The day before Teddy started daycare, I knew we needed to look for a new provider.
The offer we’d put in on a house in D.C. had been accepted. We were moving in six weeks. The in-home daycare in Alexandria that I’d found two months earlier that seemed like a great fit would only be temporary; Teddy would only be six months old when he left. He’d have no memory of that townhouse on the way to Old Town, where the teachers cooed to the babies in Russian.
The next week, just back from maternity leave, I set out to find our daycare replacement. I joined the new neighborhood’s listserve, asked for recommendations from friends, and put out feelers at work. Teddy’s short-term daycare was an in-home arrangement, something in between the small nanny shares and the larger corporate daycare centers that we’d also considered. Although he’d only been in daycare for a couple of weeks, it seemed natural to look for something similar near our new house.
I found a promising lead on the neighborhood listserve and emailed the mom who’d posted that her son’s in-home daycare had an opening. She raved about the owner, about the care her son was receiving, about how happy the kids seemed. I called another mom whose first son was among the daycare’s first babies; her second son would be starting there in just a few weeks.
A few days later, I hopped a bus just outside my office and headed a little over a mile north to meet the owner and check out the daycare for myself. As Maria took me through the house, she told me about the games they played and the songs they sang and the food that she cooked each day. And then she said, “This is my family. If you come here, you’re my family.”
It was as much a pledge from her as it was a test for us. She wanted to know that we’d be a part of the community she was creating, full of kids who cared about each other and parents who did, too. It sounded lovely and warm. We signed Teddy up.
He quickly settled in to his daycare routine, surrounded by a bunch of other babies within just a few months of his age. It took his parents a little while longer to settle in to the daycare community, consumed by the chaos of moving and being back to work and life with a baby.
That September, the parents put together a party — part thank you, part playgroup, part “hey I see you every day at dropoff, but it would be nice to say more than hello.” And suddenly, that day, Teddy’s friends’ parents became my friends, too. We left with hugs and promises to get together.
And then we did – for meetups at the playground, for tot soccer (aka “hey, don’t lay down in the goal, hey, put those sticks and rocks down”), for backyard playdates, for birthday parties. The moms trade emails and go to brunch; the dads have gotten together for beers and pay-per-view fights. We’ve been there, too, when there have been bigger needs: babysitting during work emergencies, meal trains during pregnancy bedrest, overnight stays when a new sibling made a surprise arrival.
These families have become my neighborhood family.
A few weeks ago, we gathered for daycare “graduation.” Teddy and seven of his buddies are saying goodbye to daycare, bound for preschool. It’s been a process over the last couple of months; a few have already left, but tomorrow’s the last day for four of them – kids who together learned to walk, talk, sing songs in Spanish, use the potty, fight over toys, say sorry, and give hugs. They don’t remember a time without each other.
Tomorrow will be bittersweet. It’s not the true end of an era: we all live just down the street, so the playground and backyard playdates (and brunches and nights out) will continue, as will the hellos at dropoff and pickup for a bunch of us, who are still dropping off the younger siblings of Teddy’s crew.
But next week won’t be the same. There will be new friends, new teachers, new routines that will take us in slightly different directions.
I have faith, though, that some things won’t change. After all, your family’s your family, even when you’re not all in the same place.