Just like the way a great song can take you back to a special moment in your life, these little blue shoes remind me of a time I would rather forget. The seven months my daughter was in daycare.
I thought these shoes were ugly when I bought them, but they were the only appropriate pair I could find in a moment of panicked desperation.
An hour before I purchased them, I picked Layla up from daycare. It was raining and she was playing outside with the other kids. I saw that she had on only a pair of soaking wet slippers. Her socks abandoned. Her feet cold.
I used anger to hide the embarrassment of inadequately dressing my daughter for daycare. Fuming over the staff who let her play outside without proper shoes. I had forgotten, or perhaps just didn’t know that the kids played outside rain or shine.
That feeling of inadequacy would rear its ugly head many more times throughout Layla’s stay there. The amount of things I struggled to understand about daycare life and get ahead of in that time became a torture that brought me to the brink of tears nearly every single day.
I can still picture Layla walking up and down the stairs to her classroom in these shoes. This, of course, was toward the end of her daycare days, because when I first brought her there, she had only just taken her first steps. She wasn’t old enough to know where she was or why I left her for so long every day. It killed me.
I would hold her hand on the stairs, and she’d grab the rail with her other. Adults and kids would rush by, but we took our time. Feeling like less of a mother and more of a chauffeur, I was determined to teach her something myself, and it enabled us to spend a few more minutes together each day.
At home, my husband and I would only have an hour to spend with Layla before bedtime. Typically, it was a few hugs, a bite to eat, bath and then bed. There was no time for making memories or talking to her about her day.
If she happened to be doing something new, like signing the word “please,” I felt elated that she was learning in daycare but disappointed I wasn’t the one teaching her.
Often nights would end in tantrums, mostly because I couldn’t identify her needs. Layla would gravitate toward those who spent the most time with her, and that wasn’t me anymore. Those people were at the daycare. And I was just supposed to sit there and take it on the chin.
I took a lot on the chin, in fact. An extreme diaper rash episode that had to be clinically treated. That left Layla in so much pain, just the slight touch of my finger had her wincing and in tears for weeks. A case of Hand, Foot and Mouth disease, a bout of baby measles (Roseola), a rash of bites from other kids and so many colds, eye infections, ear infections and injuries that had us at the clinic every week.
“Is this normal for daycare?” I asked my husband. “Should we pull her out?”
I knew kids got sick, but was this over the top? We turned to friends who had some similar issues with their kids in daycare, but no one’s experience was the same. It left us holding our hands in the air. And the worst part of it all, we had no idea if Layla was happy or not.
If we pulled her out, we would have had to give a month’s notice. There was also a chance we couldn’t find another place right away, and what if that place didn’t work either? Was it fair to Layla to keep switching daycares and routines?
At first we told ourselves: let’s give it more time. Maybe it’s just hard in the beginning. Things will get better. They never did.
Eventually I packed a better bag for her, and we talked with the staff more. I was enjoying her development there. It was a good daycare. I just didn’t know it at the time. To this day, I credit Layla’s abilities from what she learned there, but the guilt of not being with her weighed heavily on my shoulders.
The day I officially decided to quit my job, I was in a meeting at work. The daycare called. Layla wouldn’t stop crying and the staff was unable to console her. She wasn’t sick and she wasn’t hurt. Layla just wanted her mom.
Pregnant with my second, I drove to the daycare and decided right then and there that I wouldn’t return to work after maternity leave.
I quit this past May. It was a good job, and it paid well. I had a pension, benefits, all the fixings. Financially, we could have both of our children in daycare, although it would be tight, but I decided to do whatever it took to stay home.
To hear my daughter tell me to pump my legs on the swing. To teach her to say excuse me. To be there for all the tears, the skinned knees, the giggles and fights with her brother. To be able to tell them I love them as many times a day as I want and then some.
To just be with them.