I’m not normally a coward. But I’m ashamed to say I was on this day. I was a complete coward when it came to my daughter.
I was fully prepared for my daughter’s first day of childcare. I had re-done the budget to factor in the fortnightly fees. I had done my Centrelink research to figure out we’d get the 50% childcare rebate …capped at 7.5k. The 50% rebate would last all year if we did 3 days a week. Any extra days and the rebate would run out and we’d be paying over $100 per day. I realised we were earning too much to get the child care benefit, though I didn’t know how that was even possible given each fortnight was a struggle on half pay.
I had her favourite security blanket packed, a hat, multiple changes of clothes, her bottles and formula, marked with named pink labels with butterflies in a clear script. It took me ages to pick them. Her bag matched, name proudly displayed. I packed everything the night before…ready. I was ready.
And then the morning came. And I couldn’t do it. I didn’t want to let my beautiful, smiling 7 month baby girl go. I didn’t want to leave her with people I didn’t know…and walk away. So I did the only thing I could.
I made my husband do it. Poor bugger.
He was incredulous, ‘You’re kidding, right?’ I pointed out that as I was still in my PJs, no, I wasn’t kidding. ‘You so owe me for this’ he muttered as he walked towards the car, understandably mad. To be fair, I was mad at myself too. I had always envisaged myself waving my baby off, sad and slightly misty eyed, but never letting a tear fall and ruining my immaculate makeup. I would be the regal, composed mummy. A slight wind ruffling my hair, sunlight streaming around my head, its warmth comforting me. Clearly my vision was based in reality-a childcare drop- off with sunshine during a Canberra Winter? Yeah. Right. Instead I was in my PJs, unwashed (when did I last have a shower?) eyes red from trying to hold back the tears all morning. And when my husband and daughter pulled out of the driveway I bawled. And started counting the hours until she would be home with me again.
So when new Mums who are about to put their kids into childcare ask me for how I coped on that first drop off…I just reply honestly, “not well.” To those I know and trust I also confess “I made my husband do it.” They either look mortified that I could do such a thing…or contemplative how they could do the same…and get away with it.
Today I would recommend three things for parents putting their children into childcare for the first time.
First – Buy the biggest bucket of Sard imaginable. Childcare is just, so, messy…everything gets stained. Expect to bring them come home, strip them off, put their clothes in a bucket of Sard…add hot water and soak overnight. Repeat for approximately 4 years.
Second – Put a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc in the fridge. Or champagne. In fact, any alcoholic drink. Crack it open when the guilt really starts to gnaw at you during the day. Go ahead, have two glasses. You want to drown that guilt…but not much more than two or you’ll just be feeding it. You can finish the rest when they get home and the guilt returns when you see how tired, dirty and possibly hungry they are. But they will survive. Children are tougher than their parents. Trust me on this.
Third – Try to find some Serenity…ironically by ensuring you are busy for the rest of the day…out of the house. Otherwise you’ll see the cot…and want to cry. See the bottles to be washed…and want to cry. You’ll take those itty clothes out of the washing machine…and question how you can leave your child behind. And yep, you’ll want to cry again. You get it.
So book that long overdue haircut. Get a pedicure for $20 or DIY. Buy yourself a pair of pretty earrings, or a bracelet, or a new lipstick as a reward for getting through the day. Any of those purchases won’t matter if you are still carrying some pregnancy weight and they’ll make you feel pretty and like your old self again. And that’s still very important. Regardless of what you choose to do…. Stay. Busy.
The reality is…that first childcare drop off is so hard because, you are actually waving goodbye to a part of your soul. It took me a while to realise my daughter, and then my son…would always have part of my soul with them. So it would always hurt to be away from my children…even when at times it was a much-needed break. Ah yes, the irony of parenthood.
And while you can envisage about how you will cope with that first drop- off, the reality will come up, laugh in your face and then bitch slap you. It may be better or worse than you imagined… but it will be different. I don’t feel I can give real advice when I clearly didn’t cope. But with the benefit of hindsight, I can give the above recommendations.
My daughter is starting school next year. She is now 4, a tall, confident powerhouse of energy, trust, empathy, curiosity and light. Where she is going is rich in fun and learning. It is also more expensive than childcare and I still don’t know how we will afford it when the budget says ‘WTF’ whenever I try to enter the school fees. But this is the price to ensure I know that she will feel safe and will be encouraged, nurtured and educated. Her differences will be recognised, accepted and valued. And I know that although I can provide her with unconditional love and support…I can’t educate her adequately or give her the social interaction she needs on my own. Hence why I’m prepared to sell a kidney if needed to give that little part of my soul the opportunity to grow into a confident young woman who knows she can accomplish anything.
As for school drop off in February 2015… her first day.… I won’t miss it for anything and this time I will be there for her. I’m stronger as a parent now. I also hope I won’t need as much Sard. But be assured I will be chilling some Sav Blanc and champagne. Hoping to find some Serenity. After all, we will have survived 4 years of parenthood. And that’s something worth celebrating.
PS. My poor husband had to do the first drop off for my son as well. His response to the news was ‘What?! AGAIN?!’ I just wanted to be equitable with my kids…