We moved to the opposite side of town about a year ago, but I still work a sales territory that is relatively close to the daycare, so I have been making the commute with her for what I thought was a short-term basis. It is extremely inconvenient, because half of my work territory isn't next to the daycare, so I drive 30-45 minutes to drop her off, then drive 30 more minutes out to a different part of town, work a full-day, drive to pick her up, and then drive 30-45 minutes back home. It would make things easier if Rich and I could split up the drop-off and pick-ups, but his work is actually in the opposite direction, and even though he offers, I just don't like adding any more hours to his already over-full 60-70 hour work-week.
While I'm on maternity leave, I knew that we still wanted Alex in something part-time, just to give her some consistency and make it easier on her when I go back to work. But the commute was going to be a problem, so I have been researching and touring many options close to our house. I thought I found the right one, so we said goodbye to our friends and teachers at the old daycare last week.
We tried out the new daycare/preschool option this past week. I planned to take her, stay for a little while, and then leave her for just a couple hours on the first day to get her used to it. When we got there, the director said she needed to see how many kids they had in the classroom and make sure they had room. What? I had already arranged to enroll her this week, but okay. She came back and said we were fine to start that day, so we went into the new classroom. We were greeted absentmindedly by one of the teachers, who was holding a screaming toddler and trying to shuttle 3 other toddlers into another classroom because they were now over their "ratio."
I sat down and just observed. Observed the chaos.
Just a few of my observations:
- The screaming toddler never stopped crying in the hour that I was there. One of the teachers said, "Oh, he cries all day long." It was unsettling. Now I'm not saying my Alex doesn't show off her lungs every so often just like the next kid. But the fact that the teachers were completely fine that this poor boy had tears streaming down his face and could barely take a breath because he was crying so hard disturbed me.
- They had a table with crayons scattered on it, which Alex immediately saw and wanted to play with. (Side note: What do 1-2 year olds do with crayons when unsupervised? EAT them! Which is why you don't just leave them out on a table for free-helping!) One teacher said to the other, "Where do you keep the paper in here? Do we have any art paper?" They scrambled and got some paper, and Alex sat down with her paper and about 20 crayons thrown on the table and proceeded to draw. She started drawing circles on her paper, and the teacher couldn't stop exclaiming about it! "Wow, she draws circles already?!" I thought, yeah, she is almost 2, but then I looked around at the other almost-2-year olds and they were barely able to hold a crayon, much less draw anything with conscious direction.
- I asked the teacher if she was new to this classroom (since she didn't know if they had any paper) and she said "Yeah, I normally watch the after-school kids, but they have me in here today." The other teacher said, "Yeah, I keep getting shuffled around to a different class every day too, I hate it! I don't even know the kids' names!" I then remembered that I had met a different teacher on each of my prior 3 visits to this classroom.
- Later, one of the kids came up to Alex and took away a toy she was playing with. She said, "MINE!" (typical for her age) and then said "Please, Please, Please???" to the little boy (which translated means, PLEASE give me back my toy NOW!) The teacher did a double take and said, "Did she just say please?!" I said yes, and she was so astonished that she could say please already. Then I realized that I hadn't heard any of the other children talking at all. In fact, they reminded me of Alex's classroom about a year ago, when the kids would play next to each other, but not with each other, and they had very few words or methods of communicating. This was totally normally for 1 year olds, but this classroom was all around the same age as Alex.
The constant shuffling of teachers (who don't even know some of the children's names!) and the complete state of chaos and disorganization in the room made me sad. I was almost in tears when I left because I realized that this is what people picture when I tell them that I leave Alex in daycare. They get that 'look' in their eyes, and their nose wrinkles in disdain, and they try to stutter some sort of expression of pity for us. And I always reassure them that it is wonderful, I LOVE the people that take care of her, and she is learning so much by being in a social setting! But they are picturing this kind of daycare, where the teachers aren't really teachers--they are babysitters. And not even good babysitters.
So after all of this anxiety and stress, Rich and I have decided to take her back to the daycare she was in. He is willing to drive her and pick her up because he thinks it is best for her--what a great dad! We enrolled her for 3 days a week so that she can still be at home with me most of the time, but will get some time with her friends and give me some quality time with Kathryn as well. We will keep looking for something else that is closer to home, but if we can't find anything, we will take Kathryn and Alex there after I go back to work in August. We are back to square one, but honestly, if square one means having a place where you know your child is safe and happy, then it's not a bad place to be.