I don’t know why, but in the past three or four weeks, Lily’s developed this thing where, when I get to the daycare center somewhere between 4:30 and 5 p.m., she urges me to take off my coat and just play with her there. OK. Not a big deal. Because Joe generally doesn’t get home until 6:15 or so anyway, whether I’m entertaining Lily at daycare, at home, or at the nearby library is all the same to me; in fact, it’s easier somewhere like daycare, where there are multiple people around. So we’ve grown accustomed to closing the place at 6, or at least staying until the last kid in the toddler room leaves. Lily’s become that barfly kid, to whom the daycare owners have to essentially say, “You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.”
I haven’t yet figured out why this has evolved. I’m certainly glad she likes her daycare teachers and the other kids, but even though that was true before, she used to run for her coat when she saw me arrive. As I said, it’s all the same to me – morning is when I’m in a bit more of a hurry; by the time I’m picking her up, I’m just rolling with whatever, since Joe makes dinner – and in a way, it’s nice. I’ve gotten a much better sense of the caregivers Lily interacts with daily, and the personalities of the kids in her room.
This latter part is particularly inevitable. Since I’ve become a fixture lately for the kids who stay ’til the very end of the day, they’ve become comfortable with me to the point that they ask me to read books to them, they sit on my lap, and they chat with me. In this way, I have become this lady I never, ever imagined becoming. The one with two little girls on her lap as she reads a book, with other toddlers peer over her shoulder. In these still-bizarre-to-me moments, I think, ‘What freakin’ Disney movie did I just step into, and how on earth did I get here?’
Lily occasionally gets a bit territorial about me being there – “MY mommy” she tells the others, though she’s currently in a “MINE!!” stage with everything – but she’s generally happy. It’s when I finally have to persuade her to leave that she sometimes falls apart. I think transitions in general are just tough for little toddlers – that’s what I tell myself, anyway, when she’s aimlessly wandering in the nearby bank parking lot in the freezing cold instead of staying on the sidewalk and heading toward home. “What’s so bad about our house that it’s to be avoided?” I always wonder. But when I’m rational – it happens occasionally – I think she’s just a highly social little explorer who wants to go everywhere, and see everyone, she can.
The good part about her being the Norm Peterson of her daycare center, though, is that she is a beloved fixture. One morning a few weeks ago, she slept in a bit, which is really unusual. Naturally, she nonetheless wanted to spend the hour to 90 minutes with me that we normally spend together in the morning, during which time we may cuddle, color, have some Cheerios, read, etc. So we did that, and rather than getting to daycare at 8:30 a.m., it was 9:30 a.m.
The kids were long done with breakfast and were circling around the room, making motions with a song that was playing called “Moving Day.” Once they spotted me and Lily coming in the door, they all, like a toddler herd, came rushing over to us. They all said, “Hi, Lily!” and reached out to touch her, and one of the oldest girls in the room removed Lily’s coat and hat and grabbed her hand, pulling her to join in with the song with everyone else.
The whole thing nearly made me cry, and I smiled about it on the walk back home. These kids love her, I realized, and they miss her when she’s not there, among them. What more can any of us want, for ourselves or our children?