My daughter starts kindergarten on Monday, and while I was pretty adequately prepared for marching my baby girl off into the jaws of the public school system armed with a Frozen backpack, a sandwich, and Star Wars shoes that make lightsaber noises, I wasn't quite as ready to deal with the fact that our family kind of lost a member when she left her daycare.
In many ways, it was like breaking up with someone.
We knew we were going to have to use daycare from the moment we got pregnant. America still languishes behind the rest of the developed world in allowing women much paid time off for early childhood, and paternity leave? Don't make me laugh. That was how I used my "vacation" days the year my daughter was born (The previous year I got to use them while evacuated from Hurricane Ike, so yes, this is my pissy dig at capitalism).
So we went on the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services website and started looking through the licensed providers in various settings. That's how we met Pily, the woman who would for all intents and purposes be the third parent in our family from the time The Kid With One F was eight weeks old to just after she turned five.
That's a lot of time to spend every day with any kid.
It's so hard being away from your baby. I mean, it's hard being with them too because of all the poop and screaming and the utter disregard for sleep, but despite all that the separation pulls at you. No matter what, you feel like you've abandoned them a little.
That's why it's so important to find someone you can trust, get along with, and consider worthy to have a say in the development of your kid. Make no mistake, when someone spends half to three quarters of a child's awake hours with that kid during the week, a whole lot of their personal life philosophy and habits are going to be introduced. It's unavoidable.
We got very lucky in our choice of provider. Pily runs a small home daycare that never had more than four kids at any given time, and it allowed her ample time to work with my daughter and the others in very close quarters.
It didn't take long for us to see things that came from her in our daughter's actions at home. The kid developed an interest in karate from Pily because that was what Pily did at night. She made them little gis and taught them basic kata. She introduced them to the library (In my house Barnes and Noble is "the library" because we're book hoarders that don't like to give them back), and got them interested in summer reading programs. She encouraged my daughter's apparent interest in art long before I really noticed it.
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More than that, you learn to trust them with the bad things as well. When she called frightened one day because the kid had hit her head and was acting listless and not herself, we rushed right over to get her to the doctor. We knew Pily wasn't the sort of person who was easily worried, so we took her judgment as equal to our own. After all, she'd been around the kid for more than three years at that point.
She let us know when the kid was kind and when she was cruel, and we listened to her when she advised rewarding the former and correcting the latter. Likewise, when Pily's own methods were in opposition to our wishes, we sat down and communicated just as my wife and I would have done when there was a disagreement over childrearing.
It was a remarkable relationship, but now it's over.
Oh Pily's not cut out of the kid's life or anything. I've promised to take her to visit the first Friday so she can tell Pily all about her new school. More than that, I've told Pily she can ask for Katy any Saturday or Sunday she wishes, no different than my mom or sister-in-law. She's family.
That said, it's weird. It's very weird. Because of the nature of the country I live in, my wife and I had to pay another woman to be a professional parent alongside ourselves. Not a nanny or a servant. She helped raise my little girl, and she did a pretty damned good job of it. Then the day comes when you say, "Well, thank you for your services, but they will no longer be required. Say goodbye to Pily, sweetheart, and give her a big hug."
You see a kid five days a week for five whole years, and then she's gone. On an intellectual level I know it's just growing up and blah blah blah, but often times when I was pulling 80 hours a week Pily saw my daughter more than I ever did. I paid her, true, but paid or not it was special relationship.
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Now the kid's going to school. I'll lose a little more of her myself every year. There will go a piece to her new friends, and another to her activities. Some to books and pop idols and video games, and then to romance and cars and college and marriage and work and her own kids and...
I think I see why the idea of my daughter leaving Pily's Place is affecting me so hard. It's not just that I feel sorry for Pily not seeing the kid every day any more, or that I'm upset at losing a dedicated member of Team Peanut.
It's also that I'm watching a foreshadowing of the day it happens to me, too.