Go with your gut

02.09.12 Choosing the right day care is part research and part instinct.


Instead of putting my name on a day-care wait list while pregnant, I was working—and hoping my son would stay put until I finished “just this one last thing.” I had deadlines to hit before I took maternity leave, directions to write up for my replacement and an additional book project to finish. I worked overtime and weekends right up until I gave birth on a Monday.

Cut to six weeks into new motherhood: I realized that I had to go back to work six weeks from right now and my son needed someone to take care of him. My husband and I had never seriously considered a nanny. It was just too expensive. So, day care it was. I was smitten with the idea of my son being “socialized” from an early age and I wanted him to be close to my office so I could pop in and nurse him if I wanted. And, of course, the environment had to be safe and clean and staffed by loving and overly attentive caretakers who doted on my son.

My criteria limited our search to four facilities: One home-based daycare and three day-care centers. The home-based one didn’t have any openings and the first center had an eight-month waiting list. Strike one and two. But, the last two centers had openings in their baby rooms in six weeks! Our first tour started with a meeting with the director. I liked her immediately—she answered my list of 42 questions with confidence and ease, complimented our son’s name and told us about the Friday movie nights: the kids stayed “late” to watch a movie in the common room so the parents could go out. A childfree night out? My husband and I were in!

She then took us on a tour of the facility. The baby room was small. Really small. I realize that 3-month-olds don’t really go anywhere, but even so, the tiny space didn’t give them an opportunity to explore much of anything. For the rest of the tour I started to see only negatives: That teacher looked mean; this paint job looks shabby; those child-size tables and chairs look flimsy. By the time we left, I had a sick feeling in my stomach and all I could think was, “I cannot leave my baby there. What if I can’t leave my baby anywhere?”

At the second center, we walked around the facility chatting with the director. When we got the baby room, I was relieved to see so much space: There was a play area, a separate area for eating and a third area just for sleeping. They also had an extra room that held loads of toys (they rotated toys daily!) and a comfy rocker for nursing (I could breastfeed whenever I wanted!). Plus, the whole space was clean (there was a no-shoes-inside policy!) and the front play area had a big window with a view of the trees outside. When I was in that space I felt like I could do it—I could drop off my son and be OK. And, fingers crossed, he would be OK, too.

My son “graduated” from the baby room when he turned 1, and about a year later we ran into one of my favorite women from his first year at day care. She leaned down and called his name and opened her arms for a hug. He seemed a little tentative at first, but then he walked over and leaned in and gave her a really, really, really long hug. One that said, “I do remember you and thanks for taking care of me and thanks for swaddling me and thanks for warming my mom’s breast milk for me and thanks for propping me up in the little seat at the table with the rest of the babies so I could eat mashed sweet potatoes and thanks for encouraging me to crawl and thanks for telling my mom about my first tooth and thanks for all the hugs.” Or, at least, that’s what I hoped that hug was saying because as I watched him holding on tight, that’s exactly what I was thinking.

How did you decide what kind of day care was right for you?