To the Mama Who’s About to Send her Baby to Daycare for the First Time
Almost five years ago, I was standing in your shoes.
I remember the morning so clearly–despite five years worth of full-time teaching, momming, a pandemic, and having another baby– that drop-off moment is crystal clear amidst the postpartum haze that seems to make most of my memories fuzzy.
The sun hadn’t even fully risen yet. My husband and I drove separately to the daycare because we both wanted to see her off on her first day. She was 12-weeks-old.
The butterflies in my stomach that morning felt more like elephants. My chest was tight. I shouldn’t have worn mascara. Did I pack the right amount of bottles? Did I pack all of my pump parts for work? Do I have all of my lesson plans ready for the day? Did I hold her tightly enough this morning for her to feel my love throughout the day?
There were so many thoughts running through my mind but louder, above all the other thoughts in my mind, was a plea: “That’s my baby, that’s my baby, that’s my baby.” As if her teachers, as if the universe, would understand all that I was asking in that single thought.
Please take care of her. Please love her. Please let her be okay. Please let this choice be worth it. Please let me not regret this. Please let this day go by fast. Please give me the strength to do this all over again tomorrow.
I’m writing this on the very day that I picked up my 5-year-old daughter from that same daycare for the very last time. In 2 weeks, she’ll be off to kindergarten (I can hardly believe how fast time flew).
And this is what I want you to know:
That school became a pillar of my daughter’s childhood, and my life as a working mom. That school was a safe haven, a family, an irreplaceable part of my village.
Some of her teachers along the way have become like aunts to my daughter. Some of her classmates, that she’s been with since they were literal newborns, are now her best friends in the world.
In school, she learned more than we possibly could have ever imagined when we dropped her off 5 years ago. She learned how to walk and run and talk and write and garden and share. She learned about different cultures, different foods, different music, and different ways to play.
But do you know what else she learned?
That there are so many people who love her. That school is fun. That she can find friends wherever she goes. That teachers are angels on earth who deserve all the respect (and better pay).
I knew I’d be emotional about her going to kindergarten but I didn’t expect to be this sad about her leaving daycare.
So I’m writing this today for the parent about to drop off their baby for the first time.
It’s going to hurt.
There’s no way around that. It’ll hurt, and it won’t be easier the second day.
But it does get better. It gets better when you see how loved your baby is by so many different people. It gets better when you see how much your child enjoys being surrounded by little friends. It gets better the first time they say something you didn’t know they knew how to say. It gets better when, on the day of JK graduation, you see your little one wrapped tightly in the arms of teachers who love your baby as their own.
And you will see all that your child has gained by having a community that loves and nurtures them along the way. So pack a lot of tissues, don’t wear mascara before drop-off, and take deep breaths.
While you probably won’t miss those daycare bills, and while I wish US families had paid leave that gave you more time with your little one before starting daycare, I want to offer this bit of hope: daycare can become an incredibly special piece of the puzzle of motherhood.
You might be surprised by just how tremendously you will miss daycare when your baby is getting ready to go off to kindergarten.