The Plot Thickens—and Thins

At Crunchier Than Thou Home Day Care, I recognized a kid that Ingrid and I were in an Early Childhood class with a year ago, so naturally that afternoon I called her mom to ask how they liked the place.

The news was not entirely positive. They feel the kids are safe and happy. But there apparently has been a lot of staff turnover. The recently-hired teacher is the third person who’s held that position since June. (One person apparently left for “personal” reasons, but still.) The reasons for the turnover (as this mom views them, anyway) are boring and don’t seem to have direct bearing on the quality of care. But the turnover itself is a concern to me. Transitions, you know. New people. People Ingrid doesn’t want to say hi to. Etc.

And today we went for a visit with the proprietors of the soon to be started Expensive Day Care, and I’m going to just use my newly tuned mama bear instincts, skip my customary waffling, and say it’s a no. The caregivers’ little boys (same age as Ingrid) spent the visit running back and forth across the room screeching. As the mom of a low-energy, sit for long periods doing fine motor tasks kind of kid, I am just barely able to recognize this as normal, allowable behavior for two and a half year olds. I’m sure it is normal, but I am equally sure that Ingrid isn’t going to thrive on being in a 20 x 30 room with it two days a week.

And also, never mind what I said about perhaps being able to afford a nanny. We can’t, unless someone comes along who would like to be paid way too little.

So, it’s Crunchier Than Thou or something else. I have a couple of other leads to look into. I am somewhat confident that something or other will work out.

The good news—the really, really good news— is that Ingrid seems to be pulling out of the funk she’s been in for so long. I don’t know if it’s the end of the nasty sinus infection, the 11-day distance from Chaotic Bilingual Day Care, turning some kind of corner in adjusting to Iris, or some combination of those, but she is silly and laughing and reading and interested in things and content in a way she hasn’t been in longer than I can remember. It makes me so happy. It’s like seeing the leaves grow back on the trees in the spring.


One Decision Down

We visitied the Crunchier-Than-Thou option this morning and I was favorably impressed. The children were seven or eight notches calmer than at CBDC. No one zoomed in on Iris right away or tried to puncture her eyeballs with their little preschool fingers. There were whole moments (like, four seconds or so) during the morning in which each of the six kids was engaged in some pretty quiet activity and there was actual silence in the room. The kids seemed palpably happier and more at ease than at CBDC. Ingrid was uncharacteristically comfortable, leaving my side unusually early in the visit to try out an assortment of rhythm instruments and dance around with a scarf. The teachers were on the floor with the kids a lot and actively intervening when brattiness broke out.

Then we went for a long walk outside, and Ingrid cried and whined for a good four blocks. Four blocks of two-year-old walking. It was my fault; I hadn't brought boots or snowpants and she was cold. But it was a tantrum of mounting proportions and reasons and was fairly horrible, and I was calm and upbeat and empathetic for 3.95 blocks of it, and then I had a really really awful moment where I growled into her ear You need to stop crying right now. The thought crossed my mind that my picky search for child care is moot because anyone anyone on earth could do a better job at taking care of this child than I can, and that perhaps the nice people at this green little day care would not even want to take care of my snotty, snivelling wreck of a child.

Having recovered, mostly, from that, I think Crunchier-Than-Thou might end up being a good place for Ingrid. The contrast with CBDC, at least, makes me certain we won't go back there.

My reservations have to do with her readiness to be in that sort of situation at all, rather than anything in particular about this place. The walking tantrum pushed my buttons especially hard because it got at the crux of it: she can be so needy. I mean, unlike the other six kids there today, she doesn't seem to be able to just keep her mittens on, enjoy the scenery, accept a pine cone that another kid offers without being weirdly afraid of it, and walk. She has gotten used to a lot of one-on-one, a lot of hand-holding, a lot of narrating every damn thing we do and being prepared beyond reason for every single transition or change in plans, and she is very seldom able to just roll with what comes. Sometimes I think I am babying her too much by considering these things and what she needs most is to get away from me a little, into a place where she can safely learn some of this stuff. Other times I think this is just how she is; she just needs more closeness right now than any day care can offer, and it's kind of rude and violent to think of leaving her someplace where she's one of a herd.

Since so many (both! Both of my readers! Thank you!) vouched for the nanny option, I should touch on that: A nanny—a good nanny—is probably my best-case, most favorite option for this moment. But there are complications. First, finding the perfect person. Not easy, not guaranteed. Second, looking aheadl. I want Ingrid to be in some sort of preschool-esque setting next fall. We cannot afford nanny plus preschool, period. So if we hired a nanny now, it would mean not only another transition for Ingrid (and transitions, as you can tell, are rough) in the fall, but also finding something new for Iris at that point. And the preschool-esque thing would likely not be actual preschool anyway because we need the day care, not just the education/socialization aspect of it, so what would happen in summer? Temporary nannies? Too many transitions. So it would likely need to be a day care with a preschool curriculum of some sort, so why not just start that now and skip the extra transition time.

The other nanny issue is embarrassing: Ingrid is so frustrating right now, I am a little bit afraid to leave her with an unsupervised individual who does not already know and love her. I am seriously afraid that they would beat her. I am humiliated that I can think and say that about my daughter, but there you go. I mentioned it to A the other day and he nodded and said, I think that's reasonable. And you should meet A; he is the most patient person I have ever known.

That is my thinking at the moment, and if you are still reading I thank you heartily and apologize for the bad mothering, long sentences, and scrambled logic.



Since starting at Chaotic Bilingual Day Care, Inc., Ingrid has learned:

  • to hit
  • to throw things
  • to sing two songs in Spanish
  • to correctly use the phrase Oh. My. God., complete with dramatic pauses between words
  • to hoard a pile of toys and say No! You can't play with these. They are mine!
  • to herd a pile of stuffed animals on and off the potty chair one by one, commanding, Vamanos! Vamanos!

Scenes I have witnessed in the course of a dozen drop-offs and pick-ups at Chaotic Bilingual Day Care, Inc.

  • Two kids taking turns hitting a boy who was cowering against the wall while the teacher was out of the room and the two teachers in the adjoining room who were supposed to be keeping an eye on things were not looking
  • A little girl crying and clutching her teddy bear for several minutes before anyone noticed or tried to comfort her
  • (Upon arriving to pick up Ingrid one day), Ingrid standing in the middle of the room looking bereft and fighting off tears while all adults were busy wiping fingers and cleaning up lunch messes

Reasons I think this isn't the best place for Ingrid

  • See above.
  • Very faint, if any, sense of rapport with the teacher.
  • 24 kids, three teachers.
  • Disturbed sleep and intense separation anxiety in all situations has lasted the whole six weeks she's been going there.

Reasons I question my gut feeling that we should find another place:

  • Maybe this is just what day care centers are like.
  • Maybe the separation anxiety and stressed-out demeanor are just what day care is going to be like for Ingrid anywhere.
  • Maybe my lack of rapport with the teacher is mostly a cultural/language thing that would get better as I got to know her.
  • Yesterday when I told Ingrid we were going to visit a new school, she asked, Will there be C (teacher at CBDC) there?.
  • Many other characteristics of this place that, in paper and on my head, make staying seem like a no-brainer: healthy food, fun programs, neat environment, and most of all the bilingual, super-multicultural nature of the place.

Alternative option 1: Crunchier-Than-Thou Home Day Care

  • Waldorf-y, with lots of open-ended craft stuff, cooking, gardening, and outdoor play.
  • Six to ten kids; two to three teachers.
  • 20% more expensive than (already stretching our budget) CBDC.
  • We are visiting there tomorrow morning.
  • They probably have a spot available on the days I need.

Alternative option 2: Expensive Start-Up Home Day Care

  • Being started in January by two women who each have a son Ingrid's age.
  • Caregivers have lots of child development education and experience with kids.
  • Six to ten kids; two caregivers.
  • Great rapport with caregiver on phone.
  • Not started yet, so impossible to see beforehand what the environment will be like.
  • 30% more expensive than CBDC.
  • Space is probably available.
  • We are meeting with the two caregivers on Friday.

Alternative option 3: Nanny

  • Would cost about the same as having both kids at CBDC, even if we use a referral service and pay the nanny on the books.
  • Super convenient.
  • Ingrid would miss out on the time with other kids, the time away from Iris, and the benefits of a (however minimal) curriculum.

Iris's care is a whole other issue. Neither of the home day care options take infants. Part time infant care is nearly impossible to find around here. Our current plan is to have her at CBDC in the infant room. She is on the waiting list at Bland Hospital-Attached Day Care with Awesome Ratios and at Fancy No Vacancy, Ever University Day Care.



One Year Ago

On the Monday before last Thanksgiving, we were a family of three. I steamed some broccoli for dinner, and I’d been looking forward to eating it, but as I chewed the first bite I realized I was hardly going to be able to swallow it. This yummy veggie was inexplicably making me gag.

Inexplicable only because I was a little dense. The previous week I’d had what seemed like my period, but it had never amounted to more than a trickle. (Damn PCOS, I thought.) I’d been thinking I needed new bras, because boy did my boobs hurt (Ingrid must be nursing more, I thought.) And the previous weekend I’d commandeered a trip to a burger place where I wolfed down a record quantity of the best fries I'd ever tasted. (I guess I’m just hungry.)

Trying to sleep that night after the broccoli, I started to see it: Gag reflex. Sore boobs. Intense food needs. Weird bleeding. Ahaaa!

I rolled out of bed at 2:30 a.m. to rummage through the bathroom cabinet for a leftover HPT. I found it, but I waited until morning to pee on it.

I kind of knew what I’d see. And I did, clear as day: that line.

The morning was rushed. It was a work day for me, and the babysitter got here and I didn’t say anything to A yet. It’s the biggest secret I’ve ever had. I was so rocked by it I couldn’t bear to give it to anyone else yet, not even him.

The car was in the shop and the bus was late, so I walked home from work that evening. It’s a long walk: 45 minutes if you’re fast. I remember the cold of the day, how my thighs and hands were burning when I arrived home, how strange everything looked. I remember standing on our front steps before I pulled the door open. Looking in at the glowing little world of our home, watching A feeding Ingrid dinner, knowing I was about to crack it all wide open into something new by bringing my body and my big, big news inside.

A and I had always hoped to be able to have a second child. To have that child flicker into our lives without any effort at all on our part—even if it happened a year or so sooner than we would have ideally planned—was a gift as magnificent as it was unexpected.

Happy birthday-of-sorts, little lovely one. I’m so glad you’re here.


In the Zone

Where have I been? Hitting my stride. In it. Being, really being, a mom of two. Taking care of meal after diaper after ear infection after spill after day care crisis after load after load of laundry (oh, and a few hours a week of “work”, as well), and being to far into it to say, let alone write, anything about it. In a good way. Consumed. Busy. Focused.


My days are numbered.

In the car yesterday, as I sneaked several bites of a Hershey bar with almonds while driving:

Ingrid: (blah blah, long story about something or other)...and someone was eating chocolate in the house ... (etc. etc., story goes on).

Me: (continue sneaking bites of chocolate)

Ingrid: What you eating, Mama?

Me: Mmm, nothing, just a grown up snack...

Isn't anyone working on developing odorless chocolate for addicts who don't want to pass bad habits on to their kids?


Sanity May Strike Without Warning

What I didn't mention is that in the face of all this rapid-fire sick emotionally distraught sensitive two-year-old madness, I myself am feeling unexpectedly, maybe unprecedentedly calm. Where two weeks ago I was close to responding to Ingrid's precise naptime water bottle positioning requirements by yelling I don't know what you mean, the past several days I've been weirdly patient. Waiting out her naptime shenanigans. Offering choices and meting out consequences without so much as a clenched jaw or curled toe.

It is unnatural. I would not be surprised if I learned that A has been lacing my morning Tazo with barbiturates.


Stream of Both And

It’s hard to sum up these days. Iris wore a lamb costume for Halloween, curly and soft and white, and Ingrid chose a chicken costume a month ago and talked about it to everyone she met, but she refused to wear the pants (even when Emmie offered to sing a song into them) or to put the hood up for more than a few seconds. She'd been all excited to wear it to music class and sing about being a chicken, but then would not put it on that morning, electing instead to carry two plastic eggs. We sang about her being a chicken, anyway. The day was a gauntlet of costume conflict and general unhappiness. She was so grumpy, trick-or-treating seemed out of the question. Then we lit five jack-o-lanterns from our bumper crop of pumpkins and we all stood quietly watching them flicker on the porch. Then we knocked on my brother-in-law's door and Ingrid chirped trick or treat like a pro, even though he was wearing a scary witch's hat, and the look on her face as she ate her first-ever Twix bar made me think, that's my girl.

We are using time outs now (“breaks”) because we don’t throw things no longer has any effect. She wants to wear underpants, wants, all of a sudden, to put them on herself, but she can’t quite pull them over her butt and she can’t quite make it to the potty in time and it makes her furious. Then she pees in the potty twice in one day and her whole body is proud. She gets frustrated to the point of fist-shaking trying to practice doing buttons and snaps and runs into the other room in a rage. Then, four hours later, she can fasten a button perfectly on the first try.

Iris is busting out of 9-month size clothes. Her cheeks have gone all Campbells Kid: plump and pink. Everone uses the word “pretty” for her, and she is. She rolled from her tummy to her back yesterday. She grabs things—toys, my hair, Ingrid’s.

Over the weekend we drove for five hours to stay at a lodge for three nights and attend our good friends’ wedding. Iris developed a scary, croupy cough that landed us in a tiny northwoods ER, where she spontaneously recovered and lay on the gurney cooing and grinning at the nurse and doctor.

A was the best man and I read a poem in the ceremony. Iris nursed until the second I handed her to my friend to head to the front. Ingrid was undone by the idea of sitting in a chair in the audience for two minutes, so she came with me and clung to my skirt, peeking out at the congregation while I read. I did not gaze thoughtfully at the happy faces of my dear friends as they promised beautiful things to each other; I was too occupied with making sure that neither child screamed too loudly and that my breasts were covered up by the time I appeared in front of the congregation.

Iris dandled happily in the Baby Bjorn for a good part of the weekend, grinning at people and becoming ever more proficient at sucking her hands. Ingrid was two children: overwhelmed by all the people and noise at the reception, cowering in fear and worry each time a kind grown-up approached to say hello and how cute are you. Losing all her bones and muscles over and over, overloaded. And then, in the quiet foyer, peaceful, imagining long dialogues with a stuffed moose and saying shy but composed hellos to the handful of wedding guests who wandered through. Overjoyed at a gift from the bride: a small plastic slinky. Beaming: I can take this to my home?

There was square dancing, and we all danced, Ingrid in A’s arms and Iris in mine, silly and carefree and all smiling at each other. For a couple of songs. And then I think the motion and commotion got to Ingrid; she started clinging to A, getting all weepy, and asking to leave.

On the way home in the car, while both girls slept, A and I talked about the shyness, the separation anxiety. We wondered if we’re asking too much of Ingrid right now: new baby sister, new school. We wondered if this school is a bad match for her: too many kids, too loud, too chaotic.

On one hand, I don’t like to be in a room full of people, friends or strangers. I do attend large parties when I have to, usually without lying on the floor crying, but it’s still not my favorite thing. Why should I expect Ingrid to like it? On the other hand, she’s got to learn, sometime, to be among a group of kids, even if it never becomes her favorite place to be. On still another hand, does she have to learn it just now? And then again, what are our other choices for child care? Not many. But maybe this is ok. Maybe it's just the transition and the potty and the buttons and the new life as a big sister and it will all shake itself out.

Then Ingrid woke up from her car nap all calm and started singing songs in Spanish, songs she must have learned from her four days at school, the last of them almost a week before.

She's at school now. She cried the whole time I was there with her. I was irked with the teacher for not giving Ingrid a warm greeting, but just talking to me, saying This is normal. It's ok. But then after I left the teacher went to her, wiped her nose, offered some ideas for play. I'm glad Tuesday is the Friday of her school week; we need a break and some time to think.