My kids just started daycare this week. They have never been to daycare before, and when I dropped them off on the first day, I felt like I couldn't breathe. I was leaving them with total strangers. I worried all day and rushed to pick them up.
Then, the funniest thing happened -- my kids spent the entire drive home telling me how much they loved daycare. That's when I realized that my ideas about daycare were a bit of out of date. Their daycare is onsite at my office building -- it is bright shiny and cheerful, the teachers and children are happy, and there is a beautiful playground out back. There are millions of rules and regulations and the building has a state-of-the-art security system.
You see, I had a slightly different experience going to daycare. I went to an illegal hippie daycare in the 1970s in Washington, D.C. Emmylou Harris’ daughter was in my class. In keeping with the spirit of the time, the school didn’t want to be held back by “daycare permits,” and so it was an illegal school. Every few months, a building inspector would come and we would have to hide all the evidence of the daycare and spend the day at the playground. I lived in fear of being arrested by the building inspector.
The teachers were all young and had long hair. One worked part-time as a nude model for artists. One had only a stub for an index finger -- he told us that he cut it off with a knife so that he wouldn’t have to go to Vietnam. I used to imagine him holding the knife and wondered how he was able to do it.
The place was dark and filthy. There were no rules, just a misguided idea that the children should be responsible for everything from naming the school (we named it “Osh Gosh Choo Choo”) to working out violent fights. (An older girl used to bully me and scratch my face until it bled -- when my mom complained the teacher said that I needed work it out myself. I was three.) It was a lot like Lord of the Flies, but with preschoolers.
Once, when we were driving in the van, a child was leaning against the back door when it gave way and he fell into the road. Several times, children were forgotten at the playground and we had to drive back and look for them. I worried constantly about watching my younger brother and making sure he made it back onto the van.
However, the day that I will never forget was one particular movie day. The teachers had borrowed a projector and the original, silent movie version of Dracula, Nosferatu. I watched it holding hands with my two-year-old brother in a dark room filled with popcorn and terrified children. I slept with a blanket wrapped around my neck until I was twelve.
My illegal hippie daycare was not a safe place. My world as a child was not a safe place either.
It’s probably because of this, that I’ve tried so hard to give my children the feeling of safety. I’ve gone overboard, I’m sure. Now, I’m trying to find a middle ground.
Daycare this week was a big step for them -- and a big step for me.
However, I will never, ever let them watch Nosferatu.
An important note about this post: This is absolutely not meant as a condemnation of my mom and her choices. My dad left when I was two and my brother was a newborn. My mom worked full-time and there weren’t a lot of affordable childcare options at the time. She was doing her best. Being a mom in any situation is hard. And my mom had a harder situation than most. Plus, she really likes Emmylou Harris.
Photo Credit: tom-margie.
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