Category Archives: daycare

I Miss the Brown Baby

Ever since Nora was born, I’ve been trying to give her a “lovey,” a blanket or bear or something for her to hold onto for comfort. Something that isn’t her thumb or my hair. My many attempts at choosing the comfort object have failed, however, and she prefers body parts to material objects in moments of discomfort.

Except at daycare.

At daycare she has a lovey – a “brown” baby. She gets in the car each morning, bright eyed and bushy tailed, ready to go and play with her friends and her doll. When I ask what she is going to do at school, she says, “play with the brown baby.” When I put her down on the floor of her classroom, she heads straight for the shelf where the brown baby resides overnight, picking her up and throwing her over her shoulder, where I imagine she spends the better part of the day. When we get back in the car in the afternoon, and I ask her what fun things she did that day while I was away teaching writing and literature, she says she played with her “brown baby.”

On Friday the brown baby took a trip to the washing machine. The teacher came and told Nora she was going to wash her and that she would be back on the shelf after nap time. When the teacher returned to the room after starting the laundry, Nora cuddled up close to her, “I miss the brown baby,” she said. Rubbing the teacher’s arm, Nora observed: “You’re brown.”

“Yes, I am,” said the teacher. And she sat there for a while to comfort Nora in the absence of her favorite baby.

When Miss R relayed this to me later in the afternoon, we both laughed. Nora is the kind of toddler who says what she thinks. She observed that Miss R and her daughter in Nora’s class are the the same color as her favorite baby.

As Miss R told me this story Friday afternoon, I began to wonder how Nora’s generation will “see” race. I grew up partly in a rather diverse city (and then in a completely homogeneous suburb), but I don’t remember it being as diverse as Nora’s world. I hope that a child who grows up with African-American teachers, an African-American doctor, African-American friends and a love for a special brown baby will not really even see race or color later on, that it will always be as simple and true as what she said innocently to Miss R on Friday. I hope that not only for Nora, but for all the toddlers who are growing up right now in an even more connected and tolerant age.

And because I don’t want Nora to miss her brown baby in two weeks when she isn’t at school each day, and because I am still on the quest to give Nora a comfort object at home, we went to Target today to buy our own brown baby. Nora carted her everywhere around the house and to my parents for dinner. She named her Big Sweetie.

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Working Mom Paradox

If I wasn’t a working mom I wouldn’t get anything for Mother’s day. I wouldn’t receive an orange bird house painted by Nora, signed and dated on the bottom by a teacher. I wouldn’t get to go outside and feed the birds with my sweet and curious toddler because I would never have made myself a bird house.

If I wasn’t a working mom I wouldn’t be called Ms. Dille all day and come home to be called Miss Mama by toddler who is used to addressing all the women in her life with the polite prefix.

If I wasn’t a working mom I wouldn’t storm around the hallways of school, stressed out by some insignificant detail of the day only to be stopped in my tracks and forced to smile because I see a Roly Poly on the ground in front of me. Before Nora I would have ignored the Roly Poly or perhaps had an English teacher flashback to the passage in To Kill A Mockingbird where Jem asks Scout to spare the poor bug about to meet the bottom of her shoe. But now, as a working mom, I no longer see a Roly Poly as a literary symbol of innocence, but as a real life reminder of how happy one small bug can make a small child. And how that “thing” that I let stress me out during the hours of 8-4, doesn’t matter so much when I’m out searching under rocks for little bugs that roll up into balls – an effective  protective mechanism for curious toddler hands.

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Saying Grace

I wouldn’t say I’m religious; I’m not the type to say grace before a meal or cite Biblical stories for any purpose other than explaining literary allusions. I grew up going to Catholic Church, but sometime after the Bishop gave a ridiculous speech at my confirmation about R movies being corrosive to the spirit, I gave up trying to find relevance between myself and the Church’s beliefs.

Ken and I never had any deep discussions about how we would raise Nora in terms of religion. I guess we both assumed that we would let her learn about faith and religion on her own and choose for herself what she believes and wishes to practice. I never really thought that talking about God and saying Amen would become a routine part of her toddler life. As part of the ritual each day at her Methodist daycare the students and teachers recite grace before both morning and afternoon snack and before lunch. Three times a day Nora folds her hands together and recites a prayer.

This weekend I bought Nora a new baby doll, one with hands that appear folded, fist-like. When we got in the car after purchasing her, I asked Nora what she wanted to name her new doll. I may be mistaken, but I swear she said “Grace.” I didn’t believe my ears, since I didn’t really think she even knew that word, let alone that it is a name. But when I looked back at her holding her doll, she had the hands pushed together, like they were praying, and she was reciting, “God is Good. God is Great. And we thank Him for our food.” Maybe she really did say Grace. (When I asked her again later about the name she replied that her new baby was “Sweetie.” A more fitting sister name to “Honey” and “Fancy Fancy.”) Grace is a part of her life and routine that I didn’t plan and that I don’t often think about.

Tonight, on the changing table as Ken wiggled her into her PJs, Nora folded her hands and yelled, “GOD IS GREAT!” She explained that she “likes to say it loud,” and repeated, “GOD IS GREAT!” again. Ken asked her if that was how she said it at school. I got a comical mental image of her screaming the prayer while all the other pious children bowed their heads and recited the grace angelically. “No,” she said, “I say it quiet.” She then proceeded to say the entire grace quietly. Ken told her she should slow down and teach him. She didn’t comply and the moment passed.

One day I’m sure Nora will ask who and what this great God is. I’m not sure even religious parents have ready an easy answer to that question; but, as a non-religious one I’m not sure exactly where I would start that conversation. I have a while yet to ponder that one, though. For now God is a part of a rhyme that she says over food.

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Letter To A Friend At the End of Maternity Leave

My friend Cara wrote to me this weekend about returning to work this Friday. She is a teacher too and was wondering how she can leave her adorable daughter, Posey, for a classroom of teenagers. This is what I wrote to her:

Friday will be one of the hardest days of your life. I’m not going to lie. It will be like middle school, when you first fell in love and you couldn’t think of anything else and when the teacher called on you, you accidentally responded with his name. Kids will ask you questions about math and you will respond with, “Posey should be napping right now.” There may be a few times during the day when you want to cry (if you’re a crier like me, at least). That’s okay. Wait until you aren’t in front of kids and then let it out. It doesn’t fix it, but it makes you feel better. You can come get a hug and cry with me whenever you’d like.

And it will be like that for a little while. You will ache for her all day. You will run out of school with the bell and go home and grab your bundle of baby fat and hold her tight. And she will give you the best snuggles and smiles and try to let you know in all her adorable baby ways that she will be okay. That’s the hardest part at first, she can’t tell you she’s okay. But she is.

You will feel like you are in some cruel time-warp where you have to merge your pre-baby working self with your totally redefined mom-self. It will feel strange to stand on the supposedly familiar ground of your classroom. You will wonder how you can possibly be good at both jobs at the same time. You will wonder if you will ever find any pleasure at work again. You will wonder how you can possibly be more tired than you were in those initial sleep-deprived days.

The good news is that the initial aching and obsessing about what you are leaving at home will end (probably just in time for summer). You will slowly realize that you are an excellent mother even though you leave her side each day. Some days you might even think that it makes you a better mother. You will notice how she smiles at you all the time, how she wiggles or crawls or runs right over to you when you walk in the door. You won’t doubt that she loves you any less because you work. You will go home and treasure every moment you have with her instead of wishing that you could at least get a few moments of peace in the bathroom. That is one of the benefits of being a working mom. You get to pee all by yourself.

Summer will end and you will have to go through all of this again. And it will hurt, almost as much but not quite. You will mourn the end of summer like you haven’t ever done before. You will walk into that room of other people’s children and wonder for a while what your own is doing. But you will find a balance that works for you. You will realize that being a mom makes you a better teacher even though you can’t dedicate yourself in quite the same way anymore. You will realize that being a teacher makes you a better mom in the lens that it provides you with. You will redefine yourself as a working mom. You will find a routine that helps you and your family to thrive.

And when you make it through that whole first year of working, and you look back at how hard it was and how you figured it all out, you will be proud of yourself. That alone is a huge accomplishment.

And maybe, when Posey is two, and you are still wondering if you working is working for her, she will wake up one Saturday morning, like Nora did this past weekend, and say, “I’m ready for school!”

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Filed under daycare, fears, going back to work, worries

Karma Bites

When Ken and I got engaged and my mother-in-law knew she could unleash the embarrassing stories without scaring me away, she told me that Ken was a biter. He doesn’t remember biting anyone – except maybe his brother – but according to the legend, he had to be threatened with humiliation before he stopped the biting. His mother warned that if he didn’t cease his biting habit before kindergarten, he would have to wear a sign that said, “I’m a biter.” I’m not sure any other kindergarteners would have been able to read it, but I guess Ken didn’t figure that out. He stopped and avoided the shameful label.

Today Nora came home with her second bruising bite in two weeks. I signed another incident report that detailed a child biting her while they were playing with the new kitchen set they got in their classroom this week. The daycare cannot, of course, tell me who the biter is, but Nora can. It was the same child that bit her last Monday.

Nora bit a girl last year about this time. They were both starting to really figure out the walking thing and they were caught in the corner behind the cribs in the infant room, so the incident report stated. I theorized, jokingly, at the time that Nora had truly bitten her because they were wearing the same dress that day and Nora’s inner fashionista was already emerging.Today, upon seeing the teeth marks for the second time, I had trouble finding anything to joke about.

I guess falling prey to the biter in the room is yet another risk of daycare. And maybe it’s a bit of sharp and slobbery karma coming back to visit Ken.

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Parent-Teacher

Nora must nap in order for anyone in this house to maintain a level of sanity into the early evening hours. I knew this. I didn’t need to be reminded of it. But, nonetheless, I was.

On Friday Nora didn’t nap at school. She was a giant puddle of mess by the time dinner rolled around – and we still had a while to survive until her nebulizer was done and she was bathed and dressed in her pajamas and placed into her crib.

I have, for two years now, theorized about Nora’s many nap phases – no napping in the crib (I’ve given up on that one), occasional refusal to nap for me when she’ll fall asleep in two minutes for Ken, sickness induced car napping – but she’s rarely refused to take a nap at all. This time I also had my theories. And while one of them rests in her whitening gums where her molars will soon poke through, and one of them rests with the fact that she’s two and wants to do everything her way (see photo of nebulizing on the potty. You’ll notice she also dressed herself…), my biggest theory rested with Miss T. the mean you’re-getting-an-owie-so-stop-sucking-your-thumb-teacher.

I was mad. Nora hadn’t sucked her thumb in two days. She woke up screaming throughout the night on Thursday, much more than she has in recent memory. She was just on edge. I could tell.

I’m a teacher. I talk to parents almost daily about their student’s grades, their homework assignments, their successes and their failures. I had never before, however, been the parent wanting to talk to the teacher.

I am also REALLY bad at confrontation. I even pondered writing a note to the director instead of telling her my frustration with Miss T. Maybe I should just print out my thumb-sucking post, I thought. Maybe I should write the teacher a note to tell her how I felt. I’ve always written my confrontations, my frustations. But I knew that wouldn’t work this time. How would I feel if some mom forwarded me her blog post and expected me to respond?

So this morning I dropped Nora off, worried that it would be another no-nap day. The director was helping in Nora’s classroom and Nora’s favorite teacher was back from being sick last week. I told the director quietly – I feel weird talking about this in front of Nora since I know she understands everything I say – and told her I hoped today would be better, that no one would say anything about her thumb, which I had coaxed and comforted her back into sucking. She listened and I left.

All day I worried about Nora. I glanced at the clock throughout my fifth period wondering if she was napping or roaming mischievously around the room as Miss T had said she did on Friday. I wondered if my quiet conversation this morning had been enough. I didn’t feel like it had. I didn’t feel like I had really said what I wanted to say. I understood why sometimes parents just called and complained to me about assignments or grading policies or my perceived mistreatment of their child. I hoped that my apologies had seemed sincere, that I had made them feel listened to, that I had assured them I’d fix the problem.

Nora had napped. I picked her up and was about to forget about the whole thing, avoid real confrontation again, when Miss T made her usual snide comment about Nora not saying bye to her. She shouldn’t have done that.

I carried Nora into the director’s office and told her that I was frustrated with Miss T, that it had been her fault that Nora was so on edge last week. I felt proud of my voicing my frustration and, in the next breath, worried that I had caused conflict. But the director knew. She said, “I could tell this morning exactly what you meant. I dealt with it right away.”And I breathed a huge sigh of relief.

In the years to come I will have to be the parent-teacher many times. I will have many teachers to meet and talk to, and hopefully only one or two that I have to confront. I hope this time was the hardest. And I also hope that the next time my classroom phone rings, or a reluctant parent knocks on my door, I will listen to them with compassion and help them to breathe the sigh of relief I felt today – relying on the two sides of who I am – the parent and the teacher.

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Filed under daycare, naptime, worries

Thumb-Sucking

“Does that thumb taste good?”

“How’s that thumb?”

Nora is a thumb-sucker. If I had a dollar for every time someone asked her about her thumb, I would be a rich woman. Last summer, my first toddler summer, I heard these questions way too often. I started to fret about what 12 step program Nora would need to enroll in to break her of this addiction. Visions of one of my outcast 9th grade student who still snuck a suck when she thought no one was looking haunted me. I worried Nora would become that kind of “freak.”

I’d share my concerns with friends and family, who in return would confess their own thumb-sucking addictions. When you are 30 it never occurs to you that your peers could have been hooked on sucking on that squat digit, but it’s true. I know many recovered thumb-suckers.

“My parents told me when I was four that I was getting a wart. I stopped.”

“My mom just told me it wasn’t allowed at school before kindergarten started. I didn’t want to get in trouble.”

“My mom promised me I could get my ears pierced before my older sister if I stopped.”

Not one of these women still sucks her thumb. All of them are successful, well-adjusted individuals. I stopped worrying about Nora becoming a freak and started to wonder when and what I would say, lie, bribe to get her to stop. Some day.

On Monday I picked Nora up from daycare and she walked over to me, thumb held out for show, and told me she had an “owie.” “What did you do?” I asked. And that’s when Miss T stole my parenting thunder – a risk of sending your child to daycare – and said, “I told her she was getting an owie from sucking her thumb too much.”

I hadn’t given Nora’s addiction much thought, honestly, since the summer ended many months ago. At home she rarely sucks her thumb, always too busy with play-dough, dress-up and stickers. She pops her thumb in her mouth to sleep, and when she is tired, cranky or bored in the car, but it doesn’t bother me in the same way that it did last summer.

But it bothers Miss T and it began, apparently, to bother Nora. In the car on the way home Monday she talked incessantly of her owie. She requested permission to put her thumb in her mouth at bedtime. On the way back to school the next morning, I watched in the rearview mirror as Nora put the tip of her thumb up to her lips, worrying about letting it slip further. She whined; I gave her a pouch with a zipper on it to keep her occupied.

She ran into the room at school, announcing to Miss L that she had an owie, but wanted to suck her thumb. Miss L gave Nora a big bear hug and said it was okay with her if she sucked her thumb. With that giant hug, a giant weight was lifted off both Nora and me. We weren’t ready yet, either of us, to face this change.

I had to remind Nora in the car again, as her whining gained strength, that it was fine if she sucked her thumb. She was pulling at her ponytails, her other self-soothing technique, but it clearly wasn’t working. She requested some medicine for her callous, her owie, last night, and we rubbed it in together.

In the car this morning, I glanced again in my rearview mirror. She sure enough had that thumb lodged happily between her lips. “How’s your thumb?” I asked.

“All better,” she said.

One day, in the not too distant future, she will have to stop. One day we will both be ready. But for now, I stole my parenting thunder back from Miss T. Nora and I will get to decide what the habit-breaking lie will be. And when it is told.

What is your thumb-sucking story? When and why did you stop? How did you get your child to stop sucking his/her thumb? Help me brainstorm my plan.

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