Today is Kitty’s last day at nursery. She talks about “when it’s my last day”, usually in the context of sweeties, and we’ve taken her to buy a cake to share with her friends (a Frozen one, naturally) and we’ve made a present for her nursery teachers, but I don’t think it’s really sunk in. For her or for me.
Almost three years ago my little just two year old walked through the front door for the first time, dressed in blue flowery dungarees and with her hair up in bunches. She’d been at another nursery since she was 9 months old but for various reasons we decided to move her and it was the best decision we’d ever made. She walked in, saw the slide in the corner of the room, sat down to eat a biscuit for her morning snack and she loved it.
And that’s how it’s been for the last three years. I’m the Mama with the daughter wailing that she doesn’t want to come home, who was most decidedly told off when she arrived at the end of tea one day (about half an hour early) because it meant she’d miss hearing more about tractors, who wakes up at the weekend with “is it my nursery day today?”
Childcare is such a touchy subject sometimes, there are enough studies that seem to out and out declare to the world that even a minute being cared for by someone other than your parents with damage you for life, make you institutionalised and barely able to even recognise your parents, and if you look for them, you’ll find more than enough people happy to trot out the “why did you have children if you didn’t want to look after them” line to any working mum (why is it always to the working mum not the dad?)
Perhaps one of us could have stayed home from when Kitty arrived, had our circumstances been different it would have been lovely, but it wouldn’t have been the best overall decision for our family, both our at the time only daughter, and the brother and sister that were still to come. Instead, Kitty, and, for a while, Elma, watched me head off to work three days a week, or more accurately, didn’t usually watch me because they were too busy tucking into their toast. And the result is that we’re in the position we find ourselves today; H and I both kept a link to our careers and that meant we had options when it came to making the best choice for Kitty while she is at school.
And while of course I missed them when I was at work, and there are always days in any job where you think “no, it’s not worth it, I’m going to quit, I miss this kids and this is utter rubbish”, I have never regretted the girls being in nursery.
Because the biggest impression I have of nursery is that Kitty is loved, and so are all her friends. She draws pictures for her key workers, pictures of adventures that they’re going to go on together, and once provided the illustrations to a mathematical working out of how tall a giant would have to be to step from nursery to Kilimanjaro in one stride (the answer – head out in space, ducking the ISS!).
She has made friends among the children and friends in the staff and I think she’s really going to miss them all, as only one friend moves over to school with her in the autumn, and her graduation party was a lovely morning spent with the children she’s grown up with and the parents who have become our friends.
Through nursery both Kitty and Elma have done things that economies of scale mean I could never manage at home. They’ve both painted sheets of paper for their noticeboards by walking all over in painty wellies, been part of a Chinese New Year dragon, met Warwick the Bear (the local road safety mascot), sat in a Fire Engine and a Police Car, played lollipop lady in the back garden, watched eggs hatch each spring (all the parents love that bit too), and Kitty went on her very first school trip to the local wildlife park.
But it’s in the everyday sort of moments that you see the children at their most content; when you arrive at home time and peek a head around the door to find them all playing different games, Kitty so in her imagined world that it takes a few minutes before she notices me and leaps out of playing Mummy or Baby to come for a giant hug.
We have been so lucky with our nursery, and yes that includes luck that such a great nursery exists near where we live and that our income allows us to pay for it. Good childcare is, and should be, expensive, because if you pay peanuts you will get monkeys (though don’t get me started on the fact that I could get tax relief for having someone drive me to work but not for a nanny/childcare), but it isn’t impossible to provide. [Edited to add clarity: I think childcare requires investment, who should be paying for it is a different question]
And when it’s good, the children thrive. It isn’t the same as being at home, but it’s not necessarily better, or worse, just different, and in this case, awesome with it.
So think happy thoughts for me this afternoon when we leave for the last time, because we’re leaving behind a place that has been such a huge part of the girls’ childhood and our parenting adventure so far, and I think I’m going to miss it too, especially the baby chicks.