For 40 months, since my daughter was 11 months old, until the end of August, just before she starts junior kindergarten, she was enrolled in campus daycare. The staff was well-trained, kind, fun, and personable. The meals were supervised by a trained dietician, prepared on-site by a part-time cook, from a six-week rotating menu that varied from season to season. The hours were great, the location fantastic--a 15 minute walk from my office, a 10 minute walk from Daddy's office. It was accessible by bus, which allowed us to remain a one-car family. It was close enough to the office that sudden weather closures or even more sudden fevers could be addressed immediately.
She learned her alphabet, her manners, a million songs, how to play well with other children, how to bond with adults who were not us. She came home every day full of stories and hugs for us, and with inventive crafts to cover every magnetized surface in the house. There were field trips, and French lessons, and visits from the librarian. There was curriculum, and there was 2 hours of outdoor play every single day. There were naps and bandaids and--on the last Friday of the month!--cupcakes.
What a wonderful, wonderful boon this was, to all of us. This safe, loving, healthy environment for our girl, so close to our workplaces, allowed our family to grow and develop, allowed all of us to have the security and confidence enough to develop as our own selves--a little girl getting bigger every day, an assistant professor deeply invested in her work, an academic administrator in charge of huge numbers of files and details and work.
Daycare on campus was an unalloyed good for us. I cried when we emptied out her cubby for the last time yesterday.
Every one who wants it should have access to this kind and this quality of care during the hours in which they choose to--or have to--work. Too many parents are turned away from these daycares for reasons of space. Many others, even if they were lucky enough to get the phone call offering an open spot, can't afford to pay the fees that sustain trained staff and a healthy environment.
We were incredibly lucky to secure her a spot in the infant room at the end of our parental leave: on this campus of more than 29,000 students, 1000 faculty members, and 2200 staff there's only room for 10 infants. We put her on the waiting list before I told my department chair I was pregnant: she was "Baby Barber," sex TBA, on the pre-enrolment form. Never mind that for six months, the fees we paid ($1045) were higher than our mortgage ($991).
Let me be perfectly clear: I could not be the professor that I am if it were not for the support this daycare offered to my family.
An equitable campus provides for the children of its community. All of its community, and all the children who want it, and for less than the cost of a mortgage payment every month.
So this is an ode to my daycare, and a lament, I guess for the rest of you, who never made it to the top of the waiting list before your kids started high school.
"My teacher taught me how to tie my shoes!"