When choosing a day care, we narrowed our choices down to two. One was a brand new facility and the other considerably older and established. About a month before I went back to work, we revisited both in one day to try and decide which option we wanted.
The newer facility still had that new building smell. The carpets were unstained, the toys had very few smudges, the walls had no tiny fingerprints. The director gave Braxton a glance and gave us a tour. The infants were in this tiny corner of the room, with three women sitting in chairs watching them.
The other place was located in a strip mall, down the way from a bar. The door was a little sticky when trying to enter and the lock seemed unreliable. The carpet, still a style from the late 1980s, leading downstairs was worn thin from little sneakers.
In the infant room, along the walls that could use a new coat of paint, were little clipboards for each baby, hanging below a basket of supplies. The toys definitely had that used, second-hand look and the high chairs had been used, a lot. The director was walking us around and describing the routine in the room.
The dinginess weighed on me. It was in such stark contrast with the other daycare.
As we entered, the woman on the floor with the babies, immediately jumped up, eager to hold Braxton. She held him lovingly, cooing at him as other women from the facility made their way over to ooh and aah.
As the co-director walked us around talking, my options weighing in my head, I saw it: BRAXTON. His name was on the wall. A month before he was scheduled to be there. They were waiting for him. Eagerly anticipating his arrival, just like we had done.
Since that moment, we haven’t looked back. They have been a constant source of patience and understanding, and have felt to me, in many ways, to be a co-parent. They were reassuring on Braxton’s first day, when I tearfully asked, “what about me?” in response to their explanation that he would be fine after I left.
They helped me realize the milestones he was ready for, such as solid foods and trying the potty. And I will never forget the day I was walking down the stairs hearing loud cheers, saying “Braxton, you’re doing it!” as he took his first steps.
They have listened and offered advice on my parenting challenges, ready with stories of their own children. They have put up with Braxton’s reluctance every morning to be separated from his mommy but also his desire to finish his art project before going home at the end of the day.
Although I struggled with the decision briefly, I realize now I was stopped only by the oldest cliché in an English teacher’s world: I judged a book by its cover. Over the years of Braxton’s time there, we continue to be reminded that the only thing that mattered were the smiles waiting inside that old door, the enthusiastic greetings every morning, and the thoughtful stories about his day.
I often explain that our daycare isn’t the fanciest place in the world, but it is filled with the right elements for us. They have made improvements in the physical facility, but they have kept what was always there, those intangible qualities that could never be achieved with new paint and brand new toys, the love Braxton gets every day.