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  • Writer's pictureRachel Ogilby

Humility and Pride in the Same Breath - The First Day of Crèche (French Daycare)

I tucked myself into the tiniest corner I could find in the café. I wanted to take a moment to reflect, and the more interactions I had with people the less inclined I would be to really think. The next 90 minutes would be over before I knew it.

I had dreamt about this day for months, but now that it was here I felt a bit lost. Was I supposed to be productive? Luxuriously lazy? Should I be cleaning? Sleeping?

I had just dropped off our youngest child at French daycare (crèche). He has a total of two weeks for “adaptation” (one week longer than most, per our request) and this was the first day he was there without me. I choked back tears as I sent a voice note to one of my best friends. “Both my babies are at crèche, and everyone is growing up… even me, I suppose!” I said.

Our two-year-old (Carter) had been at the same crèche for four months now. It was obvious how much it impacted his development. He started putting away toys, tucking in his chair, throwing balls, climbing, and more all after a few months at daycare. He would even run around our apartment yelling “c’est quoi?” (“it’s what?”) in French, and to our complete amusement, he would greet children in museums the same way, grinning ear to ear while proudly exclaiming his new French statement.

Just yesterday, he waved goodbye to crècheand said, “au revoir” (“bye!”).

The French daycare is rich in activities– they sing songs, read books, paint, and have multiple rooms to play in depending on the activity. Yesterday when I arrived to pick up our oldest, he and the other children were playing in the outdoor space with their winter jackets and hats (even while it was snowing!).

Another room (“motricité”, or “motor skills”) has gym equipment and a small library. The third room is where they spend most of their time, playing, eating, and sleeping.

The daycare workers are angels. Our children are in different “sections” of the same daycare due to their age gap. In each section, one teacher speaks enough English that we feel very comfortable communicating.

The other teachers speak as much English as they can and we speak as much French as we can back. It’s a beautiful dance that I’ve experienced before in other languages (Spanish), and it always reminds me of the loveliness and kindness of humanity.

Taking part in the “language dance” routinely fills me with gratitude. How many Parisians have spoken their second language (or third) to help us along our way? Every bakery encounter is the same, as is asking for a table at a restaurant or a store employee where I might find an ingredient.

It fills me with humility and reminds me of this delightful adventure I’m on – not just here experiencing Paris as an American, but experiencing Life here as a Human on Earth.

Carter is well taken care of – it is apparent in the way he hugs his teachers when he arrives and how the other children greet him (sometimes with a kiss on each cheek!). Though integration to daycare came with the normal germs and big emotions related to separation from mom and dad, it has been such a good experience that we increased his time there from four days a week to five.

Thinking about these positive impacts of daycare give me comfort while thinking about our youngest. I have such much fun with him lately as he learns to crawl and eat and sit up – I’ve been having doubts about our decision to put him in daycare. Would I be missing out on some of his sweetest moments? Would I look back one day and wonder why I didn’t spend every second with him while he was so small?

If I were really honest, I can admit that I am having these thoughts because I now have the relief of childcare coming. I’ve had many days of crying from exhaustion, feeling frustrated because of my inability to get housework done, impatience with my desire to be both present with my son yet productive, and guilty about all of the above feelings.

The crèche initiation gives me space to breathe, to think… to even appreciate and enjoy my time with Robert that much more knowing this quantity of time with him would come to a (temporary) end soon.

The truth is, we can only make decisions based on what we know and how we feel. I could live so many parallel lives with so many different decisions, and most likely they would all work out just lovely. When we requested a place in daycare for Robert months ago, I wasn’t sure what I would want in the future – but I knew I wanted the choice. And I suppose now it’s still the same – there’s no reason I can’t take Robert out of daycare if we decided that was best, but now we have it if we need it.

In forty minutes I’ll walk back to the daycare and pick up my little boy. I’ll find out if he cried, slept and played. Either way, I’ll be so proud of him and me.

In the same moment we’ll have been both brave and anxious, strong and vulnerable, adventurous and timid.

It’s the balance that lives in us every day here in a new country, and it is also what allows me to feel humble and proud in the same moment.

Now, to finishing this coffee and doing the best Parisian café activity – people watching.

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