We put our son in an in-home daycare because we couldn't afford a nanny. That's pretty much the beginning and end of how our child care decision was made.
Diana was only one of two providers we interviewed, although she made the choice quite easy. I originally called her after our neighborhood friends Dan and Mandy recommended her -- friends whose parenting style I admire and thus trusted -- but she was all booked up with kids, so we explored other options. I discovered, to my delight, a woman who ran an in-home daycare literally around the corner from us, so I called and set up an interview while I was about seven months pregnant.
The woman seemed nice enough, but in retrospect there were a few things that bothered me that I tried to push to the back of my mind because the convenience and cost were so tempting. She had a couple of small dogs running around (I love dogs but I don't know if I would trust them in a daycare, particularly with a busy provider.) The baby room looked a little bit like a depressing bedroom I stayed in once at the Jersey Shore: dark and just crammed with mattresses (well, in this case, Pack n' Plays.) I definitely smelled smoke -- two kinds, to be precise.
The around-the-corner woman's references were positive, but then she stopped returning my calls, which is one of my pet peeves in general, especially when it's about taking care of my baby. But, just when I started giving up, Diana called me: Dan and Mandy were moving and so she had a spot open. So Steve and I came to visit.
Diana runs the daycare out of her home, just like the around-the-corner woman did, so her place looks a bit like your house would if you had seven kids running around it for 40 hours a week (actually, probably a LOT better.) But she sat us down and very professionally gave us her paperwork, outlining her policies (no physical discipline, unannounced drop-bys are encouraged) and clearly showing her license. The other woman was licensed but her interview style was more along the lines of "Take a look around." Diana told us about her decades-long history of teaching and child care, showing us a class photo from when she was a teacher at a school that I used to live around the corner from. She emphasized how important she thinks play is as a learning tool. She told us that the babies are kept separate from the big kids, who want to play with the babies, and how she has an assistant so if she's ever sick the daycare will not be closed. She also informed us that we paid each week regardless of whether or not we brought the kid in and regardless of holidays. The woman at the other place said we would pay on a sliding scale, but by this point there was something reassuring about Diana's policy that we paid for our place whether or not we were there or not.
"She's the one, right?" I asked Steve after we left Diana's house. "I mean, does it seem as obvious to you?" He agreed. Diana was extremely professional. She seemed like she had a plan. It didn't hurt that the entire time we were there, parents came by to pick up their kids and said, "Are you planning on using Diana's Daycare? She's just the best." So I didn't even feel a need to call up any references because they happily volunteered their reviews. This is obviously not a measurement of performance, but she also had a happy, soothing accent that reminded me of my favorite priest from my childhood parish, who happened to marry us.
A few months after the baby was born we took him to meet Diana. The all-business side of her was gone as she unwrapped him like a present and rocked him for a good 20 minutes, murmuring, "Oh Paul. Oh Paul. Hi Paul." Her daughter wandered through. "You'll never get him back," she informed us with a smile.
The first few months he was in daycare we basically dropped Paul off and picked him up in his car seat, receiving little "report cards" on when he slept and how much he ate and his diaper production. My dad would stop by sometimes to see him and raved about how nice Diana was. When Paul was sick in the hospital, Diana called every day to ask how he was doing. When he got a bit bigger and Diana's granddaughter was staying with her, she'd set her and Paul up in the baby room at little "desks" because it was cute and funny. She made me a Mother's Day card with a cutout of a flower and a photo of his face in the middle of the flower and his hand print on it and it says "I Love You Mom" and it was just about the best thing ever.
A few weeks ago I took the baby to a restaurant we've been going to since he was a few weeks old. "Don't you feel a little bit guilty sending him off to daycare?" our usual waitress asked (I took it as an empathetic, not accusatory question.) Sure, I said -- maybe guilt isn't the right word, but I am sad in the mornings, because that's the baby's cutest, happiest time, when I need to put on makeup and eat a sensible breakfast and be on a schedule and leave. But at the same time, it's the best thing for both me and him. Staying at home with him would not be good for my work-mindset and staying at home with me, I don't think, would stimulate him in the way that he seems to enjoy.
I don't know if it turned out that Diana was the right choice for Paul or Paul became the way he is because of Diana, but man does he love it there. Whenever we drop him off his eyes light up when she opens the door. He's not content anymore to be sequestered from the big kids, but instead sits with them in their little circle and crawls around, stopping, though, when he reaches the kitchen, because she tells him to. "This boy!" she always marvels and laughs. "Always moving! So big! On the go! Life is good for this one!"
"He's so social," I said yesterday. "He just wants to see everything and meet everyone." "Who wouldn't like him?" Diana said and my heart swelled.
My former boss said something to me once while I was pregnant: "It's not a bad thing if a lot of people love your baby." I don't know if it's normal to feel validated if your daycare provider loves your kid but I do. I knew when I met her that Diana would be good for us -- I trust her as a human and as a caretaker (she strikes me as a "don't sweat the details" person which I like) but it means a lot to me that I think our son is a kid she likes. I don't know if she helped mold him that way or if that's the way he came, but it doesn't matter. Life is good for that one.