Daycare Blues

December 4, 2009

Today I left my daughters at day care and walked away.

Walked away, because I had gone with them in the school van, and, having dropped them there, I now had to find means to get home.

Tara still tugs at me when I drop them, and says, “No, don’t go,” in a piteous and desperate manner.

I go anyway.

It feels cruel. I don’t know how she feels. The teacher there says she is fine as soon as I leave. I hope she is. I don’t know what she thinks of us for leaving her there; or what Mrini, who goes smilingly, thinks; but I feel terrible. They will never know what it costs me to tear them away from me and leave. And I will never know what it costs them. I only hope that in the long term this is the right thing to do.

At times, I know it is. I know that I was never cut out to be a stay at home mom for good. It’s so not me. I’ve enjoyed most of it, most of this time, but… if I keep doing it and start hating it, resenting it, or just plain vegetating at it… then I’m not doing anyone any favours. Anger, frustration, boredom, depression… These are not pretty emotions to be around, not even, or especially not, in a mom. That’s not the kind of mom I want to be, and it’s certainly not the kind of mom they’ll want to have around.

I know that I must go back to work. I also know that I want the girls to have a working mom. As they grow up seeing me work, their ideas of gender roles, equality, independence, the value of money, time, hard work, and discipline, their sense of personal identity – all will be shaped by this. I know mine were, just by seeing my mother teach for the first few years of my life.

Don’t get me wrong – there’s nothing wrong with kids seeing their moms stay home and work at keeping the house running… there are lots of good values for them to learn there too. I’m just saying that that’s not me, and that’s not what I want my kids to grow up with.

So I think I know I am doing the right thing. But is it the right time? Again, i think so. They are over three, they are completely settled at school, and I’ve given just over two years of myself exclusively to them – more than I ever thought I would. For me, it was the right time to go back to work about year ago, so I’ve stretched it by six months more than six months. I mean I’ve stretched it and stretched it again. Any more and I might tear it. It will not only become more difficult to remain employable, it will also become more difficult to believe in my own employability. And that’s a vicious cycle. So no, I can’t wit another couple of years, that would be professional suicide… or close to it.

And yet… Only three years old and I’ve already left them in daycare. Next week they will go, unaccompanied, in a school van, directly from school to daycare. They’ll talk to the daycare teacher about school and to their school teacher about daycare. They’ll wake up in the afternoon and stumble sleepily to the daycare teacher and raise their arms to her to be picked up. I’ll be just this other woman who drives them home and spends the evening with them.

I know it will work out. I shouldn’t make too much of it. I know they are not the first kids in the world to go to daycare at the age of three. I know kids are more adaptable and hardier than parents think. I know they’ll soon enjoy daycare with the same enthusiasm they have for school. I know they know we’re their parents and we love them and they’ll love us back. I know, or at least I think I know, or at least I hope that they won’t hold anything against us…

And I know there will be other separations – when they start to go out without us; when they go on a school vacation with friends; when they move out of home to study or work or to get married. But those are so unimaginably far away right now. Right now, I just have to tell myself that it is not wrong to do something for myself, that it is not bad to have a career, and that I can spend “just” evenings and weekends with my kids and they will be ok, they will still know me and love me.

My mother once said that the most painful part of delivering a baby was when they pull the placenta out. I think I have a slight idea, now, of what she meant.

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Day Care: Do They Care?

December 1, 2009

So we had decided on this daycare for the kids. You know the one – big, fancy, expensive, dead convenient, being in the same campus as both our offices… We bought ourselves a three-day trial period. Well, I still have only a verbal offer and the entry load at this daycare was coming to something over 80 k for the twins, so a trial period definitely makes sense, right?

Right.

The kids clearly liked the place. It’s large, well set up, clean, has nice child-sized toilets (clean) and places to climb and things to jump off of. Oh and there were these toy car things they could drive that they fell in love with. They didn’t talk to anybody much there, but as long as I was giving them lunch and they could play with the toy cars or climb and jump off things, they were ok.

Amit and I weren’t so easily impressed. Though the place appeared very professional and everything, I felt it was run like a factory. There was nothing really bad about it (apart from the food; I’ll come to that later) but there were small, niggling things that weren’t quite right. One or two of the attendants didn’t seem to be the kind cut out to be working with little children. One attendant had her own child there and this skewed things. She could not give her daughter sufficient attention, but neither could she treat her like just another child there.

There was a general one-size-fits-all kind of approach there that I felt was not exactly suited for kids of this age. One day, they twins were all happy and excited and showed no signs of wanting to sleep after lunch. The attendant’s response? “Oh no, they have to sleep, or they will disturb all the other kids here.”

I mean, yeah, she has a point, but shouldn’t there be some other solution? Like giving them something to do, or taking them to another area where they can play?

I heard a couple of the other attendants threatening the kids with “if you don’t fall asleep right now, spider will come.” If there’s one thing I want to protect my kids from, it’s from this kind of pointless threatening and fear-phobia approach.

The kids were all put to sleep on mattresses spread out on the ground. For a place as large (and expensive) as this one, you’d think they’d have sufficient mattresses. They didn’t – the kids were crammed together about five on a mattress. They could hardly move.

And then there’s the food. These folks actually discouraged us from sending food for the kids because (one size fits all) they provide food. We saw the menu, and I wasn’t impressed. Kids need proper meals – fruit, veggies, dahi (curd/yoghurt), in addition to the staple dal-rice. They need fibre in their cereal – unpolished rice or whole wheat, not just white rice. Still, I thought, maybe they do actually give all that on the side, they just mention the main dish on the menu. After all, they can’t be giving only rice and sambhar, or only paratha and curd. Our girls are used to five-course lunches. We even give them non-veg – or at least egg – once or twice a week. But no, they said, you can’t send any non-veg. Ok, I thought, let’s see what their food looks like. Maybe it looks really healthy, with lots of veggies hidden in the sambhar or in the raita.

No such luck. The food on the plate looked a lot worse than it looked on the menu. Pulao and raita (rice with mixed veggies and curd with raw veggies like onion) looked to me like white rice, plain (thin) curd, and a few green peas tossed in for colour. Sambhar-rice looked like rice with thin, colourless dal.

What’s worse, on our first day there, they gave the same food for lunch and for the tea-time snack! On our second day there, lunch was the same as on the first day. There was a five-year-old at our table who commented on it… so at least we know that they don’t actually usually give the same food every blessed day. But hullo! How about adding some nutrition to this food? These guys are supposed to be in the child care business.

Afternoon snack was also horrifying. One day it was biscuits, another day it was rice kheer (rice pudding). Refined sugar, polished cereal. How about a little fruit? Or at least good old bread-n-jam, which is at least better than biscuit, especially if you make a real effort and get wheat bread.

I had thought that since they provide food, I could just send the fruit and veggies to supplement, but after seeing what their food looked like, I realized I just couldn’t.

So anyway, I packed them lunch every day. Only, the food is cooked the evening before, refrigerated overnight, and packed when I go to pick them up from school around 11.15 a.m. So it’s still quite cold when they are ready to eat around 1 p.m. So, heat it, right? We have this useful little box called a microwave, which is killing the environment but we all use it just the same, right?

On the second day at lunch time, their attendant told me very firmly that, sorry to say, we need the microwave to heat the food for the infants. So could you please send their food at a ready-to-eat temperature? Thank you very much.

When you’re giving a place 80 grand, you’d think the least they could do is to buy a second microwave, right? Yeah, right.

When I told Amit this, he was disgusted. It was Friday afternoon by this time, so we spent the weekend and Monday morning phoning around, and on Monday afternoon I dropped the kids at this daycare, then drove off to inspect another one nearby. It was a much smaller affair, homely – not actually a home, though it was based out of what was originally intended as a house – far from perfect in terms of the infrastructure, but somehow cosy and warm. Because it was a house in design, there was a small outdoors area with a small sandpit; the big, plush daycare had no outdoor area at all, so this was better than nothing. The toilets were adult sized, fitted with child seats. The dining table was in the kitchen. There was a fridge and a microwave, and the woman in charge had no reservations about using either. There were about ten kids, and three caregivers. They didn’t provide food, for which, after our first experience, I was thankful, and they had no problem with us sending non-veg for the kids. The woman also assured me that I needn’t send any fruit as she always had fruit available for the kids. This, of course, put this place way up there at the top of the list as far as I was concerned.

So today I dropped the kids off at this new place and sweated it out in the car outside all afternoon. The woman was very keen that I not hang around for long, as she said it made it more difficult for kids to get settled in. Tara was somewhat upset when I left, but by all accounts she quickly settled down, ate lunch, and proceeded to play the entire afternoon. This was not a problem – the sleeping kids slept in another room with the door closed and were not disturbed. When I went back in some time around 4.30, she was completely happy and at-home there, and didn’t bother too much about me.

So, all in all, this place seems more convincing than the other. Amit and I both really liked the person in charge (while we found it difficult to like any of the women at the first place). It is a ten minute drive away from our office complex, unfortunately, but perhaps that is a small price to pay?

And there is a smaller price to pay in a very literal sense as well – this place costs less than half of the other on a monthly basis, and has none of the entry barriers that amount to 80 k in the other place. So it makes sense to go with it for a while and see if it works, don’t you think? After all, the place with only one microwave and plenty of attitude isn’t going anywhere and we can always go back there later on if we wish.

The kids have put up a sterling performance in all this. They’ve been almost unmitigatedly cheerful and easy-going. Despite being left alone this afternoon at this new place (and Tara being a little upset by it) they were all ready to go back to the first place at the end of the afternoon, just so they could play with some of the toys over there!

I still feel a little selfish for wanting to go back to work… but I think that eventually the girls will begin to love day care (as they already love school) and that it will do them no harm in the long run. Or at least that’s what I want to believe right now. I just hope we’re doing the right thing and choosing the right daycare. It is so hard to trust our little girls to somebody else’s care.


Got It!

November 25, 2009

Yesssss, I got a job! Company 2 it is, the one in the same campus as Amit’s office and the kids’ daycare. I’m really happy, because the test last week was a lot of fun, and a bit tough too, and I spoke to four people (three on the phone) and came away feeling pretty good after each conversation. I thought I liked the people I spoke to. This is unusual – I usually don’t come away with any firm impression of the people I speak to, neither good nor bad. The domain that the company is in looks interesting and very challenging. The office is nice enough, the toilets are decent (though not first class, but good enough). And they made me an offer that seemed pretty good… considering the state of the global economy and the fact that I’ve not done any work for two whole years…

We’ve agreed to a start date of 10th Dec. We had planned a trip to Calcutta and Sandakphu during the Christmas-New-Year vacations, so I was a bit disappointed that I might have to give that up, but no: this company has a winter break that exactly coincides with the period we will be away. So I join, and two weeks later I go on paid vacation. What more could anyone want?

If you think all of this sounds too good to be true… and if you think what the heck has she done to deserve this… well, I’m wondering about that too. ..


Excited!

November 20, 2009

I hadn’t expected job-hunting to be so energy- and time-consuming, and so tiring! But I also hadn’t expected it to be so exciting! I can’t believe how alive I have started to feel just going for interviews and talking to people about what I used to do and how good I was at it. (There’s a time and place for modesty: neither my blog, nor my job interviews are the time and place for it.) Now that I’m actually interviewing for jobs and meeting people who are in the same field as I was and who can relate to what I did professionally for years, now that I can sniff a job or two in the air, now that people are even asking me what kind of remuneration package I expect… I feel like a big weight has been lifted off my chest and I can breathe fully and deeply at last.

Of course I enjoyed my time at home with my kids. Of course I was thrilled to bits at various stages of their development. I know that I’ve written enough about them here for nobody to doubt that. But at the same time, spending all day, every day, at the intellectual level of three-year-olds… I think I was slowly degenerating. Kids are stimulating, sure, but maybe they don’t provide all the kinds of intellectual stimulation that you need, once you are used to it. After a while, the constant chatter of “what colour is that shirt” and “say hi to your car” can leave you feeling somewhat deadened. At least I’ve had my writing, my Archaeology studies, and, of course, friends and the Park Moms Inc to keep me sane, but none of that makes up for the challenges and stimulation of a working life. And that’s just not something two little girls, however entertaining they might be, can provide.

Strangely, I never really realised the extent of my vegetation, my brain-dead-ness, until just now, when I’m finally faced with the prospect of leading a “normal” adult life again; of talking to colleagues about meetings, deadlines, products, tools and technology.

Parts of me are apprehensive about how the kids will handle it, how we all will handle it; parts of me are anxious and guilty about putting them in daycare; parts of me are worrying about how on earth we are going to keep this household running when both of us are going to be busy at work all day. But the part of me that suddenly feels awake and alive, excited and thrilled says, whatever happens, we will find a way to cope, but right now it is time, high time, that I got back to my professional life.


Work. Life. Balance?

March 11, 2009

Ok, so I got the dream job, the one that lets me work flexitime from home, pays satisfactorily, is challenging and stimulating (in a manner of speaking) and ideal in every way. So now my life is perfect, right?

Sigh. Right.

To keep pace with my work, I have to work late many nights. Last Sunday I put in several hours in the afternoon, evening, and night. Even when I’m not actually working I’m getting calls on my mobile phone. I don’t have time for any of my other interests, and only a little time, about 4 hours, for the kids. And none at all for Amit.

And I’m tired all the time. Last week I was so tired, I skipped tennis one day. Today, I just didn’t hear the alarm on my mobile phone and it must have been ringing for one minute every five minutes for a whole 45 minutes before I woke up feeling disgusted.

On the other hand, this job has many plus points, apart from the income. I’ve lost that ‘what am I doing with my life’ feeling and regained a sense of confidence in my professional skills and the ability to earn money. I have a place to call office, and I go there about once a week. I meet a lot of people, many of them electronically, some telephonically, a few face to face. I have something to think about and talk about other than the kids – in fact I seem to talk about work more than about the kids and I think of it all the time, I’m practically obsessed with it, I even dream about it.

So, is it a good thing or a bad thing to be back at work? That’s a question I haven’t made up my mind about yet, but what I can say is that, though it lines the pockets nicely, it is also, literally, a pain in the neck.


Indecision

August 6, 2008

Gradually, the urge to resume working life has been growing in me. I want to be part of the great, bustling, economic machinery out there… but… I also don’t want to give up the relatively relaxed, stress-free, home-centric life that I have right now. I’ve only just started exercising, and I’ve only just resumed playing my violin after a break of a few years – I don’t want to give those up. Plus, I want to resume my Archaeology course and I’d even like to get back some of my German language knowledge which I had acquired with so much hard work over so many weekends. And I haven’t finished with my website yet, though I’ve been neglecting it of late…

Obviously, if I go back to work, I can’t do any of these things. The job itself, the kids, and some bare minimum activities required to keep the household running, will probably take up all of my time, and in any case, all of my energy.

Working from home doesn’t solve the problem – a significant part of what I miss about working life involves the workplace, colleagues, even the commute, cafeteria lunches – the whole nine yards of office space.

But working outside the home creates many more problems than it solves. We don’t want to leave the kids all day with a baby-sitter. We don’t even know of a baby-sitter who’s both entirely reliable and available. Plus, I don’t want my kids turning away from me and wailing for the baby-sitter when they’re unwell or hurt or otherwise distressed. And once the kids start going to school, who is going to handle the dropping and picking up? We can’t leave that to a baby-sitter. What about full-time playschool-cum-daycare, then? It is expensive, but is it good for them? Will they be happy there, or traumatized? Is it ok to leave them away from home all day, and if that’s what we’re going to do, then why did we even have kids?

A “hybrid” solution seems like a good idea – where I go to work in the mornings, then pick up the kids, come home, and either work from home, or have a part-time job which gives me time to manage the kids, run the household, and maybe even work in some “me” time. But where, oh where, will I get this hybrid dream job?

And when? It’s not as though I want to go back to work right away, but some time early next year seems like an appealing prospect. The kids still won’t be in school by then, though, so I probably won’t be able to start working till next July or so, once they’re hopefully settled into school. That seems like a long way away. And I feel so confused.


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