Monday, September 20, 2010

Daycare: The Unabridged Lengthy Version

Before we know it, she'll be picking out her own tutu—tiara ensemble in the morning and hopping on her bike to ride to school.

Just over a month ago, I would've dismissed the notion of daycare as something other people do. Things were going smoothly and we were in our as-of-a-month-ago groove. I had a few massage clients who I visited in the evenings and on weekends and I was beginning to piece together support for a might-be, basement cottage sewing business.

Opal remained the nucleolus within the nucleus within the cell of a day.

And then.

I was offered a part-time job giving massage to the residents of a lovely Alzheimer's facility just down the road. Landed, plop, like a small, soft animal in my lap. Had it been three months earlier, I would have politely handed the animal back, or put in on the ground to scamper away.
But as of a month ago and as of now, what we have is an 11 month old baby who is ready for (very part-time, 10 hours a week, or so) a change in environment. More excitement and adventures.
And we happen to also have a mama who is just as ready for the very same thing, along with some money and an additional sense of purpose. So there you have it; the offer was just too good, as was the timing. I said yes on the spot and started the following week.

Opal stayed with grammy (Jesse's mama) while I worked and loved every minute of it. Playing with special grammy-only toys, chasing after their gentle canine-giant, Lucy, and being doted on by everyone who walked through the living room—grammy, grampy and auntie Alex to name but a few.

But when grammy was scheduled to leave town for over two weeks, I began my quest in exploring other options for Opal-care during work hours, saving other grammy-sitting possibilities for the luxurious variables like, perhaps, getting a haircut or going out for a date night.

My first thought was to hire a babysitter—classic, simple—for two afternoons a week. But that idea came with a very distinct question mark around never quite knowing how they would be spending their day. Would the sitter be on her cell phone all afternoon texting her boyfriend (like I used to do when I was a babysitter, ahem.) while Opal vied for her attention with her big figgy, dewy eyes? Would they stay in the house all day playing with the same toys and doing the same (anti-climactic) things she's been doing for months? Would our neurotic dog cause problems and force us to spend an extra $10 per day to put her in Doggy Day Care?

Then grammy asked about daycare, which, honest to god, hadn't occurred to me until then. As I said before, the idea of daycare did not exist in my Opal-under-one vocabulary, which has been the case with many developmental milestones: Oh, wow, I thought we had a lot more time before that one came. I best be hitting the library and emailing other mamas to inquire bout' this one.

So I called every commercial daycare center in Louisville and found that only two had infant-rooms, typically for children one year and under. Opal and I went to visit them both.
There were a handful of things I noticed right off the bat. Neither of the centers allowed children Opal's age to play outside. The cribs for the little ones were part of the play room and had very little privacy. Whether or not Opal would have little friends to play with depended entirely on the ages of the kids who happened to be there. So if the majority of the kiddos were very young that day, she'd have to entertain herself amidst a sea of status-quo toys, bless her heart, sweetly turning the pages to a board book while whispering the her-version-words to a nearby stuffed animal.

Another thing of note, as we were leaving our second visit, the infant-room staff woman (who, at first, I felt exuded a certain sense of calm but quickly realized it to be exhaustion) said softly to me when the director of the center was out of earshot, "This is so hard. Taking care of so many babies is so hard." And she shook her head as if caught in an inadvertent plea for help.

The following day, while sitting at the park watching our little ones crawl over blankets on the grass as if they were navigating their way over a series of rafts on water, one of my mama friends who has two young children in part-time daycare, reminded me, "Just remember, nobody will do it the way you do it. Nobody will even come close. That's just how it is. Nobody will ever match you or your environment. You're her mama, after all."

Good point. So then the question became, what did good enough look like?

When I was a wee peanut, I remember spending time in a home-based day care in a house that was so close to ours that you could just barely see the edge of the brown roof from our porch. I was much older at the time, elementary-aged, and I went before and after school. The details are fuzzy: the early morning cold and dark, the smell of microwaved oatmeal, my arms wrapped around a stuffed animal, seemingly lots of kids including a little demolishing tank of a toddler boy weaving about, the TV filled with Fragile Rock and Pee Wee's Big Adventure. Very different than my own mama did it, for sure.

I continued searching.
I requested info and suggestions from other mamas and checked out Craigslist, which is where I found two women who were intriguing enough to call. Both boasted extensive degrees in child development and had many years of experience under their belts. Both watched children in the comfort of their homes. Within the week, I had called and visited them both and found that one of the homes, the home of a woman named Cindy, seemed like a really good place for Opal. A really good place.

The scene from our visit: a large, clean, comfortable home with lots of natural light, hardwood floors, rugs, a sweet backyard where they do go out to play on nice days. There were separate sleeping areas for all of the children and rooms with closing doors for the younger ones. Pierce, Connor and Elisabeth, 2 years, 8 months and 3 years, respectively, played freely in the space, clearly relaxed and unencumbered. Toys of all colors, textures sizes, books galore. Within moments, Opal wriggled out of my arms and scurried over to where Pierce and Elizabeth were playing with an open-up farm house and joined right in. In that moment, I felt as if I'd discovered something I'd been looking for without ever knowing exactly what that particular missing thing was. It was as if my eyes declared in unison, Well, hello! You happen to be precisely what we want to be looking at.

I commenced to calling every single referral Cindy had listed in her orientation packet. Most of them were mamas who'd had, or have, children in her care. Nearly all of them took the time to either call me back and leave a message or to have a leisurely chat. In addition to handing out one after another gold star for Cindy's daycare, they also provided a hefty load of unexpected support as mamas who have also gone through this transition in their own respective ways.

Jesse joined us for another visit and our final decision was made. Just like that. Another parenting verdict under our belts.

I was so busy with the particulars of filling out forms and collecting what was needed to fill Opal's daycare bag that the reality of the adjustment didn't really hit me until that first morning, now nearly two weeks ago.
I was shocked by how hard it hit me. I woke up crying. I cried for the entire length of Opal's nap. I couldn't eat or check emails. I felt as if I were stuck out in an unexpected storm with no umbrella and no place to duck underneath. After a while, it dissolved and became just water that eventually stopped coming and dried up, for the most part, by the time Opal woke from her morning nap.

I made a plan on that first day to call Cindy at a specific time (while the kids were napping, so as not to distract her from their care) to see how little Doodlebug was fairing.
I stared down the numbers on my watch until my eyes were sore and my head a little achy until I could make that call (Opal fussed a little when you left, as all kids do at first, but she took her bottle and crashed for her nap in no time. Bless her heart.) and again as the minutes ticked by at a pitiless, lethargic pace until 5pm when I got to wrap my arms around her again.

Funny thing is, when I knocked at the door to pick her up after a grueling, meandering span of five hours, my body rushed with the nervousness of a brace-faced schoolgirl going for a first date, heart skittering and hands sweaty. I may have been a bit too loud and eager to smoosh her and kiss the under-part of her chin, a gesture she responded to with bright eyes and a smile, but certainly much less yearning than her mother displayed. She was perfectly fine. She'd taken a three hour long afternoon nap, as a matter of fact. She was that fine.

By day two, she was showing up to the door (in Cindy's arms) holding the most recent toy of intrigue. Day three, she was saying bye-bye to Connor and the cat as we stumbled out the door. Day four, she pointed to the ground to indicate wanting to continue with playtime and hollered when I put her in the car seat.

Cindy was mercifully tactful in her reply.
She withheld stating the obvious, which was that my daughter had indeed adjusted beautifully to being away from mama and in this new environment. She suppressed the desire to vocalize that it was and would continue to be mama who'd feel transitions more poignantly, more painfully, than Opal. That this was just the beginning and that it would presumably continue for the rest of my living, breathing life.
Instead, as she glanced back and forth from me to Opal and then back to me again, she said, "Yea. My daughter didn't like the car seat too much either."

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The 10.5 Month WonderNoodle

I'm a mama who needs to revel in her daughter's magic.
I'm at the point where I will absolutely not be able to sleep tonight unless I plop down in the middle of a hearty session of impressed reflection.
If this kind of thing turns you off as a reader, allow me to have warned you in advance and recommend that you skip on to something else.
Myself, I have some waxing to do.

My daughter is 10.5 months old and she is not at all the same baby I reported on a little over a month ago. Her developments are pronounced and bold-faced as I witness her in a state of awe. I can't help but to wonder how much I could accomplish—perkily— if I approached my endeavors with the same sense of trust and open-hearted abandon as my daughter does. There is no worry. There is no expectation. And there is no self-judgement. It's a little like watching a hummingbird dance its wildly animated, edgeless shimmy—it doesn't know or care that you are watching. It does what it does for the sheer glory of doing it.

Better begin or we'll be here all night.

To My Dear Opal:

The most obvious place to start is with the fact that you had your first crawl just a few days after your nine-month birthday, which consisted of a few four-legged steps toward Grammy while I was out getting a hair cut. Grammy was so excited that she called to tell me, even though I was driving home and minutes from being there in person. The next few days you were shy about it, and a handful of days passed before your daddy got to see your handywork (I actually think he saw it first on a video that I took and showed him), but within the week, you were confident and moving through the space like a wild animal.

After a few weeks passed, you figured out how to pull yourself up to standing, tasting for the first time the view from a fully vertical, bi-pedal position. The splendor! Now you use crawling to get from point A to point B, but once you get to your destination, you pretty much prefer to be standing. You cruise unsteadily while holding on to the couch, our fingers, or your little toy-walker (the 'lawn mower' as cousin Stella called it when she saw it on a Skype call). You haven't yet grasped the concept of movement-while-erect. But I wouldn't be a bit surprised if that tentativeness is a thing of the far-off past come your first birthday.

Kudos, kiddo.

The crawling is surely the marquee-headline, but there are so so many other bits to report on.

Sleeping: After having gone through a lengthy phase of challenges with getting to sleep—you'd often pull yourself up to sitting and pace the length of the crib in spite of facing total exhaustion, and then collapse into a rousing melt-down—you seem to be back in the saddle. We shifted your naptimes to one in the morning (9:30 to 10:30 or so) and one in the afternoon 1:30-3pm or so) in order to get you used to the routine they will have in day-care (more on that later!) and you have taken to that like blue on sky. Ahhh, much to our delight.

Speaking: You said MAMA for the first time right around your 9-month birthday, while driving up to Estes Park with Ama and Papa! So we had many appreciative witnesses for the occasion. DADA is still your favorite catch-all word for everything, but Mama does make consistent cameo appearances. Beeeeeee Beeeeeeee is such a funny sound and often can get you started into fits of giggles. Your current vocabulary is extensive, in my opinion: mama, dada, doggie (in variations), hi, bye bye, banana (nana) and apple (ap). You are also impressive at mimicry. I say "cheese" and you reply with your apt version "zeeez". It is a daily occurrence that you repeat something we say with a voice and word that is close enough for us to know exactly what you were attempting to say.

Eating: HUGE STRIDES. About a month ago, you started to feed yourself with the tiny wooden spoon (easier to hold than the springy plastic ones) and you are getting quite adept at it. I load the spoon with food and hand it to you and you take it from there. Your aim is excellent, for the most part, though it's not uncommon for food to end up in your eyebrows, up your nose, in your hair and on the adjacent walls. Also, since you've started to practice feeding yourself, mealtimes have doubled in length-of-time, often taking upwards of an hour each.

Just recently, you have really begun to excel in the art of feeding yourself with finger-foods. Catalyzed by my home-made banana bread, your skills totally bloomed. Since then, you have enjoyed such finger foods as provolone cheese, tempeh, pita, steamed yams and other veggies.
It's wonderful to be able to feed you what we are also eating, cut up into tiny tiny bits. This morning, for example, I fashioned an all-yolk omelet for you with spinach and Parmesan that I cut into minuscule bits (as opposed to pureeing) with a knife and fork, and fed to you from a spoon. You loved it. I loved it, too. Makes life so much easier.
You can also do the sign language sign for "more" now, though you don't quite understand placement. You continue, however, to be a pro at the sign for "all done."

A few weeks ago, you started with the ET finger, and enjoyed being the instigator of making connections with daddy and grammy and I by touching pointers together, laughing with glee at the fact that we knew what you were asking for. Now the pointer is less about connecting with others and more about information gathering. You point at something when you want to know what it is, when you want to hold it, taste it or touch it. You point at food as a way of saying "more." You point at the crib when you are sleepy. The pointer has taken on a life of it's own and, I must say, it gets the point across with power and precision.

Another favorite game is the give-away-get-back game in which you hand an object to someone and they are to say THANK YOU and promptly hand it right back to you in kind. If someone is not keen on the second half of this ritual, you are immediate to set them straight with a holler. You even tried to play the game with Ama and Papa while we Skyped a few weeks ago, dropping a tube of sunblock onto the laptop keyboard and peering at it and their sweet, 2-D faces, as if waiting for them to understand, pick up the object and hand it back to you.

You Love Books. Period. Especially Touch-and-Feel Books. You love to read books to yourself and your stuffed animals. It's a sure-fire way to buy me 5 or 10 minutes to clean up the kitchen after a meal to set you in the highchair with a book and an animal to read it to. Your favorite thing to do while in the carseat is to read a book out loud. There is nothing more precious than to gaze back at you in the rear-view mirror to find you with a book held high like a newspaper in front of your face chatting aloud without reservation. That's my girl.

You love walks. They are back to being part of our daily routine, I am pleased to report. The weather is cooling off and we go out first thing in the morning. You hold the green dog leash and exude a sense of self-satisfaction that is almost aromatic. The green leash renders a pavlovian response of glee from both you and the dog now.

You still love music and dance whenever you hear anything with a beat. One of your favorite toys is the drum your Ama bought for you and lately I've been strumming some guitar chords for you and you come right up and strum the chords yourself.

You've been able to clap audibly for over a month now and do it often to show pride or excitement about something.

You nestle up against daddy and I, climb up our legs and backs, wrap your arms around our necks. Are you growing into a cuddler? Joy.

Last night, we shared an amazing moment after I nursed you and read you your book as usual. You turned around to face me with the distinct purpose of giving me a hug. You thoughtfully wrapped your arms around my neck, nuzzled me and began to softly giggle. I nearly died. The sweetness of this action had the power to cast a spell of amnesia over any and every challenging mama-moment that has happened and that will happen for years to come.
And it was done purely by your own initiative, that's what got me. You are no longer a passive little almost-person. You have your own thoughts, ideas, actions and motivations. I have a feeling it will take me a long while to get used to this.

During a recent play-date with one of your best girl-friends, Eva, who is two days your junior, Eva's mama commented on how engaging you are. She called you an 'entertainer' and was impressed with your awareness of the people in your sphere.
This is an aspect of your personality receives frequent comments. Your ability to and love of engaging. You will start two half-days of daycare this week (tomorrow!) and I know you will flourish because of this fact. (Mama is going back to work part-time giving massage to elders.) Your little mind thrives on new and stimulating environments to find adventures to get into, new kids to play with. I will expand on this subject in more detail after we've both had a week or so of it under our belts. Frankly, at the moment, I am feeling a little nervous about how I will miss you so.

What I've been thinking of lately is is this: For so long, you have been a baby who's been so intent and focused on her body and the physicalities of it all: how to sit up without falling, how to roll over, how to get on all-fours, how to crawl, how to cruise. These things have been very consuming for you. And though you have many major physical milestones yet to hit, I can't help but to notice that the level of comfort in your little body seems to really be improving, opening you up to other things, allowing your personality to peek and snicker, allowing you to see the world outside of your flesh and bones even a little more clearly.

And here we are, your Mama and Dada, standing nearby in that very world with open arms and jaws resting comfortably on the floor.