Sunday, January 17, 2010

Daycare

Whew. I think we found one, and the search proved much less stressful than I anticipated.

I really dreaded the daycare search, because of a few key fears: (1) I assumed all the "best" places must be booked, even six-and-a-half months in advance, (2) I was terrified to explore the cost, (3) I doubted any "good" daycares would handle cloth diapers, and (4) I was just completely unfamiliar with how daycares "work."

Well, after calling seven centers and two in-home providers, touring three centers and driving by another two centers, we're confident U-Gro is the right place for Shorty.

So how did we come to that decision?

Originally I thought I wanted in-home daycare for Shorty, primarily because it's cheaper. But then we realized he'll only need daycare two days a week once I return to work full-time (all the Grammas want to keep their babysitting days), so the cost wasn't as big a deal. And since he'll be in home settings three days anyway, I figure maybe a center -- with a group of kids his age and some semi-structured learning opportunities -- would be a good balance for the other two days.

So we toured three centers, all of which told me over the phone they would be happy to accommodate cloth diapers. The first one was just fine, and I'm sure we would have been perfectly happy with it, had we not then gone to U-Grow. (Which, incidentally, was exactly what Brian tried to get me to do Friday -- take "OK, this could work" as the best place for Cayden, and cancel the other two tours we had scheduled.) The woman who gave us the tour was a PSU grad (twice over) who had breastfed both her kids (3 years old and 15 months, I think), and she seemed very put-together. She obviously enjoyed her work, and she seemed knowledgeable about kids and daycare (then again, anyone who has more experience than me seems knowledgeable, at this point). So I liked her and her center. The only thing that bugged me about daycare #1 was that the room for the 12 - 18 monthers seemed small to me. And the carpets were a little dirty. Oh, and there was a TV going in the back room, although she assured me they only use it on Fridays, for limited amounts of time with some of the older kids.

On to U-Gro. First of all, the facility -- on my way to work and only five minutes from home -- is AMAZING. It's only four years old, its got lots of windows for light, it's very spacious and it just seemed spic-and-span clean. And it has a state-of-the-art HUGE indoor play yard (only one like it in the area), so the kids have a great place to burn off steam on days when the weather is crappy. Susan, the director, and her entire staff were dressed kind of like nurses (those colorful nurse shirts), and she just oozed professionalism and compassion. Kind of like another Grandma. We toured at lunchtime, so we got to see the Bears (1 year olds) eating lunch. That was fun, to imagine Shorty sitting at the group table, mashing peas and throwing ham cubes with the rest of the kiddos practicing their pincer grips. The Ducks (2 year olds) were also eating lunch, and we laughed out loud when Jill, the assistant director, explained that the catch-all Bibs that the Bears wear for lunch are no longer tolerated by Ducks, so Ducks simply eat lunch half naked. We looked in on a couple of shirtless buggers smiling and laughing at their lunch table. This center is very breastmilk friendly (really, friendly to any special diet requests), and they are flexible enough to let kids be kids. For example, the day's structure has one nap in it for the Bears, after lunch, but if a kid is tired some other time, he can certainly lay down off to the side for an additional snooze. And Susan is very practical when it comes to assessing illness in children (doesn't automatically kick a kid out for two days because of a booger in his nose), and she looks at biting and discipline as opportunities for teaching, learning and growing. And she has a frame of The First Kiss on her wall (we have it in our living room). After our tour and sit-down with Susan, I just felt like this was the place. But I had one more tour to take.

So Brian stayed home with Cayden while I went to daycare #3. Kind of the other end of the spectrum, for me. I wasn't a fan of the location (chain link fences around the playground), the rooms all seemed really dark, the director never asked me to sit down and, on more than one occasion, she referred me to the "parent handbook" for information to answer a question I had. As in, "well, that's in the parent handbook, but I guess I'll tell you." On top of those negatives, the infants and four year olds were being cared for by two different college kids, and the three year olds were being watched by a really overweight, "rough" looking older woman. And daycare #3 had these really strict requirements: Cayden couldn't be enrolled in the young toddler room unless he was completely off bottles, walking on his own and down to one nap a day, max. There was a 13-month old in the infant room when we toured, and this little bugger was crusing around holding on to things as he walked. But because he wasn't walking unassisted, he had to stay in the room with the babies. Just seemed sad to me. When I asked about bringing breastmilk, I was told that the staff cannot handle bodily fluids, so all bottles must be dropped off each day prepared. But in the same conversation, the director told me they'd keep a baggie of milk or two in the freezer for me, for growth spurts or spills. But wait a minute -- wouldn't that involve handling (pouring) of bodily fluids from the bag into the bottle? Oh well, I wasn't feeling this place, anyway. And then as I was getting ready to leave a scary looking older man came to the center, trying to pick up his grandson. The director didn't recognize him, and the kid's normal teacher was out that day, so there was something of an issue for Grandpa. So the fact that Grandpa looked scary compounded by the director's unfamiliarity with the guy who picks this kid up every Friday pretty much sealed the deal for me. No thank you, daycare #3.

So now we just have to get our enrollment application and $100 to Susan, and Cayden has a spot held for him, for later this summer. Of course no place is perfect, so there are a couple of downsides to U-Gro: First of all, the cost. It's $110 for two days, but I think it's worth the extra $15 a day, as compared to daycare #1. (Interestingly enough, the only daycare that totally skeeved me out was the most expensive one -- $117 or $123 for two days a week, depending on whether or not Chicken Wing was "qualified" for the young toddler room at enrollment). And U-Gro doesn't include any holiday weeks, so we have to pay the $110 52 weeks a year. Second quirky thing? They serve 2 percent milk to all the kiddos, rather than the whole milk I thought pediatricians recommend for 12 to 24 months. But I'll ask the pediatrician at Cayden's appointment later this month; if it's a big deal to Dr. Baker, I'll just provide Cayden's whole milk for the center.

So like I said, Whew. Glad that's over, and really glad we found a perfect fit for us. Come summertime, I'll start taking Cayden to U-Gro every now and then to hang out with his soon-to-be classmates and get used to the place.

Brian may have to drop him off the first couple of mornings, though. If I see what I saw at daycare #1 -- a little boy bawling his eyes out with the "second day blues" -- I will not make it to work, at least not with any eye makeup left on my eyes.

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