An Unbearable Ache and an Unexpected Alphabet

I have highly mixed feelings about having my kids in daycare. On the one hand, it’s wonderful that they get a full day’s worth of attention, stimulation, exercize, education, social acclamation, and genuine care, every single day. It’s a great daycare, the kids love it, and we’re really lucky to have it available.
On the other hand, I can’t escape the fact that the majority of my kids’ waking hours are spent being taken care of by someone who’s not me or their mother. Our roles are reduced to mornings, evenings, and weekends. Like we’re sharing custody of our kids with the daycare teachers. When my first kid started being looked after by a nanny when he was a baby, I cried like a baby myself the night before out of the crushing guilt I felt for not being there to raise him all day myself.

It’s an economic reality, of course. If the math worked out differently, where one of us not working and staying home with the kids was more or less a wash with both of us working and keeping the kids in daycare, we might do that. Or if it worked out that one of us had a part-time job, and the kids were looked after only part of the week. But with the costs of living being what they are, there’s no escaping this arrangement until the kids are old enough to go to public school. And then it’s the school that’s got shared custody.

And even though I work from home, if you’ve had small children, there’s no getting anything done with two little kids around who need, well, everything. Having the kids stay home with me is not even close to being an option, at least until they’re old enough to more or less look after and amuse themselves with minimal supervision.

And look, even if we did have the kids to ourselves all the time, we couldn’t hope to provide the enrichment that this daycare does. They have the expertise, experience, and resources to make the kids’ days very fulfilling. We’d do our best, but they’d still be more or less stuck with mom or dad all the time.

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So anyway this is what got me thinking about this again: Today, out of nowhere, my 4-year-old boy starts writing down letters of the alphabet. Starts with A, gets down to G where he gets a little confused about which way it goes, manages H and I, and then gets similarly confused and then frustrated by J.

But I had no idea he could do this. A few months ago, he couldn’t color within the lines or draw, well, anything beyond a mash of scribbles (“it’s a storm!”). A few weeks ago, he started bringing home actual pictures of things that he’d drawn; firetrucks, houses, and members of his family. I was amazed by these, simply gushing over them.

And then today, he starts writing the alphabet, neatly, strictly within the lines of a piece of ruled paper. I don’t think he had any idea I’d be as blown away and proud as I was.

Would I have gotten him writing his alphabet if he were at home with me all day? I don’t know.

But he’s doing great. They both are. I miss them when they’re at daycare, and I hope my wife and I can get to the place where we don’t need to rely on it full time. Until then, my heart will still ache over relinquishing so much of their lives to others, but it won’t be an unbearable ache.

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