Anna recently started at a preschool, and I've been putting off writing this post in order not to tempt fate but, damn, I'm so gobsmacked at how well she's doing. By all accounts she is positively thriving and we have trouble dragging her away at the end of the day.
I can't tell you how relieved I am that she cheerily carries her little lunchbox in to school, gives me a kiss, waves and says 'bye-bye' then happily trots off. I had been dreading this, and for good reason too. When Anna was a paltry three months old I went back to work, because this country has THE most draconian maternity rules in the developed world *seethe*. I'd been a bit worried about the number of friends who'd cheered on my swelling belly and then said 'so, have you thought about childcare, what are your plans? You have plans right? Thoughts?'. Then in response to my blank stare they would give me that same reassuring smile you would give to the newly pregnant woman who’s put on thirty pounds in the first two months of pregnancy, that ‘oh God, you clearly have no idea how fucked you are’ smile. Now I get it, the true horror that is finding affordable, manageable, reliable childcare, oh, and safe too, but that really is an afterthought compared to the rest......
As it happens, a nanny-sharing situation literally fell in to our laps and worked pretty much brilliantly until the girls were two. However, (let me apologize while I reign in my train of thought and get back on track here) Anna was not always spectacular about being away from LK and I. Our first nanny labeled Anna a ‘fearful baby’ and promised us with the conviction of someone going through City College Child Development Classes that there was nothing to be done about this, that she would always fear change, new situations and well, life, basically. I’m known to be a bit of a worrier myself, so this seemed plausible, although it did rather go against our experience of a smiley, sunny baby who was more than happy to be handed to any random stranger in a restaurant/bar/crack-house. Nanny #1 would call and ask ‘what do you do if she’s crying uncontrollably’ and I would swallow back that wave of guilt and panic, look at the huge pile of work on my desk, the huge mortgage bills yet to be paid and answer as best I could ‘well, it hasn’t really come up with us, but maybe you could cuddle her?’. I knew Anna was miserable with her, but I just had too much on my plate to re-organize an otherwise perfect childcare situation. I know, just writing that makes me cringe; perfect other than your child being desperately unhappy? Mother of the Year Award this way please. Things did get better, particularly with the advent of nanny #2, but Anna still had a tendency to freak out if she felt she was in a situation where people weren’t going to look after her properly. It didn’t fill me with confidence a couple of months ago when I pulled into the gym carpark and she started screaming ‘no, no Anna, Mummy ‘ome ‘ome’. I got about five minutes into that particular spin class before one of the gym childcare ladies knocked on the glass to say ‘your child, she is screaming’.
We knew early this year that our nanny-sharing situation would be ending and that we’d have to find a preschool for Anna. That’s where the horror began. What I didn’t realize was that there are two distinct group childcare options out there for toddlers;
Preschool – structured environments where the children learn and have fun. Usually ridiculously expensive and well-nigh impossible to get in to.
Daycare – a room filled with garage-sale toys, tired, screaming snot-filled tearaways and bored wardens/teachers only intervening when the biting draws blood. These still have waiting lists and only cost a little less.
On my first tour round a daycare I was thrilled to find it was run by nanny #1. Double trouble! I had to do the requisite tour, and smile through clenched teeth as she described Anna’s interaction with the other kids as ‘still a little reluctant’. I cried all the way home and vowed for the millionth time to leave this toxic town.
The second place I went to was the preschool she now goes to. So radically different an environment that after the tour I turned to LK and said ‘this is where she’s going’. We spent a year on the waiting list and finally only got in because LK ‘re-toured’ and the Argentine director clearly took a fancy to him. Maybe that ‘I heart the Falkland Islands’ t-shirt I wore first time round was a little ill-advised.
Anna now comes home from ‘school’ and when I ask her if she enjoyed her day she will nod sagely then say cryptic things like ‘paint’ or ‘shells’ or ‘singing in the boat’ (there is a boat in the garden where all her classmates sit for singing class). I know this could well be the honeymoon period of preschool, where the novelty outweighs the separation, but really, why should I find it surprising at all that she prefers a house and garden full of toys, toddlers and inspiration to time at home with me saying 'do you want to watch Blues Clues while Mummy plays on the computer?' Maybe not such a shocking transition after all.