Some women tear up as they leave their children at daycare for the first time.
I practically skip inside.
Grin from ear to ear.
I. LOVE. DAYCARE.
Last Monday was Henry’s first day of daycare. Another daycare mom saw me taking him inside and asked if it was his first day. After I nodded, she jumped out of her van and gave me the biggest hug and said, “Isn’t it great!”
“YESSS!!!” I yelled.
“With the first one, you’re bawling about it and then the second, you’re just like ‘have fun!'”
She gets it.
It’s true. The first time we started daycare was much more involved and made me a little nervous. We spent about 20 minutes going through the list of critical bits of information that the infant teacher needed to know to feed, change, and soothe our baby to sleep.
She likes to be rocked to sleep while being held sideways. Like this. And try to put her down 90 minutes after she wakes up. We haven’t started solids yet. How do you heat the bottle for her? She likes it just lukewarm. Not too warm. If she starts crying and she’s not tired, she might be wet. Sometimes. Just check. You’re going to check every hour or so, right? Okay. She’s really pretty easy to take care of.
But after two days, I’m pretty sure we thought daycare was a Gift from God. (Thank you, Ms. Cathy!)
It was like, Wait… We just drop the baby off at 7:00 a.m. and we don’t have to be back until 6:00 p.m. at the latest????
Here’s some money.
Here’s lots of money.
I love you. Here’s some cookies.
Do you like Panera? I got you a gift card. Happy Valentine’s Day.
Thank you so much. You’re wonderful.
Daycare pretty much taught our daughter about hand-washing, drinking from a cup, and sitting in a chair for meals. They helped us potty train her. They taught her how to sit in a circle for storytime, how to cut with scissors, how to hold a crayon, and how to fingerpaint. They provided an atmosphere full of dress-up clothes, kid’s kitchens, and books, books, books. (We didn’t have to buy any of it! And I’m not responsible for cleaning up the toys!) They taught her how to walk in a line and take turns. They showed her that a room can be stunningly decorated with the artwork of little hands.
And oh so important… They introduced her to the concept of sharing.
They used the classroom to teach rules. They modeled politeness and respect for others. They reinforced the lesson that actions have consequences.
This does not make me sad.
It doesn’t make me feel like I’m not doing my job as a mother.
I don’t regret sending my kids to daycare.
I wholeheartedly embrace it. I even embrace it to the tune of half of my salary.
On the surface, it’s easy to see why some moms love daycare as much as I do. It gives women a break from the role of being a mother.
This is huge.
Mothers in particular are constantly carrying around a mental list of things to do that just grows longer and heavier with each child.
Daycare allows them to put some of that down.
And pick something else up.
But my love of daycare goes beyond that.
Daycare, I believe, is an expression of feminism.
For those of you who are completely turned off by the term “feminism”, stay with me for a minute. Because that word gets a bad wrap in some circles. Feminism doesn’t mean “man-hating” or “female victimization.” (I do not blame men individually for the culture and structure of our society. I blame patriarchy.)
Feminism is about sharing power. It’s about making sure that everyone has a voice. It’s about making sure that when important decisions are made about policy (both in government and business), the people who are making those decisions don’t all come from the same background (White. Male. Native-born. Able-bodied. English-speaking.).
Millienials are the first generation to kind of get feminism. Not all of them do, but from my anecdotal observations, it seems like some of the assumptions that we had about gender and power are finally not assumptions anymore.
One of our former teenage babysitters told us that when she was catcalled in the school hallway, she turned around, went up to the guy, and told him in very clear terms,
“You don’t treat me that way!”
When I was growing up in the late 80s and early 90s, we were taught in school to imagine our futures. What would we like to be when we grew up? Doctors, astronauts, teachers? Athletes? Superheroes? Dinosaurs? Robots? We were encouraged to let our imaginations run wild.
Like many women in their 30s, I truly do not ever remember an adult — teacher, parent, or family friend — telling me that I couldn’t do whatever I wanted to do. No one told me that I was expected to get married and have kids right away. (Although my grandmother did ask me when I turned 18 if I was interested in any good boys…)
I was like many of my female friends. In high school, we all worked hard and earned good grades.
We went to college.
We got good grades there, too.
Maybe we went to graduate school.
And we got good grades there, too.
We followed the rules. We were doing fine.
We got jobs. We didn’t negotiate salary (because that’s not what good girls do, even though they should, we just couldn’t imagine drawing a line in the sand. That’s not who we are.)
And then we had children.
And everyone looked at us and said, “Are you going to stay home or return to work?”
No one asked our partners if they were going to stay home.
And there you have it.
The message is clear. It’s your baby.
It doesn’t provide any economic benefit to this company. It’s even costing us productivity. Make up your mind. Do you want to work here or not? Six weeks is a lot of time for you to be gone. You don’t want to make that kid dependent on you anyway, do you?
What about all the things that I could be now that I’m an adult?
Was it all just empty promises, fueled by good intentions and a dream of equality?
Because, I’m here to tell you, access to affordable (!!!) quality daycare is critical for keeping women’s voices at the table. (Side note: The United States was a hair’s breadth away from free universal preschool for all in the 1970s. Here’s what happened to that awesome, bipartisan bill.)
The tide is turning, though.
Almost all of the dads that I know assume as much responsibility for their kids’ lives as their mothers do. When they take care of their kids, they’re not “babysitting.”
I mean… duh.
They’re being dads.
When they take their kids to the grocery store, it’s not some miraculous event that comes around only once every few years.
My husband knows how to swaddle a baby better than I do. He was the one who made the baby food and showed me how to make smooth formula without all the clumps. He can change a diaper in the dark and he’s even yelled at me for making too much noise while he’s trying to put the baby to sleep.
Hope springs eternal.