A couple of weeks ago, a co-worker invited me, or really Riley, to have a playdate with his daughter. He was anxious about the request and began rapidly and apologetically explaining his reasons behind it. He explained that his wife was going back to work and that they would be dropping off their two children, ages five and three, to daycare for the first time. His daughter, the three-year-old, would be in Riley’s class. He further explained that his daughter was very shy and that he was worried about her making friends. He said that she didn’t warm up to others quickly, and it would be great if she could have a friend there before she started. I told him we were happy to do it and hoped that it would indeed make that day a little bit easier. I also over-shared with him that Riley was a member (perhaps founding member?) of what I call the “mean girls club” at school–a group of three girls that includes her best friend, Hawk (a nickname made up by Riley for a sweet little girl named Juliet when she was unable to pronounce her name). This group of girls are very competitive with each other, which is probably putting it lightly. Basically they don’t share well together, they battle over who will be first for anything, and it sometimes comes to blows (well, pushes). By pickup time though, they are the best of friends. I’ve often gotten a confused tilt of the head from the daycare teacher as Riley proclaims while leaving, “Mommy, can we go to Hawk’s house? She’s my best friend.” That’s when you know it’s been a particularly rough day.
After my probably too-long answer to his invitation to a playdate, I received a similar tilt of the head from my co-worker–not as much confusion as borderline panic. Well shoot, that hadn’t helped his fears any. I quickly offered him a quick, “It’ll be fine. See you Saturday!” and went along my way, mentally kicking myself.
The request brought me back to all of the emotions that I had experienced dropping Riley and then Maddie off at daycare, each a little bit different of an experience. Riley was home for the first year of her life and didn’t start daycare until around fifteen months. Drop-off in the morning was a struggle for the next six months. She went through the ups and downs of teachers leaving and new friends coming. There was the day that she was bitten twice and the time that she had her fingers slammed in a door by her now good friend Cooper. She would hold her fingers up to me for the next three months and sadly pout, “Cooper did it.” She transitioned from infant room to toddler room to preschool. It has been a journey full of experiences, most of which aren’t known to me. There is an uncertainty in that.
Maddie has had a different journey. She began daycare at two and a half months, which brought a heavy dose of mom guilt for me. Over the months, she has developed a strong connection to her teacher. There were times that I would pick her up and she would not want to leave, bringing about another heavy dose of mom guilt. Now thirteen months old, she is starting to have a tougher time with drop-off, that is, unless Ms. Marissa is there. Since she cannot verbally communicate yet, I rely on her teacher to tell me about her experiences and, at times, what milestones she reached while there. Yet another journey that I don’t get to experience with her.
I understand the apology in his voice. It wasn’t to me or even to himself. It was to his kids. The same apology every parent makes when first making the decision to drop their kids off at daycare. While my kids have made their way through the journey of daycare, I have as well. I’ve had to wade through the mom guilt, overcome jealousy, and re-frame my way of thinking about motherhood. While not on every step of their journey, I was still their guide. I have guided Riley through the process of figuring out social interaction. We’d talk about what it is to make a mistake. Cooper didn’t really mean to slam her fingers. What was her part in the disagreement? Juliet wasn’t sharing, but was Riley? I’ve celebrated with her when she drew a straight line or learned her numbers, and practiced with her at night. I’ve embraced Maddie’s love for her teacher and have a deep appreciation for the love that she gives my child. I know that their lives will be full of people who are meaningful to them and help shape the people they will be. Both of their lives are fuller because of the great teachers they’ve had.
Now well into her first month in daycare, Riley’s new friend is thriving. She has made several friends and, to my knowledge, has not joined the mean girls club–at least I have heard no complaints from Riley about her sharing abilities. My co-worker and his wife seem to have adjusted to the new routine. I’m sure that they and their kids will be going through a similar daycare journey, inter- and independently. I very much hope that it is as great as the one we’ve had.