It’s becoming increasingly painful trying to drop Number Three off at day-care in the mornings.
There are days when I slink back to the car and I can still hear her howling with the indignity of being abandoned in a giant park-like setting with dozens of other children, grown-ups who actually enjoy playing with children (or are paid to act as though they do) and tiny little toilets that perfectly fit her bottom with no fear she will ever fall in.
She doesn’t realise how good she has it.
She tells me she would rather stay home with me. But when I probe a little deeper it’s clear that it isn’t me she wants to spend the day curled up with, but the TV. I asked her directly once ‘do you love the TV more than Mummy?’ She didn’t even have the decency to hesitate for a second before nodding enthusiastically.
All my kids have loved day-care, to begin with anyway. I am fortunate enough that my kids go to a particularly well rated community centre. They have nature play gardens, enormous cubby houses, swings in the shady trees, sand pits and bridges, teepees and enough animals to maintain a hobby farm (including what we were told was going to be a ‘miniature’ pig but someone obviously screwed up, because this pig is the size of a small car and has to be kept separate from the kids now because there is every chance he might decide one day to snack on a small child).
At home all we have is TV and a gold fish that refuses to die no matter how much we ty and neglect it.
At day-care, my three year old – who is in the ‘science’ room, learns about how the body works by handling real brains (I kid you not, there is a photograph on the wall of them poking at a brain), using sophisticated contraptions to see how blood pumps through the body, and draw outlines of themselves on giant paper and fill in the gaps (heart, brain, poo tube).
At home, my child learned about the body by figuring out that each time she poops on the toilet she gets a lolly pop. So she is learning to hold part of it in, getting a lolly, then going back half an hour later to do another poo and get another lolly. A valuable lesson for both of us.
At day-care, she is given fruit at 9am, a two course, cooked lunch in a fully equipped dining room with kid-sized tables and chairs and vases of flowers on the table, plus afternoon tea that you can smell being baked in the mornings. All the parents walk back to their cars with their heads at a funny angle, which I finally realised is them trying to sniff the delicious aromas of the kids lunch (while trying not to sniff the giant pig).
At home, we have stale bread which I can turn into a choice of a) stale sandwiches or b) toast. Which is effectively warm stale sandwiches, but since the butter is all nice and melty, no one cares.
At daycare, she has approximately 100 children between the ages of 0 and 5 to play with, boys, girls, different ethnic and language groups, rough kids, gentle kids, kids who want to dance, kids who want to run, kids who will push her on the swing, kids who want to be pushed. 100 little people who want to do nothing but play.
At home, she has me. Who will do anything to avoid playing (including scrubbing the toilet, which needs it more often now that she is crapping every half an hour).
I try and explain this to her, but she won’t listen. She continues to howl in the mornings, breaking my heart. As I hand her over to one of her adoring carers and practically sprint out the door with the other two in tow, I leave a little piece of me behind.
She will only being going for a couple more months. Soon I will finish my last university subject, soon it will be Christmas, soon she will start pre-school.
And I am pretty sure when she realises next year that she will be expected to learn and wear uniforms and can only play in the playground for limited times every day she will begin to understand how good she had it.
When she starts getting homework and is expected to learn to read, when there are only two teachers instead of four, when the pig is traded in for a tank of hermit crabs, she might realise that hey, day-care was pretty good.
But I feel confident that she will truly appreciate the awesomeness of day-care when she opens her first lunch box that mum has packed, and it only has a banana and a stale sandwich.
Then she will probably cry and demand to be taken back to day-care.