It’s April 2020, and I am forced to hand over my precious 4-month-old daughter to a stranger outside of a locked building that I’m not allowed to enter due to healthcare protocols put in place during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. After extending my maternity leave by three weeks, it was her first day of daycare when my office was shut down. I didn’t yet fully understand that I had PPD/PPA. I was dealing with a storm of feelings, fueled mainly by guilt from returning to work and sending my daughter to a public daycare facility amid a global pandemic. I spent many tearful nights worried that my daughter would be exposed at daycare or, worse, that I would bring Covid home from my job and cause my daughter to become sick. It was a rough time for everyone, but sending my daughter to daycare ended up being one of the best decisions we made as new parents. Now, more than three years later, it is time to open a new chapter, and we are saying “Goodbye daycare, hello preschool.”
I quickly learned that daycare facilities are imperfect. Especially during the pandemic, we faced a revolving door of caretakers, although we eventually grew confident in the teachers who stood strong through the Covid storm. It was hard not being able to enter the building, as we had to blindly trust that our little one was safe and well cared for, but at home we could see how much she thrived by being around others (although seeing her pick up every little illness was heartbreaking for a new Mom to witness). She learned new skills, and as she grew older and started speaking, we discovered that she had found her own little community at daycare. It was eye-opening in the most beautiful way once some restrictions were lifted, and we could finally enter the building and get a glimpse into her world. She had friends she knew by name; she could tell us who their parents were when we walked past them in the hallway (“That’s Eva’s mommy..”), and she recognized each friend’s special cubby where they placed their backpacks (“Lainey is here, then Beau..”). I couldn’t believe she had made all these wonderful connections during a time when I was so worried about whether or not our family had made the correct decision in sending her out into the world during such a scary time.
I eventually came to know and love the teachers in that building. They saw our family during good times and bad. When it was time to send our second child to daycare, I was an emotional wreck three months postpartum, aware this time of my PPA but still trying to manage it, and learning that my twin nieces were born 12 weeks early on the eve of my son’s first day of daycare. I arrived at daycare to drop him off that morning, and he projectile spit up all over the entryway as we entered the building (talk about making an entrance). I was exhausted from staying up all night waiting for updates on my sister and her daughters, and it also happened to be my 30th birthday. I broke down in tears in the daycare lobby, and an angel mom took my son and handed me towels to clean myself up. Then, my son’s teachers (who were new to the building) swept in and took him into what would eventually become his safe space, and they would become some of his favorite people in the world. I am forever grateful for the teachers, kitchen staff, and aftercare helpers who learned to love and care for my children every day when I was at work.
There were still times when I questioned if I was doing the right thing by having someone else care for and teach my children during the work day, but I am now incredibly thankful that was the decision we made for our family. Three years later, it is hard to leave our safe space now that the children are growing and moving on to preschool, but I trust that it will be positive in the end. Maybe instead of saying, “Goodbye daycare, hello preschool,” we should actually be saying, “See you later, friends,” because I really do hope that we continue to stay connected to the friends we all made along the way. And to all the educators and caretakers out there- thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for making a huge impact on your students’ lives.