Tanya Enberg: Unexpected Mother


Sending Our Child Out Into the Big World of Daycare


I don’t want to talk about it.

Or maybe I do. I don’t know what I want. What is clear is that I am meant to be writing about something else right now but all I can think about is the one thing I don’t want to talk about.

Daycare. Oh my god, daycare.

Recently we received a phone call. Our toddler was offered — against all odds — a spot in one of the most adored and talked about daycares in our neighbourhood.

The pigs have flown; the fat lady has sung, and the cow has jumped over the moon. Yes, daycare spaces in Toronto are that hard to find.

Especially in the breeding ground that is our community, a popular place among family types who flock here for the plethora of good restaurants and cafes, the renowned schools and fantastic resources and let’s not forget the spacious, well-groomed parks: those are a realtor’s dream.

Our area is flooded with children of all ages but there appears to be an extra abundance of babies and toddlers, most of them in need of some form of childcare.

Needless to say, when I received a call from a local daycare, I certainly wasn’t expecting it.

Daycare, of course, was in my peripheral. Our son has been on some waiting lists since he was the size of a mango hiding out safely in my womb, and others since he was a wrinkly newborn with extra folds of skin still to grow into.

Yes, I am that kind of organized person, not quite Type A, but definitely the type that thrives on getting things done.

Yet, even as I put our unborn (and then unnamed) child on multiple lists, it was an abstract idea. I realize now that I never thought we’d actually get a spot. Daycare availability was as likely to happen as, well, pigs flying and cows jumping over the moon.

I’d heard horror stories from families about the futility of securing adequate daycare.

One friend had her first son on a waiting list near her home but had to enroll him elsewhere while they hoped and waited for a space. Four years passed and a call never came.

Some friends have placed their children in unregulated home daycares after searches for available and affordable spots in facilities regulated by the province proved fruitless.

And then there are those who’ve had to accept longer than desirable commutes to get the kind of care they’re seeking.

According to a 2012 article in Toronto Life magazine, “regulated childcare is available to 12 per cent of families” and the waitlist for Toronto daycares at the time stood at about 15,000.

For our purposes, I was advised by numerous people to continually keep in contact with daycares (something just short of harassment) in an attempt to keep our file at the top of the pile, or at least prevent it from getting buried under a growing mountain of new applicants.

I never did. I was patient and carried the philosophy that the right spot would come along at the right time — if it was meant to be.

That time has come.

At least I think it has.

At a year-and-a-half, our son’s world has started changing. In some ways, he has outgrown me. Until recently, my husband and I were his entire world. He’s craving more: More from his surroundings and more from me.

His activity and energy levels are higher than ever and his interests are expanding. His hunger for information is unstoppable, as is his pace of learning, which suddenly seems to be clipping along at racecar speed as he spouts out new words and strings together small sentences daily. 

It is the right time — for both of us.

So, when an administrator rings you up to offer your child a spot at a high-scoring daycare, you jump.

Only, I didn’t jump.

Instead I leapt feet first into the daycare debate. I agonized over it. I researched and interviewed friends. I endured sleepless nights picking over the pros and cons of our choices, and I observed our son like crazy, analyzing how I was benefiting his development, and taking note of the areas in which I might be falling short.

Anyone living in Toronto will tell you that daycare isn’t just a numbers game, but also a game of luck.

Being in the right place at the right time and on the right list is paramount.

Getting a space is fiercely competitive and, oftentimes, impossible.

No doubt, we are lucky.

We are the rookie player who has been called up to the major leagues.

After lengthy contemplation, we’ve accepted the spot at a lovely daycare, and I’ve just returned from taking our boy there for his first official visit.

It was only for a couple of hours and I was there the entire time. Next he’ll stay a small while on his own, gradually increasing his time as he transitions.

We’ll gauge how he progresses and adjusts, and I will wonder incessantly if this is the right thing to do.

He is a gentle spirit, and leaving my baby in someone else’s care for long periods of time feels like a defiance of nature, as though we’re feeding our vulnerable young charge to a pack of wolves.

To heighten those anxieties, I’ve been warned of children that grab and hit, and of potential ‘biters’ (it can happen in the blink of an eye and I am told that almost every facility endures at least one of these tiny skin chompers). I am warned of germs. Especially germs.

Does he really need such cold harsh reality stuffed in his face at such a young, impressionable age?

He is not an aggressive creature. It’s just not the way he rolls. He is chill and loving, generous with hugs and kisses, and enjoys snuggling up on one of our laps and reading a big pile of books.

Will this experience damage those beautiful qualities?

It is the nature vs. nurture debate, of course.

We hope for growth and curiosity, rich adventures and learning, fulfillment and happiness, not for shoving and teeth marks, or the creation of thick, hardened skin.

Yet, right now I don’t want to talk about it.

Not to friends or family, not even our loving dog, with her soft non-judgmental eyes.

This is because I flip flop.

I live on both sides of the fence — pro daycare and anti-daycare — depending on the day, and my tears are unpredictable.

I want the best for him. Some days I think this is it. Some days I don’t.

I want him to love life so much he can’t help but let out big infectious laughs every chance he gets.

So, I have my doubts and then feel great about our decision.

Will he be better for it? Will I?

These questions and cruel unknowns create a classic case of ‘only time will tell,’ which is the scariest kind of scenario when it comes to one’s child.

Maybe everyone goes through this when childcare begins. Do they? Did you? Does it get better? Is the experience worth it? 

You tell me because, as I said before, I am finding it rather hard to talk about it … through the tears and all.