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Daycare-Hunting Hell—Report from the Front

May The Force Be With You... Mark, December 2014
May The Force Be With You… Mark, December 2014

I have looked for many things in life—jobs, plane tickets, accommodation options, keys, solutions, delicious food, life instruction manuals, friends, shortcuts, bus schedules, information or comfort.

However, until recently, I was new to the cut-throat world of daycare-hunting.

Retrospectively, we lucked in with old-bankrupt-daycare: they had a spot for Mark, it was close to home and the environment was very friendly. Of course, we ended up in a messy situation because, well, it declared bankruptcy, but it was a very positive first experience.

The Monday after we learned about the bankruptcy, at 9 a.m. sharp, we showed up at the next closest daycare centre. We rang the doorbell (every single daycare centre has a complicated secured access system because apparently, Canadian toddlers are a hit on Ebay), eager and hopeful.

And naïve.

“Hi, we are looking for a spot for our toddler boy…” I said, yet unware I would repeat this opening sentence over and over again in the following hours and days.

“For when?”

“Ahem… as soon as possible. Our daycare closed rather suddenly, and we need childcare.”

“You have to go on the waiting list, we are a full capacity.”

“We are on the centralized waiting list.”

“Then you have to wait.”

“Is there anything at all we can do?”

The woman sighed and looked at us. “I can see the desperation in your eyes,” she mumbled. “You’re in a bad spot. Bad, bad, bad… Here, let me give you a few contacts.”

I called all the daycare centres she had listed on a sheet of paper—they were all full. So I started Googling, making my own lists. Eventually, I found a place that had a spot. We immediately drove there. The “tour” took less than five minutes, longer than printing the complete application package in the director’s office. Mark could start the next day.

“It’s okay…” Feng said unenthusiastically, once back on the parking lot. “Yeah,” I replied. “Well, they have a spot.”

We drove home in silence. “I can’t do that!” I said eventually. “It looks like a fucking gulag!” “It is kind of… cold,” Feng agreed. We had only seen the toddler room during the “tour”: a seemingly uninterested teacher was sitting on the couch, the kids gathered around here, and nothing was going on. The bathrooms were cold and the whole facility needed a serious upgrade.

“Okay, let’s look for something better.”

We called more daycare centres—all with interchangeable cutesy names involving “love”, “children”, “wee” or “bear” —booking tours if they didn’t hang up on us. We drove to places well outside our neighborhood, filling out endless forms—“what do you want from a daycare?”, “list the three main ways you want your child to grow”, etc.

Tours were all similar. We were taken to the “toddler room”, invariably filled with age-appropriate toys, and then it was all talk. “Our fire alarm system is tested regularly,” “meals are healthy and balanced,” “we never ever give kids candies.”

“Come on!” I wanted to scream. “I don’t give a damn if Mark has chocolate, and considering Canada has a rule, a law or a policy for everything, I’m pretty sure your smoke alarms rock. What I need to know is whether you care about the kids!”

And if a spot was available, we were given the pressure sales pitch, like at the car dealership. “In order to secure that spot THAT MAY VANISH RIGHT NOW you need to make a deposit SO GIVE US A NON-REFUNDABLE $1,200 PAYMENT.”

Oh yes, in case you didn’t know, childcare is expensive in Canada, and deposits range from $500 to $1,200. And you have to decide on the spot, apparently.

Several daycares handled our inquiry like a university application. We had to make an appointment for a tour, have an interview during which both parents and the child must be present, then a decision (from the daycare) would eventually be made “to see if we were a good fit.”

I was that close to teach Mark some Latin.

And then there were the places from where I couldn’t wait to leave.

Like the “holier-than-thou” daycare.

The employees had been handing out flyers for this daycare the day we came back to the bankrupt-daycare building to pick up Mark’s belonging. “Ambulance chasers,” I had muttered, before accepting a leftlet because, well, we were desperate. The place was a bit far but we booked a tour anyway.

We arrived at the end of the day and waited in the lobby. My eyes wandered over the walls, scanning for useful tidbits of information—menu of the day, activity planned, etc. But instead of this, there was cartoonish sign that said “thou shalt not kill”.

“Well, that’s a good guideline for toddlers,” I thought. “Share your toys and DO NOT FUCKING KILL!”

The other 9 commandments was pinned on the opposite wall, along with several Bible verses.

“Shit,” I whispered to Feng. “I think this is a religious daycare!”

Many places are affiliated with churches or temples and even though we are both atheist, I don’t really mind as long as they are open-minded and work with the community. I was just taken aback by this daycare, because nowhere on the website it mentioned a religious affiliation.

The director finally came to meet us and her first question was: “do you celebrate Christmas?”

Fair enough, at this time of the year. “We are not religious,” I explained. “But we celebrate the spirit of the holiday seasons,” Feng added. “For Mark.”

“Some people don’t celebrate Christmas,” the director ranted. “I had some… Muslims, showing up earlier.”

She spat out the word. As far as I was concerned, the tour was over, but she kept on going, showing up the rooms, the kitchen—the usual.

She wouldn’t stop babbling. About kids in Montessori schools “that aren’t allowed to be hugged. At all. It’s neglect, over there.” About her daycare, where “kids don’t go out, because you never know what can happen.” About “those people”, whoever they were.

“No fucking way,” I told Feng when we were finally allowed to leave.

Meanwhile, another daycare had emailed back to tell us we had been the lucky family picked for the very special spot, but we had to make a deposit immediately to secure it. I balked when I saw the attached fee schedule. “Wow, wow,” I said. “Come on, like this is three times the tuition fees at university! I want to think about it.”

I never thought I would be that parents discussing the merits of various childcare options.

And here I am, doing just that.

Well, picture the “THOU SHALL NOT KILL” sign in a room full of toys—at least you may get a giggle out of our adventures.

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