Monday, March 09, 2009

Daycare Blues

So parenthood is amazing and stressful, but amazing. The problem is that I have no time.

Now, I used to hear parents--mostly mothers, let's face it--say they had no time, and I was skeptical. Really? No time at all? When I had no time, it was because I was managing my time badly. I had plenty of time. What I lacked was organization.

See? That's how stupid I was.

Then we had a baby. We still didn't lack time, really--what we lacked was 1. sleep. and 2. freedom to leave the house. Baby Maude slept a lot, ate a lot, and cried a lot.

But then she grew up.

Suddenly she smiles every morning when she wakes up. She smiles every time she looks at us. Her firm little round cheeks are red, red rosy red and you could just bite them. Her eyes are dark and deep and lovely. The symmetry of her face is breathtaking. And she will take up every waking minute of my day, or her other mom's day, or our day together.

The first sounds come crackling over the baby monitor at 6, or 7, or on a rare day, 8. Before 6 she has to go back in her bed after she nurses; after 6, she comes to bed with us and nurses and we pray, pray she falls back asleep for a bit.

Eventually she wakes up and starts kicking GF, and moving her arms, and making whiny sounds letting us know she is bored. We know, by the way. We are just ignoring it.

Then GF sighs and moves baby Maude away from her body, which has been getting pummeled. Sometimes I feel a little set of nails scratching insistently against my back. I roll over and see a little set of the darkest eyes. "Hello Maude," I said, and I kiss her. She doesn't stop smiling. GF then either 1. gets up to feed the cats and turn on the coffee, leaving me to play with Maude and eventually get up and change her, or 2. asks me to please, please get up with the baby so she can sleep in just a little more, or 3. gets up with the baby and lets me sleep. We kind of work out who is more desperate at the time.

Sometimes--glorious mornings!--Maude gets in bed at six or seven and sleeps TWO MORE HOURS, and everyone gets up together singing! Those days are the best.

Mornings can be fun. There is baby in the Johnny Jump Up bouncy chair, and coffee and the paper, and then oatmeal with some kind of fruity goodness mixed in for baby, and Greek yogurt or eggs for us, and playing on the floor with blocks and stuffed animals and little plastic colored bowls that stack up or snap together into spheres. Then there is eventual crabbiness (hers) and the nursing prelude to naptime, which can be anywhere from 10 to 1130.

Naptime lasts an hour if you are lucky, and longer if you are especially blessed, but it can also be a failure where certain persons decide they are not tired and are going to make birdlike sounds over the intercom for the duration while they heap stuffed animals on top of themselves in their crib.

When are you getting work done? You may ask. Ask away. The answer is, we're not. No time! She is going to be up in an hour, and one must bathe and dress, check email, make the bed, do the dishes, straighten up.

After naptime, if we are all home and no one has meetings or classes to teach, the best bet is Fun Family Errand Day, or the Zoo, or the Aquarium, or the Art Museum. GF got us memberships to all with her tax return, and they give us places to go with a little girl hungry for things to do. Usually, though, there are meetings and classes, so Fun Family things have to wait till Friday afternoons or Saturday. I am gone at school downstate Sunday night through Tuesday evening; GF teaches Tuesdays and Thursdays and often has Wednesday meetings; I get home late Tuesday nights and teach Thursday nights.

No time! Which is why, finally, we capitulated to daycare.

I feel very guilty about daycare. I am surprised by this. I imagined that daycare would be easy because I would resent the constant caretaking that comes with a baby, and so would hand the little one over to daycare with a sigh of relief. But the thing is, I like taking care of the baby. I like spending the morning with her and taking her on an adventure in the afternoon. The other day I put her in the backpack and we walked to the health food store to get vegetables. How crunchy granola is that? The sun was out and children were spilling out of their schools and Maude was fascinated and I was getting a little workout and all kinds of ladies were talking to us because Maude is so cute in her backpack, and it was a peaceable world, a world of gentle rhythms moving around the life of a child. I wasn't getting anything else done because after going home we would have to make dinner for us and dinner for Maude, and then we would feed Maude and give her a bath and GF would nurse her and then it would be time for her bed. And then GF and I would eat and maybe watch Rachel Maddow and think about work we might get done and then feel so tired. But it would be happy.

Also, we love our Tuesday babysitter, and Maude loves our Tuesday babysitter. The only problem is that the Tuesday babysitter costs 100 dollars for only one day, while daycare for three whole days is 150. And GF has a full-time career, and I am a full-time student teaching a course, so Tuesdays alone won't cut it. Did I say there was no time?

So daycare. Out of several options, including a kind of structured school-like one that sounded very attractive but is run by a woman who can't seem to ever call back (she has no time), we found a woman who babysits in her home and has taken care of other children we know. They love her so much they go back to sleep over even after they have started preschool. I can see why they love her, because Maude is fussy and tired when we go to visit this lady, so the lady decides to comfort Maude by feeding her a tangerine. She peels the tangerine, then takes off the inner skin around each section, extracting the sticky jewel of the pulp and offering her tiny bits of summer. It is thundering, raining, pouring outside the windows of her livingroom, which she has turned into a place for children to play by pushing all the sofas against the walls. There are bins of toys and stuffed animals. Maude seems puzzled about why we are there, and vaguely irritated, as if sensing something.

But it is only my imagination. This will be fine. The lady is Eastern European, maybe Russian, given to hugging and kissing Maude already and speaking to her sometimes, at the edges of her sentences, in a dark mellifluous language. She feeds Maude the tangerine bits, and tells us that she makes food for the other two children she cares for. She nods approvingly when we tell her Maude loves garlic. "Lots of garlic!" she promises, as we put our wet shoes back on and stumble down her stairs. The rain has stopped. I run to the car, happy to drive away with my little girl still with me, safe in the back.

GF and I talk about it, about the three days a week--Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday--that will help us get a handle on the end of my semester, the spring quarter of teaching and meetings, the summer bar study for me and research and writing for her. Three days a week! More time than we can imagine.

And yet. I know that we need to do this, but my heart breaks to think of the hours with her I will miss. There will be mornings lost, flavors tasted, other people teaching her things. I will see her after a day apart from me and her eyes will be filled with a life I don't know. We will be building an economic base for her, and careers for ourselves, but we will miss the differences, the startling beauty, of each morning and afternoon she is away, in someone else's house.

When she was really little we used to put her in a swing to soothe her to sleep. The swing stayed for months in our livingroom. There were fish at the top that used to go around, and a light that changed colors, and music that played New Age baby songs that for some reason she just adored. She would sit in that swing and smile up at the fish and make happy gurgly noises when the baby songs played. Eventually she got too big for the swing, and I had to put it away. I cried a little bit the day I unscrewed the legs to the swing and put it away in the basement, because putting it away meant she wasn't a newborn anymore or even an infant. Then I felt silly. Of course she was still a baby. She was just a bigger one. A big girl.

But still. I made a video of her in the swing once, the only time I taped her there, and I ran across it today when I was looking for something else. I watched it for fun, but before long I dissolved. She is still the same baby now as she was then, but now she is also more herself, older, with more of her own mind. Now she sits up, reaches for things, laughs, and grunts in response to the life around her. I like the person I see glimpses of when I am with her now--sensual, curious, shy, assertive. In the video, though, she is preserved as a tiny being, just beginning to find pleasure in the world. Smiling up at her fish, still too small to sit up by herself, she moves her arms and her head to the music, rocking in her little swing, safe and nearby, as she is safe in my house, totally herself but always and forever mine.

1 comment:

Elizabeth McClung said...

Maude is a fortunate girl to have such loving parents, and you two have a great bond. I am always a sap for great mother stories, and you tell yours with passion and the little details about the differences between the months and why parents miss the children so much. Thank you for sharing that and including me momentarily in that happy time. You and Maude (and GF) are (I don't want to use lucky), people I envy, people I want to babysit for!