How I Got All Precious About Daycare

For rookie parents like myself, whether or not to put your kid in daycare brings up a host of hand-wringing questions: Is it OK to hate anyone who can afford a nanny? Will daycare teachers treat my child better if she's clearly more attractive than the other gargoyles? Will they be as good at breastfeeding as me?

But these questions seem like a luxury compared to the real issues that sending your child to daycare brings up, like: Am I really paying an extra $300 a month just so this kid eats organic mangoes? What's the deal with so many creepy guys named Bob hanging around these places? (Wish I were joking!) [Editor's note: 75% of all uncles are named Bob. ]

As a wise old broad once told me about daycare: You get what you pay for. Thus far, at least in my case, this has proven to be true. I wish it weren't. Yes, the cheaper home care place in the middle of the freeway is indeed hella cheaper, but it also has a hot curling iron lying on the bathroom floor next to a lifted toilet seat. At your scheduled appointment for a tour. True story! Question: "Oh, who's that weird guy with the big scary tombstone teeth hunched in the corner scowling at my daughter?" Answer: "Oh, that's just Bob. He helps out sometimes."

Then there's the Stuff They Tell You where you have to wonder what target parent demographic is happy to hear this news. Question: "Is this the same menu every week or do you vary it up?" "Answer: "Well, every Friday we take all the kids to McDonald's to order whatever they want." (Shrugs.) "Hey, you know they want it, so we may as well give it to them — amirite?"

Then there's the place that seems all Nurturing Grandma Perfect until you find out their credentials don't exactly stack up. Question: "Are your CPR and First-Aid training certifications up to date?" Answer: "Well, now, that's a funny story. I guess I took my test about 15 years ago — well now maybe it was 10. Anyway, I just remember they had these dolls you practiced on, and when they handed one to me, its head plum shot off across the room. Everyone was looking right at me, and they just laughed and laughed."

Needless to say, you could fake a better daycare in the middle of a roadhouse with Gwar playing. So when you find a curling-iron and Bob-free zone that doesn't make you and your baby cling to each other like you just won runner-up on Toddlers and Tiaras, you find yourself asking the lady if she wouldn't like it if you paid just a little more a month so you can make sure she doesn't go out of business serving all those organic mangoes.

All is well until you realize this means you still actually have to drop your kid off there.

Of course, some people's babies run giddily over to the other squirts and start playing on the first day. For babies who weren't tranquilized in advance, expect a level of crying where you can only guess that they feel as if you just tossed them into a garbage dump and said you'll never see each other again.

Of course, everyone will assure you that the clinging and sobbing is totally normal and just a phase. Yes, you think, totally normal! Just a phase! Surely evolution has designed us with precisely this moment between mother and child in mind: Handing over your helpless baby to unrelated strangers whose care is motivated by profit. Question: "How'd it go today?" Answer: "Oh, she only cried for 5 or 7 minutes after you left."

"Five or 7 minutes!" a coworker told me. "That's nothing! My child cried for so long every day that they finally called and said I had to come and pick him up. They said he wasn't ready for daycare yet."

Well uh, maybe your daycare just isn't a state-of-the art Bob-free zone with no curling irons or McDonald's served, where the naps are long and the mangoes are always organic. Did I mention that for the price of just four car payments we also get art and music class once a week?

Sure, go ahead. Steel yourself for the next Guilt-Con. But the moment you do, your little cling-a-bear will betray you with one unannounced, nonchalant little saunter over to her new best friends. And now, like some kind of station-wagon driving mess of a woman with mousy brown hair in a bad floral print starring in a Lifetime movie, it is you who finds yourself tearing up one morning as she bounds off excitedly toward the teacher as music class begins.

Question: "Hey, wait, who's that weird guy with all the wacky music instruments?" Answer: "Oh, that's Bob, the music teacher. He comes every Wednesday. The children love him."


Tracy Moore is a writer in Los Angeles. She has been known to use a curling iron.

Image by Steve Dressler.