When you go back to work after a maternity leave and need to put your little one in some sort of care you do a lot of research. There are a lot of choices out there for childcare. Family, home care, childcare centre, nursery school, Montessori, etc. Our choices were kind of limited since we had no family in the area, there were no licensed home cares in our town and Liam was too young for nursery schools or Montessori, so I looked into daycares. I researched and toured 5 daycare centres before I chose one.
My mother in law used to run a chain of daycares and so when I was doing
my research I asked her what I should look for and her advice was as
simple as it was true: Listen to your heart and choose the one that you are
most comfortable with. Leaving your child is incredibly difficult, so you want a place where you can feel confident knowing he is safe and loved. See the environment. Speak with the teachers. Get a feel for the the place. She was right on. Touring the different daycares I saw a wide variety of environments, but some included miserable teachers, crying kids, locked outside doors left open, vacant stares and horrible menus. My gut told me to get the hell out of there, never mind leave my kid with them.
I finally found a wonderful centre and Liam was enrolled into the infant program when he was 12 months and stayed in that room until he was 15 months when they moved him up to the toddler room. He (and I) loved both the infant room and the toddler room. The teachers were lovely, the kids were cute and hilarious and kind. They all loved our Liam, he was a star (all daycares should make you feel like your kid is a star!). They didn't bat an eyelash when I said we were cloth diaperers. They had a healthy multicultural menu that reflected their population. They sent home ADORABLE crafts. They helped Liam make a gift for my hubby's birthday. So caring! They greeted him with hugs every morning! He would run to them and then to the toys and not even look back to see if I was still there. I would yell "Bye Liam! Bye Liam! BYE!....LIAM! Over here! BYE!" He had little girlfriends. So cute! We loved that daycare for over a year. Until they moved him up to the preschool room. That was a disaster.
The preschool room was for kids aged 3-6. Liam was not even 2 and a half when they thought he was ready to be moved up. We were flattered that they thought our little peanut was so advanced he could play with the big kids! He does have very good language skills, but he was just over 2 years old and he was (and still is) TINY for his age. Super duper tiny. He was maybe 24lbs at the time and moved to a class where there were giant 6 year olds with (I discovered later) behavioural issues. Also, the student to teacher ratio changes from 1 teacher for every 5 kids in the toddler room to 1 teacher for every 8 kids in the preschool room. So now, there were more kids, they were bigger and there were less eyes watching them. I didn't tour or research the pre-school room. I really should have. Turns out it would not have passed my 'comfort' test.
The result of his visit to the pre-school room on Day 1 was a bite to the forehead. Who the hell bites a forehead? I brushed it off as first day roughhousing, my Liam is no angel and perhaps he had pissed someone off. There were bruises and bumps, likely from the giant play equipment, but a bite on the back of the shoulder the following week was concerning. I mentioned it to the teacher and since they said they hadn't seen it happen they couldn't do anything about it. Uh, ok. The teachers encouraged us to begin potty training since Liam was in the big boy room now. We were excited about it! We brought in big boy underpants and changes of clothes. He would have good days and bad, but overall was making progress. One day there were some shoes in a bag in his cubby so I brought them home assuming they were muddy and threw them in our laundry room. The next day a teacher informed me that yesterday morning they were asking Liam if he was farting because he smelled stinky and discovered at lunchtime that he had poop on the bottom of his shoes. So, first, the shoes in my laundry room are full of shit? Someone could have mentioned that yesterday? Second, he walked around with shitty shoes in the classroom for an entire morning? Who's shit was it? Dog shit? Other kids shit? His own shit? Did he touch it? Why did it take you ALL morning to figure this out? I've previously mentioned my tolerance for poop mess. I was pissed. After just three weeks in this room we began looking at enrolling Liam into another school.
At this same time our daughter was still hospitalized in the NICU so my stress level was through the roof. If I could get through a day without crying it was a good day. I just needed someone to take good care of my son so I could go to the hospital and sit next to my very sick daughter. What happened to the school I knew and loved? We were in a very different classroom now and I wanted to take the teachers from the toddler room and transplant them to the preschool room.
The last day turned out to be a Thursday. When I dropped him off in the morning we were walking across the classroom together and a big kid ran by and shoved Liam to the ground making him cry. The teacher, not getting up from the couch, merely said "Awwww don't do that...". If this was how this kid and this teacher behaved when I was standing RIGHT NEXT to my child, what did they do when I wasn't around? I did not want to leave him that day, but I had to since I needed to get to Adeleine at the hospital (we were attempting to breastfeed for the first time that morning). When I picked Liam up in the afternoon the kids were all outside. Right away the teacher ran up to me and said that Liam had peed his pants. I looked across the lawn and saw that he was running around on a chilly October day with wet pants. So, she had time to walk over to me and inform me that my son was running around in pee pants, but no time at all to change him into dry ones? Again, I was pissed. I went over to the sign-out book and found that there was an "incident report" that stated he had received some scratches. I asked his teacher about it and she said that Liam told her a big kid had scratched him, but her tone of voice implied that Liam was lying about it, because again, she didn't see it happen. I ran over to Liam and saw two bloody scratches across his cheeks, and to this day, a year later, he still has a line of broken blood vessels across his cheek to show for it. I scooped him up, brought him inside, changed his pants, cleaned out his cubby and informed the daycare manager that we would not be returning because of all the incidents outlined above and the fact that this was just not a safe environment for him to be in. And by 'informed' I mean I cried and blubbered and yelled. I totally lost it. I stormed out. Friday Liam stayed home with Mommy. Monday he started in a new school. A Montessori school. I am happy to say, that putting him in Montessori was a wonderful conclusion to what began as a horrible preschool experience.
When I visited the Montessori school that Thursday night, I asked a lot of questions about how they handled incidents like bites, scratches, pushing, hitting, fighting, etc. They looked at me wide eyed and said that type of behaviour simply doesn't happen here. When conflicts arise, the teachers address it right away, the children are accountable for their actions and they would work it out together at the peace table. The PEACE TABLE! It was amazing. Liam was put back in a toddler room (kids 18m to 3years old) with 5 teachers for 20 kids. Wonderful ratio. There were zero incidents in 8 months in the toddler room. He thrived. He was happy. He was safe. That's all I wanted. But with Montessori we got so much more. I'll write all about the differences between a regular daycare and a Montessori school later.
Adeleine is a year now. I'm going back to work again. She's too young for Montessori right now, so until then, she'll be in a lovely daycare. I'm nervous. I'm excited. I'm scared. She'll love it, I know. A room full of new toys everyday and new little friends. Another ending and new beginning. Here we go!