Today I had a work-related errand to run in the middle of the day. Coincidentally, my destination was right across the street from Jacob's daycare. I had a moment while I was driving where I pondered stopping in quick and saying hi, but the moment was short-lived because I'm pretty sure that would cause more harm than good. He'd think I was coming early to pick him up and be disappointed that I wasn't, and it would probably create a whole lot of crankiness for the afternoon. So, I thought better of it. But in the back of my mind I wondered, if he was still a baby (or, say, when we have a baby next time around), would I have done it then? Babies obviously have far less concept of time and much shorter attention spans, so a quick visit from Mommy could potentially be a good thing on both sides. I'm not really sure that's the case, but I think it would be a heck of a lot easier with a baby than with a big boy...and I think seeing a baby in the middle of the day would perk me up even more than seeing a big kid. Potential for lots of smiles and less risk for drama, I guess. That seems unfair, or like favoritism in the case of two kids, but hear me out.
Kids are definitely big on routine. Jacob is no exception. He's used to going to daycare, and he's totally cool with the routine there. He's been doing some variation of this type of life since he was seven weeks old, so he's never known any different. Over the years I've taken comfort in that fact. Once he's there, he's off to play, hang out with friends, eat snacks and a good lunch, and do things we'd never do if he was home alone with me. They're more intentional about teaching (mostly because they can, as authority and peer pressure can be great things), and he's had a lot of experiences he wouldn't have otherwise had. He's a social kid, and he fits in pretty well these days, I think. There are still moments where I feel terribly guilty about the fact that he spends the majority of his time away from both of us, but again, he's never known any different. Not to mention that the way he's been acting lately, I'm not sure either of us could manage much more time with him without losing our minds. Let's just say he's been difficult.
I have noticed lately, though, that he's starting to understand that there is an alternative to being at daycare all day. He definitely knows the difference between a weekend day and a week day, and gives an extra cheer when he asks if it's a daycare day and I say no. He's also aware that not every kid goes to daycare. One little girl stopped coming to daycare a while back because her mom stopped working, and some kids have been out this summer while their teacher parents are off work. Now that he knows it's possible to not be there, he's definitely been asking to not go more often. That's a bit of a bummer because now I know he does know better, even if he hasn't even known anything different.
Anyway, the whole thing got me thinking about having another baby and doing the daycare thing all over again. Jacob's in a pretty good spot right now, and shockingly, he's only a year away from being done with daycare life as we know it. In a year and a few weeks, he'll be off to kindergarten, though no doubt will be bussing back to daycare for the afterschool program, which is fine with me...again, because he's been there, he knows everyone, and doesn't know any different. We've gotten pretty comfortable with things, which is a good spot to be in. But starting all over again with another baby will be a whole new ballgame. It'll be another round of taking my tiny little newborn somewhere away from me, for the whole day, to spend the day with people I may not know that well. Ugh.
I did realize, however, that we won't be starting from scratch quite like we did last time. Last time around, we checked out the daycare once, visited again for some paperwork, then came back one more time for a run-through kind of day...where I saw how things would work, where his bottles would go each day, and how he would spend his time. And then, just like that, it was time to drop him off for a long day away. Oh, and to make things even more interesting, his teacher left after his first week or so, so there was a totally different person taking care of him than I had even seen those few times. It was probably a good thing that maternity leave had been a tough go and I was ready to go back to work (well, sort of), because otherwise I think it would have been beyond difficult to leave him. Instead, going to work was a bit of a break, a chance to feel like a grown-up again, to have normal conversations, and get a little distance and perspective from the tough newborn phase. The time I had with him in the evenings was more precious and I enjoyed it more.
The good news is that next time around we'll know the people we're dealing with. While I haven't spent a lot of time with the infant teachers, I have seen them and interacted with them a few times. I know the directors and most of the other teachers well, and they know us. I think that gives them a little extra investment in us (subconsciously, anyway), and it's nice to have so many invested sets of eyes looking out for our best interests. Even better, Jacob could be down the hall for part of the day to be a familiar face if needed. All of those elements are a bit more of a comfort than last time around. However, something tells me that when the time comes, it's not going to feel any easier.
So, in the end, of course, I did not stop. Only time will tell if I ever do, but it was an interesting revelation when I realized that next time, things will be considerably different from last time. Just one of many differences, I'm sure...