Thursday, December 16, 2010

It Happened at Daycare--Or, How I Became a Stay-at-Home Mom

Have you been over to visit Mama Kat
Mama's Losin' It
Besides being a bloggess extraordinaire, she also does this cool thing where she lists some writing prompts, just in case you're stuck.  I've never used them for blogging purposes before, but I visit there often because reading the prompts usually makes me remember things that might have slipped from my mommy brain (and, let's face it, there are lots of things).  But today I saw a prompt that pretty much slapped me in the face and screamed "WRITE ABOUT THIS!"

Honestly, a part of my brain is telling me not to write about it.  Cause it's hard to write about.  It's hard to think about.  And I have a lump in my throat just letting my mind go there.  That means that there is no doubt in my mind that this needs to be said and be open for everyone to read.  So here goes nothing.

I stayed at home with Julia, my firstborn, for about eight months before I had to go back and finish my student teaching.  We are attachment parents, and we were attached to the extreme.  When she wasn't nursing, she was cuddling me in the rocking chair or sitting in my lap to do every activity.  I was there to answer her every need and desire.  I loved being at home, but I had to finish school and wanted to give this whole teaching thing a try.  I eased in slowly, only having to leave her a couple of times a week at first.  Eventually, she was spending five days away from me... hard for anyone, but especially trying because I'd been so spoiled spending every second with her.  She was staying with my mom's friend, who was keeping her for the tiniest amount of money ever, just so I would finish college.  I love her, and Julia loved her, too.  I never worried about her safety while she was there, and I knew she was having fun with T's fact, the only worry I really had (besides missing her terribly while I was away) was whether or not I could pump enough breastmilk to keep her fed (I could at that point).  Graduation happened, and then three glorious months at home with my baby girl.  Because I was no longer a student, I felt guilty allowing T to keep Julia any longer, especially since she was doing it as a favor and had FOUR boys of her own.  I decided on...


I traveled around and looked at several places, finally choosing one that was shiny and new and affordable.  Worries crept up, of course, but I attributed my more-than-a-little-bit-shaky nerves to my newly-discovered pregnancy and starting  a new job teaching fifth grade.  (Go with your gut.  Lesson learned.)
She seemed to be fine there, if fine is "good enough."  She inevitably came home with more sicknesses and more bumps and bruises, but she was around more kids now.  Later, I'd realize that those things are normal, and I should have been focusing more on things that weren't.  Like the constantly bickering teachers.  Like the yelling matches when one got fired.  And like the fact that they wouldn't tell me why she was fired--did it involve my child??

Brandon and I came up with a system for dropping Julia off at the daycare each morning.  We would drive our cars there and both go in to get her settled in for breakfast.  Because I was suffering from what I now know was probably prenatal depression, Brandon would be there to help cheer me and balance me when the thoughts of leaving my baby girl each morning made me want to not only cry, but grab her and run back to my house.  Plus, he got to make sure she was safe and secure and happily eating before heading into work himself.  It's always good to start a day with a good image of your baby, and as she shoveled cereal into her mouth by the fistful, she looked perfectly delighted each day.  So it went for a couple of months.

And then there came an image that is so burned into my mind that it triggered anxiety like I had never experienced in my life. 

We got dressed and out the door a little bit late that day, mostly due to my morning sickness.  I watched Brandon and Julia in the car in front of me.  I could tell they were happily singing and talking.
I didn't see the smoke until we turned into the parking lot.
I didn't notice that the daycare was mostly ashes and still smoldering.
Maybe I didn't want to see it.
And then it was right in front of me, black, and hot, and surrounded by firemen, policemen, a calm daycare director, and sobbing children and their parents.
Immediately, thoughts started swimming in my head, and I was crying.  When Brandon walked to my car, I heard him talking but couldn't speak myself.  I couldn't put words together and form sentences.

We decided to drive back home and collect our thoughts and emotions (yeah, right.).  I made it as far as the basement playroom before I had to sit on the floor and pull Julia into my arms.  I hugged her tightly even when she began to try to break away.

What if she had been there?
What if I had been at work when this happened?
What would she have done without her mommy there to protect her?

Brandon stayed home that day with her, I think.  I know I went into work after a couple of hours of composing myself.  Or trying to compose myself.  I remember wondering how everyone could be acting like nothing had happened, going on about their business as my mind kept flashing to the image of Julia's spare Dit-Dit (her favorite blanket) and cherry-patterned onesie in her cubby melting in the flames.  Then my mind would go where no mind should--to picturing Julia perishing, as well.

It didn't happen.
Julia is okay.
Julia is okay.
Julia is okay.

I kept repeating this mantra over and over throughout that day, and throughout the next week as my mom came to watch her until her new daycare (gulp) officially opened.  I had to constantly calm myself as I teetered on the edge of panic attacks.  The "what ifs" pummeled me, and my mind came up with a million scenarios of what could happen to her.  And the rational part of me knew that even if I was with her constantly, her safety would not be guaranteed.  But this was not a time I could think rationally for long.

The newspapers screamed out the headlines about the fire being "suspicious."  I think I already knew this.  I was suspicious.  Two people became persons of interest--the director for insurance money, and the woman she had just fired. 
The woman who I had just seen yelling and screaming at the director (who yelled and screamed back).
The woman who had just been Julia's teacher.
I should have been worrying about them all along, I told myself.  Why was I wasting time worrying about whether or not they fed her breastmilk before jars of baby food?  Why did I waste time worrying if other kids were being nice to her or if she was napping well? 
Truthfully, rationally, I had no reason to worry about ANY of these things.  And she WAS fine, because whoever torched the place did it when nobody was there.  No one was hurt.  And I don't think anyone was ever charged.  I stopped allowing myself to read about it.

I got over the shock as much as possible, and Julia started a new daycare a few days later.  The incident had left its mark, however.
I began to hate work.  I began to hate grocery store trips. I began to even hate midwife visits. I began to hate anything that took me away from my daughter for even a second.  I cried every single day on the way to work.  Brandon started calling me on my cell phone and driving with me until I turned into my school...not the safest thing to do, but better than driving while bawling.
Brandon was the most supportive husband I could ask for as my anxiety crept in.  He declared out of the blue one day that I should just stay home once this new baby came.  Could I do that?  Could we afford that?
Not really, but we'd make it work.
Wouldn't it be worth it if it could help diminish some of my anxiety over being away from my baby (and soon to be two babies)?  Going against my instincts to be with her was not doing good things for my psyche.
And just like that, there was a light at the end of the tunnel.  I stopped crying (as much) on the way to work.  I was counting down not only the days until this new baby was to be born, but also until I got to be with my girls all day long, every single day.  So when I went into labor over spring break three weeks before my due date, I was ecstatic not only to be meeting Brynn, but to know that I wouldn't have to leave her or Julia again. 
And so I became a stay-at-home mom.

I had suffered with depression and anxiety since I was a teenager, and it was exacerbated by pregnancy, birth, and shock.  The thing is, staying home with my kids has not magically made it disappear.  But it has eliminated one of my triggers, and probably the biggest trigger.  I know myself better now, and I know what I'm comfortable with allowing to happen.  I cringe at the thoughts of my kids spending the night away from me (only while I'm in the hospital having another baby, and only then at our house and with grandparents coming here).  I can't let my mind think about any of them going to school, or growing up and going off to college, though I want that for them and will cross that bridge when I get to it.
Nowadays, you'd probably never realize I have struggled with anxiety issues, unless you really know me well or are paying lots of attention to everything I do and say (and that's just creepy).  I'm actually at a point now where I'm pretty calm and rational and jubilant.
Would you think I'm extremely overprotective?  Absolutely.
But mostly what you'll notice is a mom who is happily attached to each of her children and is blessed to be staying home with them.

I thank the Lord that whoever decided to set that fire was kind enough (?) to do it with no children in the building.  That day in those flames, I lost some of Julia's things, but I didn't lose Julia.  In fact, I gained more time with her and a better understanding of my comfort level as a parent.  Those flames damaged so much--but ironically, they helped me start to feel less damaged.

It happened at daycare.  My life as a stay-at-home mom, a happier mom, began.  Blessings are sometimes highly-disguised.


  1. Wow. How scary. I too, know what it is to have anxiety about your kids. I let it get to me time to time (who am I kidding?.. this kid thing makes me nervous all the time)
    I just feel more comfortable with my kids by my side all the time. See, you get it too!
    The daycare burning down? Well, that's just insanity! I'm glad it chased you toward having a happier life, staying at home with the kids.

  2. This? Beautifully written, friend. Beautiful.

  3. wow what a scary experience. But things happen for a reason. glad to see everything worked out

  4. Oh my goodness. I'm glad that after all that you were able to find out what worked best for you and your family:-)

  5. That is a very chilling story yet so beautifully written. It is so true that blessings do come in disguises...
    I am so happy that you get to stay home with your family. What a blessing indeed!

  6. From someone who has to rely on others to care for my child, this is a scary and eye opening post. When Ethan was born, I promised he would not go into a corporate daycare program until he was old enough to express himself and tell me about his day. I was so very blessed to find home care programs through my church and friends for his first 3 years. There is nothing more difficult than putting your faith and trust in total strangers. As a single Mom and needless to say "head of household", I still struggle with the thought of, "Who is watching my baby?" - even when he is with his father.

    Very good information and a very intimate insight into your life and your struggles. You're the best Jenn.

  7. What a great article - thank you for sharing this. We had a daycare nightmare when my son was just 9 months, which I can harldy type this without getting teary-eyed and he is now 6 years old. Luckily, I was strong enough to stand up to the woman and report the center to the state. My neighbors and I (all our kids were there) came together and the center was closed permanently. I keep thinking over and over what if my mom didn't show up early that day? We would never have known the nightmare that was happening. I too chalked up my fears to being a new mom away from her son who she had spent every waking moment with for 9 months. I never felt right about it but let other people tell me it was "normal" to feel that way. I now am a stay at home mom of three children and have appreciated every minute of not having to put my children in daycare (though I do know there are some amazing people out there who run daycares and take care of children as if they were there own).

  8. Oh, Beth! I hate that something bad happened to you, as well. I really did think my feelings were "normal," but now I know I should have listened to them. So glad things worked out for you to be able to stay home, as well.

  9. Thanks, Jenn! I used to work full-time, so being a SAHM I have really learned to slow down and appreciate the little things in life and especailly appreciate the fact that I get to see every one of my children pass each and every milestone. Hope you have a Happy New Year!