There’s a fine line between voicing a complaint and plain old complaining. When it comes to the people that are responsible for taking care of my kid, I like to steer clear of that line altogether. I work hard to act like I don’t care if they feed her generic goldfish instead of the organic crackers I took extra time to pack, or if they keep forgetting to separate the diaper from the diaper cover before putting it in the bag for me to take home (and believe me, these little things, for someone as psychotically perfectionistic as I am, really do drive me crazy). I do everything I can think of to keep them feeling happy and appreciated – ask about their weekends and their own little ones, buy them nicer Christmas gifts than the other parents, tell them funny stories of how Koukla waits by the front door yelling, “I want to go to school mommy!” when I’m running late in the morning.
But what happens when the question of when to bite your tongue ceases to be so black and white? What happens when it’s no longer learning to ignore your annoyance that the teacher didn’t fold your daughter’s sweatshirt in the way you prefer, and instead becomes concern that something is amiss in the classroom? What happens when the more you bite your tongue, the more your child, apparently, gets bitten?
Last week, my daughter didn’t stand by the door insisting we leave. Last week was full of my pleading and prodding, full of her defiance and refusals. Last week Koukla stopped liking school.
This happens sometimes when I’ve been working long hours, or when I’ve been out of town. It also sometimes happens after I’ve taken time off with her, after she’s gotten accustomed to all mom all the time. And sometimes it happens just because. Or what I thought was just because.
Last Tuesday night, when my husband and I were making dinner and talking to Koukla about her day at school, she happened to mention that a little boy in class had bitten her. It was thrown in among the other totally normal events that she usually lists in her description of what she did during her nine hours of daycare – I went on the swing, I read books, I played with Jacob, Emily cried, Jared bit me – and I wasn’t sure whether she was just saying it to practice her words, or whether she was trying to tell me about something that had actually happened. So I asked for more details, and she obliged. She told me how it happened, told me about the bike she was using that Jared tried to take from her, showed me where on her shoulder he had gotten her. She even asked me to tell her teacher about what had happened. Which is what I did.
I should say here that this is not the first time my daughter has been bitten at school. More than once I’ve gotten the middle of the day call with news that an incident report would be waiting for me at pick-up time, and every time I get the call I do my best to be perfectly calm, perfectly understanding. But this time I didn’t get that dreaded phone call, I didn’t read the details on a carbon copy sheet of paper. And when I NICELY asked my daughter’s teacher about it, her response was simply, “Oh, you know, they’re young, he probably just wanted what she was using, and they don’t know how to take turns.
Biting is going to happen. Hitting is going to happen. Tantrums and talking back and throwing toys, these are all going to happen. It’s just the age, I get it. But the difference between a two year old who bites and a five year old who does not bite is not just the level of maturity. It’s that someone taught the two year old that biting was not okay, and nor were any of those other bad behaviors that hopefully turn dormant at least for the years between toddler and teen. How are these toddlers going to learn that this behavior isn’t acceptable if their teachers seem to think that it is?
And more importantly, how is MY toddler going to learn that this behavior isn’t acceptable? Now, when my daughter acts out, it’s not as simple as just telling her, “That’s not appropriate,” or “We don’t do that.” Now I feel obliged to add prologue and epilogue and parenthesis, to add in a “maybe that’s okay at school, but it’s not okay at home.” She’s two years old and already she has two sets of rules, like the kids in high school who made the most of their parents’ shared custody by taking advantage of the house with the late curfew and no questions asked.
But the bigger problem here is beyond behavioral issues that may or may not occur as a result of other aggressive toddlers. The bigger problem is my own emotional issue that I was in no way prepared for. From day one, having happy confidence in the quality of my child’s daycare has been my saving grace as a working mother. It allows me to go to my office every day without the weight of worry holding me back, allows me to focus on solving problems and nourishing my ambition. Now it’s as though my security blanket has been stripped away. I’m jittery and worried, I’m constantly checking my phone for calls from daycare all day and obsessively checking my daughter for behavioral shifts when we get home at night.
For all of my hoping and whining, giving up my career to be a stay at home mom is not an option for my family. Which leaves me where I have spent so much time as a mother – online, late at night, looking for answers. What I found ranged from not particularly useful (all of those articles on how to deal with the biters, like this one that I posted to the MaW Facebook page) to downright scary (like this one about how daycare turns our kids into savages???). What I couldn’t find anywhere was an honest conversation about how to have an honest conversation with your young child’s caregiver, or even simply advice on where to draw the line.
This week Koukla seems to have readjusted. She’s back to standing by the door and reminding me that I’m late, back to pulling at her seatbelt and telling me she wants to go see her friends as we pull into the daycare parking lot. But while my anxiety is assuaged somewhat simply by seeing my child happy, I can’t help but think it’s a little less cute when I see Jared throw his cereal on the floor at breakfast, when I see Sarah jumping up and down and screaming at the top of her lungs because she doesn’t want to share her dinosaur book. Every child now is suspect, every child a potential bad influence, a potential aggressor. And all I can do is stand back, bite my tongue, and hope that the lessons learned at home will stick even when she’s at school. No surprise, I suppose, that the real lesson to be learned here is my own.