As we reach the end of 2014, we're closing the book on many things for another year, most notably childcare. Our last child has attended childcare for the very last time.
Over the past decade, between the ages of one and four, our children have been dropped off to carers for two days a week so my husband and I could work. On the days they loved going, they skipped in like Maria Von Trapp on an Austrian mountaintop. Then there were the other, more resistant days, when they huffed and puffed Oscar-the-Grouch style.
My daughter was the most reluctant to attend childcare. Thankfully, her best friend, Tom, was a great drawcard. As her giggle partner, her climbing companion, her mischief-making mate, he helped ease her in on those more reluctant mornings.
Being a working parent, life is always a juggle. The early days can pass you by in a fog: settling children into care, making mad dashes to offices or meetings, getting phone calls that a child has vomited and needs to be collected immediately. None of this chaos necessarily ceases when they start kinder and school, but there is something about those first days of returning to work and navigating childcare that feels like pandemonium.
What I'll miss about childcare
- Mess that someone else cleans up: I'm not the kind of crafty mum who lets my kids go wild with the glitter, glue, playdoh and paint. For the mess and the time it entertains them (five minutes for my lot), I haven't quite come around to liberating my children through art. This is what I love about childcare. They are set up for all things creative and potentially messy – they have all the gear, the space set aside, and yes, they clean up the chaos.
- Gourmet chef meals: Our childcare centre has an Italian chef. Yes, I know. It's actually just a centre in the 'burbs – nothing fancy about where I live, but the chef wanted standard working hours instead of late nights and he loves kids. Win-win for all of us. The fact that our children have come home reeking of garlic on their childcare days brings joy to my nostrils.
- New friends: Our children have mixed with children at childcare from all walks of life and from a diversity of locations. I love that they have made friends with kids outside our circle of friends and it has also drawn people to my life as an adult that I probably would have otherwise never met.
What I won't miss about childcare
- Endless germs: No matter how clean the centre, how diligent the staff, these are kids. Kids have germs. They touch each other, they sneeze all over each other, they lick windows (maybe that's just our kids?) and they probably lick each other. It's nigh on impossible to stop the spread of germs. We reasoned those first few years were building the inventory of their immunity but we sure won't miss the gastro, the fluorescent green snotty noses, the strange rashes that we kept rushing the child off to the doctor pointing at a red spot saying "Is this chicken pox?" but never was. We will be thankful however, that they contracted many of the germs in the early days so once they get to kinder and school, they rarely have a sick day.
- Fees: Childcare workers get paid peanuts and let's face it, if you break the daily fee down to an hourly rate, then it's actually very cheap care. Unfortunately when you work in the freelance writing industry with sporadic work, but need to keep the childcare place in case you get an influx of writing projects, then the fees can be difficult to cover some weeks. Add an extra child into the mix and all of a sudden your salary needs to be more impressive than a childcare employee's for you to actually bring home some change from the weekly care bill.
- "But I don't want to go today": We certainly won't miss the "Am I home with you today, Mummy?" and the subsequent groans and pleas not to go. We were lucky to predominately escape the routine resistance but on the days our children rejected childcare (and sometimes cried as we left) we felt mean. We wondered what impact it would have on their growth and development. We overthought it.
On reflection, to entrust someone else with our children, someone who doesn't know them and all their quirks, someone who doesn't love them like we do, is difficult.
If our babies cried as we left, it tore a tiny piece of our hearts out and shattered it into four trillion pieces.
We questioned if we were doing the right thing for our children.
We needn't have worried.
Our children were taken in by loving staff who nurtured them, cared for them, and helped them blossom from little people into bigger ones. It is now time to move on to the next phase of our lives.
So to all the childcare workers, ones I know and ones I don't, we wholeheartedly thank you.