets final say. Juice boxes. A nice backyard with older kids chasing each other.
When I picture this, what do I feel? What does it remind me of?
Stressed and overwhelmed. I want to leave and find a quiet place to think and relax. I want to be in my own space that belongs to me. My breathing quickens even as I type and my shoulders tense. If I try to picture my son there, I see him sitting in the middle of the chaos, staring at everyone and I feel the overwhelming urge to whisk him away and bring him back to his own room with his own things and relaxed quietness.
I’m not sure if this vision is something I’ve experienced all at once, but it feels like pieces of my own childhood experiences cobbled together into one ugly idea. What’s strange is that I was never in daycare, in-home or otherwise, and all of my care experiences were with family members (they were my aunts watching my cousins and I). Perhaps because I have no experience with this, I have lumped together a bunch of bad clichés?
What assumptions have I made? (How could they be untrue?)
The caregiver has more kids than she can handle. (Caregivers can handle more kids than I can. Good in-home providers won’t take more kids than they can handle.)
The kids aren’t able to play calmly. (Totally untrue. I’m amazed at the level of order in Javi’s current daycare, especially with the older kids. Perhaps this assumption is of all daycare situation despite experiencing one that is not this way almost every day.)
The home is small and dark. (I must be picturing a specific home from my memory but I can’t put my finger on it. Regardless, homes do not have to be small and dark. Small and dark homes aren’t necessarily bad.)
The caregiver’s child gets preferential treatment. (I’m told this isn’t necessarily the case and that really good caregivers treat all kids like they’re their own.)
My child would notice preferential treatment. (This could be a hang-up from my own childhood.)
My child wouldn’t be the one creating the chaos. (Um, yea. My kid is LOUD and I love that about him!)
Juice boxes are a must-have. (Just because I hate the cloying sweetness doesn’t mean they’re evil. I could request water only. My current daycare doesn’t offer juice boxes.)
Many kids = overwhelming noise. (All noise isn’t overwhelming; kids don’t make overwhelming noise all the time.)
Neither I nor Javi enjoy noise. (Not true; we often like noisy places.)
A TV will always be on. (Not necessarily.)
A TV is bad. (I hate them as background noise, but movie time could be fun.)
The caregiver feels like I would surrounded by children. (She is not me. She could be really good at this job and feel it is her calling much like I feel I’m perfectly experienced for my own job.)
Now that I’ve challenged my own assumptions, I should challenge the entire vision. Can I picture a best-case version of in-home daycares?
I walk into a bright, clean, good-smelling home. The floors are clean, the furniture is sturdy and the room feels spacious. A woman is sitting on the floor with two young children, playing with blocks and cars while an older child builds a Lego fort a few feet away. Interesting music plays at a low volume in the background. In the corner is a small table with child-sized chairs – clean and waiting for lunch time. Outside, another woman sits in the shade while three older kids run around in the grass. She doesn’t interfere with their play, but is there in case they need a referee.
When I drop my son off, I stay and chat for a bit because I don’t like abrupt transitions for myself, though Javi seems to be less averse to the idea, taking off to inspect anything that might have changed since yesterday. I tell her he didn’t sleep well and to text me if he’s super grumpy so I can pick him up early. She agrees but reminds me that if he has a meltdown, she can rock him and give him some quiet time in the sleepy room. She asks if I’ve brought teething tabs and shows me the new chew toys she’s frozen in case those darned shark teeth hurt.
When lunch time comes, the kids all move to the table while the women gives them cheese sticks and slices of fruit first, then a sandwich and a few chips. Everyone is drinking water. The younger kids munch away while the older kids talk and tell stories as they eat. After everyone eats, the older kids pick up the dishes and wipe the table while the younger kids wipe their own faces and hands.
After lunch is quiet time. The babies get a song and a snuggle, then go into their cribs with their blankets for naps. Though thee older kids don’t have to nap, they are advised to spend some quiet time on a nap mat daydreaming and practicing relaxing. Blinds are closed, white noise is turned on, the caregiver grabs a cup of coffee and her phone for a little break just outside the door.
All kids go outside to play after quiet time. An older kid reads a book in the shade, two others play a game of pretend, and the younger kids alternate between watching them and crawling in the grass. For a little while, one of the older kids helps one of the little dudes practice walking.
When I pick Javi up, it’s not quiet, but it’s not chaotic, either. He notices me and breaks into a big grin, then finishes what he’s doing before coming over to greet me. I chat with his caregiver about his day (she tells me he’s been drooling a lot so I make a mental note to keep an eye out for a sore throat), gather his things (really just the toy we brought for the day since everything else stays there, waiting for him to return) and say goodbye. I’m thrilled to note that he’s learned to wave with his whole arm; she’s been practicing b-bye with him.
When I picture this now, how do I feel? What does it remind me of?
I feel good. This feels like my son is in his own home for the day, but better. There is more life (fun!) to be had than at home alone and he gets to hang out with other (and older) kids. She is like the parents of friends I had growing up, kids with many siblings and mothers who seemed un-stressable. It also reminds me of the Montessori school we’ll be sending Javi to once he’s old enough.
What have I forgotten that I already know?
All of the care options we’ve visited except one have surprised me in a good way. Our current daycare is so clean and smells so good, despite having so many kids under one roof, and the older kids are almost never chaotic, even when playing outside.
She is not me. Other people have superpowers in ways I don’t. They probably can’t imagine how I know how to do what I do, either.
He is not me. He won’t have the same hang-ups I do. Heck, even my memories of m
y own childhood aren’t really what happened.
What have I learned? What now?
I need to visit some places. I suspect the reality is somewhere between those two visions, though perhaps closer to the ideal than the bad. I’m looking for a good feeling upon entering and a lack of overwhelming stress and tension in myself. I want to see content children and an assured person in charge. I am willing to pay for someone who does this really well.