Finding an elusive daycare slot in Charlotte is hard.
I always believed that nannies were for the rich who didn’t want their children to rub shoulders with us commoners.
As it turns out, nannies are for rich people and for parents who dismiss their child’s pediatrician who says at the 3-month appointment, “You should probably get your kid on a daycare waitlist now.”
And by people, I mean me.
I’m one of those parents who stockpiled breastmilk, read a dozen parenting books and mapped out a plan for our son’s college savings while pregnant — so failing to plan for daycare was likely because I was terrified to hand my child over to a stranger, professional or not. But it had to be done.
Here’s a few things I learned in the process.
Wait lists are more art than science.
Typically daycare providers gave us a window when a slot would be available versus a specific date, and even that window isn’t necessarily guaranteed.
Myriad factors affect when a slot will actually become available — a sibling policy (preference given to children with an older sibling), a child not quite ready to move up to the next classroom or a family moving to a new neighborhood. Also, many children are in one daycare until their slot becomes available at their preferred daycare, which could potentially create an unexpected opening.
We learned that if there was a place we liked, it made sense to just put down the deposit, and cross our fingers in the hope that it would become available.
Snot. So much snot.
Because our son spent most of his early life with adults who don’t eat dehydrated vegetable puffs from the floor, he was rarely sick. But anyone who has a child in daycare will tell you that a runny nose is par for the course in the first year or so around other children.
I was still caught off guard by the amount of adorable kids I saw peering up at me on tours with a shiny glimmer under their nose.
I had to accept that snot now mean there’d be less later when my child entered school and that a few runny noses weren’t indicative of a slum.
Mommy groups and parking lots have all the tea.
About three weeks into parenthood, I gave up on mommy groups because, although I can handle hot takes from internet strangers about my writing, I’m not thick-skinned enough for judgments on everything from sleep training to co-sleeping to the right bassinet. (Is every argument about sleep??)
But it turns out mommy groups have some of the best intel on what to expect at various childcare facilities.
I mentioned a few daycares I was visiting to a colleague and within a few hours, she’d provided personal reviews from her Facebook mommy group with Yelp-like detail.
Also, at every daycare that I toured, I interviewed parents in the parking lot. (By now you should know I’m a lunatic – don’t act surprised now). I got some unbiased insights like “My kid’s teacher has been there for 8 years… the food here is really good!”
When you know, you know.
Upon entering one of the daycare facilities on my list, the director greeted me and said “Are you the one with the kid that’s never been in daycare? I hope you’re prepared for him to get the flu. It happens.”
I knew we weren’t a match.
At another facility I noticed that there were several toddlers playing on gleaming playground equipment in 95-degree weather. One of the girls had adorable ringlets soaking in sweat while providers watched. I didn’t even go in.
The daycare that ended up being first on our list featured a smiling woman who greeted our son first before introducing herself. He giggled his approval. I appreciated that unlike many other tour guides, she spoke to both of us about the meals offered, the age-appropriate education and about the training their teachers have — not just to me, the mom. As we were walking out, we met the owners who also introduced themselves and offered to answer our questions. We knew that it was the place for us and ended our search that day.
Deciding where your favorite little person(s) will spend the most of their day can be a bit harrowing, especially in a city where scarcity is real.
But as a much more relaxed parent shared with me says, “For the most part, no matter where they end up going, it’s just fine.”
I think she’s right. I hope she’s right.