I was lucky enough to live and work in DC when my son was born. Why is that a lucky thing? Because of the access to chili cheese fries at Ben’s Chili Bowl! Okay no, that’s a joke. Well, not really. Those chili cheese fries are amazing. No, the really great thing about DC is the 16 week parental leave policy that I was able to access. I got to stay home with my boy until he was four months old, which was wonderful for both of us. But after that I returned to full time work and he started at daycare.
I actually loved our daycare experience. After the minor hiccup of putting him in a situation that didn’t meet our needs, we landed at a center near our house that was wonderful. Daycare became an integral part of the social fabric of all of our lives. The children and families we met there are still friends to this day. Even now, 5 years after C’s first day in a classroom with a little redheaded boy only two days younger, they are fast friends who can tear up a playroom in a single bound. Moreover, he learned wonderful things at daycare. I asked him today what he remembered from his “old school” and he told me about a game he played with Miss M where he named the colors for different objects.
Even though we’re not a daycare family any longer, I remember the days of pick-ups and drop-offs fondly. If you’re getting ready to start sending your baby to daycare, here are a few of my tips for making it work:
1. Think you have enough bottles? You don’t. Go triple your bottle supply. You want to have enough for the baby to have at daycare, enough for you to have at work if you’re pumping, and a day’s worth at home as well. You’ll be grateful to have the extras the first time you forget to run the dishwasher with the bottles in it one night.
2. Go buy Sharpies. Have a couple in the house and one in your bag at all times. You’ll need to label everything from packs of diapers to naptime lovies. Other moms have success with printed labels (I hear Mabel’s Labels are great!), but I always went with reliable old Sharpies.
3. Chances are, you’ll need to drop off a pack of diapers with your baby each week. I’ve always gotten diapers by the case using Amazon’s Subscribe and Save option. I love having diapers show up at my door without any thought on my part. It meant I was never running to the store after work on a Thursday because the teachers told me my son had gone through his supply faster than usual.
4. Get to know the teachers. These people are an integral part of your child’s daily life. Knowing them, who they are not merely what they do for your baby, is important. I’ll never forget the morning I walked in to a puffy eyed Miss A getting the classroom ready for the kids. She was an emotional mess because her oldest had just driven himself off to college for the first time. He was going to study engineering. I gave her a hug and congratulated her on such a huge milestone for her son. I was so glad I asked her why she was upset that morning because I loved being able to share a mother-to-mother moment like that.
5. Be the parent who brings donuts occasionally. It’s an easy way to show appreciation.
6. Daycare is your baby’s first social experience. Like I said before, my son is still tight with his daycare best buddy. Chat with other parents and drop off and pick up and set play dates with other kids. Not only will it foster friendships for you baby, it can lead to new friends for you!
7. You want to see daycare beyond drop off and pick up. It’s important to get a feel for what’s going on when parents aren’t around to see. Drop by for lunch or story time occasionally. If a daycare doesn’t allow this, think twice about sending your baby there. You want transparency. A daycare should have nothing to hide.
8. If you need to bring sheets or blankets for nap time, get duplicates of the kind you use at home. I’m a big proponent of consistency with sleep routines so I always had the same accessories at home and at daycare for my son. I also asked about the nap routines at daycare so I could use the same techniques at home.
9. Give yourself 20 extra minutes for pick up and drop off. Or 30. Yeah, 30. At least until you get the hang of everything. Being rushed to or from daycare is a terrible feeling so just set the alarm a little earlier and give your boss the heads up that you need to watch the clock.