All of my children started daycare by the time they were a year old. I kept them home with nannies for those earliest months, but by the time they hit that "walking" age it became tricky to keep them away from me during the day while I worked — even with a nanny around.
And so, I enrolled each at the same daycare for full days, usually 8:00 am to 4:00 pm. Ger and I would alternate dropping them off and picking them up. They stayed until kindergarten, and I came to know and love the teachers there.
Like everything else, daycare abruptly closed on March 13, 2020. I had kept Autumn home that day anyway, because I could see the writing on the wall. The school remained closed for at least a month, and then was only open to parents that were essential employees due to needing to keep the ratio very low in the classroom.
The school director emailed and let me know that I needed to come and collect Autumn's things - her nap blanket and other items kept at school, since they were accommodating additional families in the essential worker category. Via a drive-thru line, I was handed her backpack, embroidered with the school name. I looked at the brick school building, wondering if this would be the last time I'd ever be in its parking lot. Such an unceremonious departure after having kids enrolled for ten years.
It wasn't until July that re-enrollment was even an option. But at that point, I wasn't comfortable with sending Autumn back and I didn't know what the elementary schools were going to do. I went ahead and submitted the formal paperwork to de-enroll Autumn.
She has been home for more than a year. On the one hand, it is impossible to get anything done for the parent that is watching her. Luckily, she is very routine-based and settled into a pattern of playtime, watching Sesame Street, lunch, naptime, and more afternoon playtime. Most of the time she is easygoing. She learned to stay away from her brothers while they were on Zooms for remote learning.
And at the same time, I have gotten to do things with her that I never was able to do with the older kids when they were her age. By 3pm, I would end my workday and get her up from her nap. She rarely slept, but would play quietly in her room for the better part of 2.5 hours. After her naptime, we would sit at the kitchen table. Sometimes joined by one of the older kids working on homework. She would color, or paint, or do something else. Sometimes I had my laptop and would do something that didn't require a lot of brainpower. Sometimes I did a creative project with her.
I've gotten to watch her speech blossom. I've seen how independent she has become (her favorite words are "I DO IT MYSELF!"). Spending time with her in the afternoon forced me to set more of a boundary between work and my family than what I'd done in the past. As my rainbow baby, I have appreciated so many things about her life differently than the same experiences with her brothers. Our time together has been no exception.
Today, she starts preschool at the local Montessori school. Much as I loved her daycare, it has very structured days. And she spent so much time over the past year engaging in free-choice play, I thought that a less-structured environment would be better for her. She will start with half days, but I hope to work her up to full days by Fall.
She is wearing a bright yellow t-shirt with a sun that says "Happy Days." I had to get new sneakers for her, since she has been wearing nothing but rubber boots for months. I packed up her backpack with a change of clothes and a snack - the same backpack from her former daycare. She picked out her own mask to wear: purple.
Knowing that a 3.5-year-old has little concept of time, I didn't tell her about where she would be going in the morning until last night. Her response was "YAYYYY!! I GO TO SCHOOL!"
I have always had a bit of a bittersweet knot in my stomach on those milestone "first days." The first days I dropped my babies off at daycare when they were a year old. Then kindergarten, and subsequent first days of school. This day feels like those days. Due to Covid restrictions, I couldn't even walk her into her classroom - I had to hand her off to a teacher outside of the building. Autumn seemed a bit reserved in taking a stranger's hand, but she didn't cry or fight it so I'm sure she warmed up quickly.
It's a big day for so many reasons. Any first day of school is a momentous occasion. Feeling like we are reaching the other end of Covid is a huge weight lifted. And sending my rainbow baby - now such a big girl - off to preschool caused me to blink back tears as I walked through the parking lot.