A number of readers have asked about Minnow’s daycare situation and how she adjusted to it. Fish and I spent a lot of time debating daycare options before we settled on our current center. There are 4 basic choices in childcare: a daycare center, a licensed home daycare, an unlicensed stay-at-home mom who takes in 1-2 extra children, or a nanny. Of course, if you are lucky enough to live near relatives – grandmas can make great babysitters. But we’re not so lucky. Our closest family is about 20 hours away. Given the economic imperatives of both Fish and I working, we need to leave our precious little girl in someone else’s care.
Note: Any commenters who summarily declare that I am a BAD MOTHER for putting my child in daycare with be booed, hissed, and sent to Zuska for some shoe-puking.
Daycare centers around here have 100-200 children, and usually 10 or fewer infants with two teachers. There are all sorts of rules about bottles and diaper changes, etc., but the essential trade-off is this: In exchange for a regulated, professional staff and environment, your
child is one of four or five babies clamoring for the teacher’s attention. As the kids get older, the ratio of kids to adults gets even worse. By 3, it’s in the neighborhood of 1 teacher per 10-15
Licensed home daycares generally have 4-5, sometimes 8, kids and again, have some state-supervision. (I didn’t actually visit any of these, because there don’t seem to be any in geographically proximal areas). You get a smaller overall environment, but no lower kid:adult
ratio for babies, and the kids are a range of ages, so the teachers are potentially juggling the needs of a 4 year old with those of a 4 month old.
Unlicensed moms give you a lower kid:adult ratio and seem to want kids that are somewhat comparable in age with their own children, but they may not have much education on child development, and there’s no state supervision. I corresponded with a few moms and even visited
one, but in the end I wasn’t comfortable with her. She seemed as nice as could be, but didn’t seem to have thought through what having another child in her house would entail. I think going the unlicensed route would require a really high level of trust and I just didn’t find someone who lived up to my requirements.
Finally, you can hire a nanny to care only for your child(ren). Unfortunately, live-out nannies run $500-$600 per week around here, and we can’t even begin to afford one. Live-in au pairs are cheaper, but we don’t have the house to accommodate one. So we ended up in one of the big daycare centers.
What we found when touring the daycare centers was that you got what you paid for in terms of staffing and resources. So of course we ended up in the most expensive place. The biggest plus for me was that their infant/teacher ratio was 4:1 rather than 5:1. And that alone seemed
worth the extra money.
We’ve been very happy with Minnow’s daycare. At first she’d just bawl when I’d leave her there in the mornings, but now the teachers and I have figured out how to get her happily situated in an activity or in a teacher’s arms before I leave. And she reaches out for her teachers with real enthusiasm. She has two main teachers who are there for most of every day, and then there are a few floaters and substitutes that come in for lunches and at other odd hours, but essentially it’s the same two women taking care of her day in and day out. She’ll be in her current classroom until she’s at least a year old, and then she’ll move through about one classroom per year. Some of the other daycares we looked at moved kids up about every 6 month, and in one place she would have moved through three rooms before age 1. We wanted her to have consistent caregivers who knew Minnow well and to who she could bond. And that’s what we’ve gotten at her daycare. Minnow is the lightest (though not the youngest) baby in her classroom, so she gets to spend a lot of time in arms….when she’s not busy climbing up on the furniture.
One thing I really like about the daycare is that they don’t believe in restraining children. The babies don’t spend all day in bouncy seats or jumpers. Many of them don’t even sleep in cribs. Instead there are lots of soft places to sleep on the floor, and the mobile kids are really encouraged to crawl around and explore. They don’t even use high chairs to feed the babies eating solid foods, but they do have the cutest little baby sized wooden tables and chairs for feedings. They must have really good hygiene at this daycare too. Last week’s incident was the first time Minnow’s been sick since starting
there, and she was sick all the time at her daycare in Utopia. So there are a lot of things I really like about where she is.
But of course there are downsides, too. She barely naps at daycare. Sometimes not at all, sometimes for 30 minutes, on really good days for 50 minutes, but always less than she should be getting at her age. She’s just so excited by the activity around her. When Fish picks her
up in the afternoon, she usually falls asleep in her carseat and sleeps for 1-2 hours. She also doesn’t drink very much milk – only 6-8 oz. all day. I think she should be drinking more than that, but if I send more it just comes back untouched. I don’t think this is the fault of her teachers, but I know that on weekends she drinks a lot more during the day. It’s probably a bottle versus breast thing. There have also been some food mix-ups, but they are supposed to be addressing those.
There are days when I miss her terribly. I really can’t go visit her during the day. She’s only about two miles from campus, but because of the campus parking situation, it would take me an hour plus to have a fifteen minute visit with her, and I’d rather get home a earlier in the evening and spend more time with her then. And when she’s crabby from teething or whatever, I hate not being there to soothe her. I hate knowing that there are times when she’ll cry and the teachers are too busy tending to the other children to meet her needs right away. I really hate that I am missing out on big chunks of her life. There’s a strong possibility that I’ll miss her first steps. Yesterday she learned to clap (she was trying to brush potatoes off her hands when she made the discovery) and it was so neat to watch her learn, but it could just as easily have happened this morning and then I might not have known for days that she could finally clap. Sometimes I feel like I am peripheral to her day-to-day life, but those feelings are enough for a whole other post.
In the end, given that I have to work and Fish has to work and Minnow has to go to daycare, we’ve done the best we can to ensure that she’s someplace where she’s safe, happy, well cared for, and loved. We’ve done the best we can for now, but our eyes and ears are always open for other possibilities. Depending on how she settles into the next classroom up we may re-evaluate the situation this winter, but there will still be no perfect solution, until we learn to be in two places at once.