Daycare is Our Village

February 23, 2011

It takes a village to raise a child, they say. I think they knew what they were talking about.

Sending the kids to daycare was never what I intended to do. No, I planned to keep them at home, like most other kids, while I went back to work. I had Shaba-aunty who I thought would be happy to look after them. She was already in charge of giving them lunch and putting them to bed for their afternoon nap. And if she couldn’t oblige, there was her sister, our cook, NJ. Both were women who’d worked with us a long time. They were trusted, dependable, sensible, honest, and clean. What more could anyone want?

As it turned out, neither of them could oblige – they both had too many other things to look after. So we reluctantly gave up on homecare and looked for a suitable daycare. I’m so glad we did. The truth is, one single, solitary nuclear family is too little for a child, even for two children, even for twins. I’m in no way advocating a joint family as the solution. I’ve seen what happens when our kids get thrown in with a bunch of family members. Discipline goes out the window. They think they can get away with murder and they can. There’s always someone who’ll take their side. And Mom and Dad become the only two who are at all interested in trying to impose some kind of discipline, some kind of schedule. We end up being the ones always trying to get things done. On time. Properly. And we – at least, I – end up screaming and losing my temper (and my mind) over it.

Don’t be under the impression that I often have to deal with this situation. It’s very rare. But it’s enough to give me a glimpse of how it could be.

Homecare that involves paid domestic help is better, because you, the employers, get to call the shots. It doesn’t mean that things will always be done the way you want them to be, but at least you can try. You can unplug the TV. You can ban chocolates and biscuits. Paid domestic help will not, presumably, spend too much of their hard-earned cash buying sweet things for their charges and thereby risk earning their employers’ wrath. The same cannot be said of grandparents. Or even uncles and aunts.

But homecare is essentially boring for kids, especially for kids of this age. Every day, day after day, it’s just the two kids and the one care giver. There’s just a small selection of games and activities that two kids and one adult can enjoy. There’s only a small selection of books and toys. Anyone would be bored after a week or two.

Daycare, on the other hand, is a good combination of the two strategies. We haven’t been able to completely eliminate TV and sweet nothings from the twins’ diet with daycare. But it’s not too much of either. And discipline is not an issue. There are several aunties who give the instructions, and they don’t brook any nonsense. There are more toys and activities than you’d normally have at home, and with so many children and adults around, the possibilities are infinite. Besides, unlike in a house, in daycare, every child is one of many and nobody gets excessive attention. This is good. The kids get to play together a lot with other kids of slightly varying ages. It teaches them to work out a lot of things on their own – taking turns, order, fairness, discipline. But there’s always help at hand should adult intervention or organization be required. Another wonderful thing about daycare is that, you don’t have to depend on just one person. With homecare, if your care giver calls in sick, goes out of town, or has any other reason for being unable to come, you’re stuck. With daycare, there are always helpers around. It doesn’t matter if one or even two of them are absent on any given day. Daycare goes on.

So daycare is sort of the village that raises our kids. And they’re doing a good job of it. When our girls went to Calcutta with Amit and without me for several days last week, by all accounts they were absolutely comfortable, self-assured, confident, and easy-going. It helps that they already know the people there, of course – but just to keep that in perspective, they are only four-and-a-half now and their last visit to Calcutta was more than a year ago, in December 2009. Still, they handled all the ups and downs of travel, the bor jatri (baraat – a five hour bus journey to Durgapur; overnight halt; and five-hour drive back), the festivities, the lots of new faces, new food, changes in meal and nap schedule, and everything else that goes along with such a trip – they handled it all with elan and without the slightest sign of missing mama.

In retrospect, putting the kids in daycare was the best thing to do. The time will come when we will have to take them out of daycare, as school hours get extended and the girls get involved in various classes and activities. But for as long as we have it, it’s a godsend. I wonder why I ever felt reluctant, unsure, or guilty about it?

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