#9: Big day for a girl

Or a big day for her parents?

Hey folks,

Today is a big day for our daughter. After 2 years and 1 month of always being with mama and papa, Charlotte’s going to daycare. My emotions look like a ball of tangled yarn, and I need to make sense of it.

Context: we live in Germany without family in the country or the continent, so we’ve raised Charlotte entirely on our own. This means many things, like how we’ve had total control over the environment and thereby the internal culture of her life so far. It also means we’ve had a grand total of 0 down days since she was born (add many more months for her mother).

(Okay, “entirely on our own” is a stretch. We’ve been the beneficiaries of the German government’s amazing parental assistance schemes, German society’s work-life balanced culture, the network of interesting playgrounds always around the city, and more. But, we are on our own in terms of taking care of our kiddo every day.)

I think I’ll write a separate post to talk about what it’s like to do it all on our own without the help of our parents, siblings, or childhood friends. This post isn’t that.

In this post, I simply want to figure out how I’m feeling knowing that our daughter is embarking on her 20-year journey in institutions that gradually draw her slowly and slowly away from us and more into the bosoms of society at large.

That’s what this is, right?

Image: DALL-E 3

Our Tagesmutter (literally translated as “daytime mother,” which is the German term for a professional child-minder) actually suggested that we tell Charlotte that “papa and mama have to work, but you’ll be in good company here, and we’ll come and get you after work, okay?”

Work? No, we’re not knowingly sending her off to school just because we have to work.

While it’s true that we have to work, I can confidently say that we’ve been financially stable since she’d been born, even as just one of us holds down a full-time job. So we don’t suddenly need to carve out more time to work more. So it’s not money-driven.

Nor is it ambition, an attempt to regain our pre-parent identities, or an itch to go back to applying ourselves more rigorously outside of our real job of being parents.

We’re sending her to daycare because we feel that we may, at this point, be stifling her growth if we don’t.

Two years seems like enough time for us to have laid a solid foundation for her character, we think, and now it’s time for her to develop skills on top of that. Skills like socialising with other little people and bigger people and knowing one is not at the centre of everyone’s attention.

She’s also now old enough to be able to speak her mind at a comprehensible level, so we don’t have to worry too much about bad things quietly happening to her. I’m imagining much more interesting dinner conversations going forward.

So what’s the emotional entanglement here? Sounds like I’ve got it figured out, ready to move forward, no?

The thing is, you and I both know what the road ahead is like.

You go to daycare and your mind starts to contend with a million new ideas put in your head by the strangers around you. They’re strangers now, but in a week or two, they’re your friends.

Friends. We’ve evolved to trust our friends, even when they’re wrong, so we do stupid things, darned things, and eventually pierce our flesh on figurative nails and get hurt.

And then, when you attempt to explain it to mama and papa, you realise, mama and papa weren’t there, so how could they really understand? Last time you explained something to them, they didn’t seem to get the point, not exactly anyway. Next time, you say to yourself, maybe I won’t bother.

When a plane flies 0.1 degrees off course, it ends up in a different country, maybe even a continent. We know that that applies to a person’s life trajectory too.

Like when I was 15, met a girl who happened to prioritised good grades, and by the time I was 16 my grades had risen from the tail-end in my class to second in the entire school. That was the GCE O Levels examinations, and those grades helped me go into a prestigious university and got me to where I am today. (Read that story here.)

That’s the happy path. What about the sad, or even tragic path?

And that’s just daycare. What about kindergarten, and primary school, and secondary school, so on and so on? Influence in all directions, and we’ll be relegated to guiding our child based on second-hand information from now on.

Now I’m beginning to see that what I’m feeling is fear.

I fear conceding control to the pedagogical preference of a childminder we’d only just met.

I fear children brought up by bad parenting planting terrible ideas and seeding warped worldviews.

I fear myself reacting unpleasantly to the myriad new bad behaviours that will inadvertently be picked up from school, and in doing so, adding more distance between us.

I don’t have a neat conclusion for this. I just know that I’ll have to work with my fears, and maybe let them guide me.

Big day, here we come.

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