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The Not-So-Fine Art of Dropping Your Kid at “School” For the First Time

Ogdensburg, NY State, October 2014
Ogdensburg, NY State, October 2014

“Okay, so at ‘How many hours a day does your kid spend outside’, I put ‘three hours’.”

“Why?”

“Because it sounds acceptable. We don’t want to sound like we shelter him, but writing ‘about eight hours and then he refuses to come home and asks for more’ is true… but weird.”

“Right. What kind of question is ‘What does your kid like to play with?’”

“Yeah, so again, I wasn’t going to write ‘dirt, TV remotes, laptop and underwear.’ So I wrote ‘trucks, books and balloons. Which is true. Even if between a truck and my laptop, he will go for my laptop.”

Filling out daycare application forms is a tough exercise. You’d think you’re applying for Harvard—although I strongly suspect the main admission factor is the cheque you have to write every month.

Yes, Mark is going to daycare. It’s about bloody time.

We made the decision shortly before going to China, after learning my father-in-law was going to stay there a few months longer than us. My in-laws were the only backup plan we had for “sanity days”, and my mother-in-law wasn’t going to be able to deal with Mark alone.

I had been lobbying for daycare for a while now. Mark was turning two, he was more social and desperate to interact with other kids. Meanwhile, I was looking forward to, you know, having a life and not cramming a day’s worth of work between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m.

We found a good daycare centre, i.e. not a home daycare, with tons of toys and all the equipment toddlers needed, like tiny tables and seats, kid-size toilets, etc., close to home (a five-minute drive), licensed by the City of Ottawa.

The main drawback was the monthly fees. Daycare fees in Canada are one of the highest in the industrialized world, a whopping $1,000 on average in Ontario. It makes university tuition sound affordable!

The day we flew back to Ottawa, I received an email from the school’s director reminding us of Mark’s “orientation day” shortly after Thanksgiving. Trust me, I hadn’t forgotten. I was looking forward to it. Feng, on the other side, wasn’t too comfortable with the whole daycare thing. We had different experiences as kids: I went to school at two years old and I loved it; he remembers crying for days.

This is what I mentioned to the director when we brought Mark on his first day. “Funny,” she said. “Usually, it’s the other way around, mothers hate leaving their kids!”

Nothing like a big dose of mommy guilt to start the day.

I begged Feng to leave (his stress was contagious) and I followed Mark to the toddler’s room. I briefly introduced myself to one of the teachers as Mark started to check out the place and the other kids. He seemed relaxed and comfortable.

The plan was for me to stay with him to ease the transition but the teacher wasn’t exactly forthcoming, so I wasn’t sure what to do. I didn’t want to start playing with Mark because it wasn’t my place—she was in charge. I decided to sit in the corner, hoping the toddler-size chair wasn’t going to collapse under my weight, and I pulled out my phone, observing Mark discreetly.

Five minutes later, I felt like Snow White as seven “dwarfs”… I mean, toddlers, had gathered around me. Well, six, really—Mark wasn’t the least interested in “mother playing with phone”, which was business as usual as far as he was concerned.

“Alright kids, breakfast!” the teacher called out, slightly annoyed.

The kids all sat around the table and I coaxed Mark into joining. Cinnamon toasts were on the menu, and Mark examined his piece carefully as if it was the most exotic food he had never seen. It probably was—we have more “ethnic food” than Canadian staple foods at home!

Soon after, the kids were called to the main playroom to have their picture taken. “Picture day”, the teacher explained. Ah, that’s why all the toddlers were wearing their best outfits!

It was mayhem in the playroom. Kids were crying uncontrollably in front of the camera and the poor photographer couldn’t make them stand still in front of the props.

Now, if there is one thing Mark does well, it’s picture time.

“Mark, wanna have your picture taken?”

You bet he wanted to. He stood there and grinned and laughed for a good five minutes. I had to tell him it was over (and then explain everyone that he has been used to the camera since he was a baby!).

All in all, everything was going well. Until it was time for me to go.

“Should I say ‘bye’”, I asked the teacher, or should I just go?”

She shrugged. “I don’t know. It’s up to you, really.”

I opted to say ‘bye bye’, but the truck was more interesting than me, so I just kissed Mark and promised I’d be back later, and walked away.

I stopped by the school’s admin to write the first cheque of many and I heard it—Mark’s full strength crying. It was easy to decode: “Eh, wait a minute, isn’t mommy going to stick around?”

My hand was shacking a bit writing the cheque. I don’t like when Mark is unhappy, but I knew he was going to cry sooner or later. This is what being a parent means—sometime, you make your kid cry, involuntarily or not. You can’t buy all the toys they see, you can’t let them lick the window in the bus and STOP THROWING THIS BALL AGAINST THE WINDOW!

It’s life.

Today, we received a copy of the pictures taken on Mark’s first day at school. He is grinning. Good thing the pictures were taken before I left!

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