Derek loves daycare. I know this by the wide smile he flashes whenever we pull into the parking lot or that purposeful walk he takes each morning to his classroom.
Every time I drop him off, however, a tinge of guilt shoots up and down my spine. It lasts just for a second, like the initial pinch of a needle whenever a doctor needs to draw some of your blood. But it’s there, this feeling that I am leaving the most precious thing in my world in the hands of strangers when he should be living and learning in the familiar confines of his home.
Then I remind myself: Shut up. You’re crazy.
First off, daycare is a necessity considering Christina and I work. And I’m willing to wager 90 percent of the parents we know down here do the same thing we do each morning – wake the kid, dress the kid, strap him in the car seat and head off to daycare before getting on with the rest of the day.
Most importantly, daycare has been very good to Derek mainly because the school we chose is just that – a school rather than an 40-hour-a-week babysitting service. We arrived one morning and Derek’s classmates were seated in a semicircle, learning how to count to 20. Then they moved on to colors. We’ll pick Derek up in the evenings and he’ll be in the middle of an art project, doing so with so much vigor that sometimes he doesn’t want to come home.
Derek has hopped on the daycare’s makeshift stage twice. The first was last spring when he starred as the letter ‘G’ during his class’s rendition of “Bingo.” Then last December he joined the chorus during “Jingle Bells.”
Daycare has introduced Derek to friends such as William and Jackson and Hannah and Brooklyn, the last of whom greets Derek each morning with a big hug. He’s around people all day, every day. He isn’t shy. Just ask the female servers he flirts whenever we go out to eat.
Derek is the flag holder each morning and has his eyes glued to a book whenever we pop in during storytime.He always says “please” and “thank you.” He knows he has to put his clean blankets and sheets in his cubby every Monday morning because his teachers know you learn by doing.
Some of the credit – OK, maybe most – for this goes to Christina and I and the lessons we impart on him at home and in public. But it never hurts to throw another voice of authority into the mix as long as it’s one you trust and respect.
We trust and respect the folks at Derek’s daycare.
(Now, I know we live in a super-sensitive world, so read the following disclaimer: This is no way an affront to stay-at-home moms and dads. I didn’t go to daycare and I turned out fine. This is all about what works best for your family.)
You hear the horror stories, too, about negligent daycare workers or sub-standard conditions. But we’re lucky. We found a good one, one with an open-door policy, celebrations for Mother’s and Father’s Day and a family lunch during the week of Thanksgiving. The playground is expansive and safe. The classrooms are spotless.
The tinge is still there each morning, especially when Derek stands at my feet, raises his arms and says, “Hug?” just before I walk out of his classroom.
But it doesn’t last nearly as long as it used to.