Finding a care partner

I’ll tell you the truth. It was hard finding people we could trust to watch our dog.

There is a regiment that goes into taking care of someone else’s pet – one that takes practice, that takes an innate ability to sense when your special furry friend needs to be let out, or fed, or lavished attention upon. If you give someone your dog, you can’t be assured that your dog will take to him or her. You search out the right balance of temperament and attention, calmness and willingness. They don’t often go hand in hand.

We’ve seen hundreds of scare videos of animals being abused by someone. And when you’re searching for someone to watch over your pet, these images come flashing back, swarming your better judgment and causing an over-analyzation of outcomes. What happens if they bite? What happens if they run away? What happens if they choke on a biscuit and they are secretly replaced by a dog that looks somewhat similar – like some kind of half-baked sit-com?

Now imagine doing all of this again, except this time it’s going to be for the two-month old child that you’ve just brought into the world. The same child that, at this time, seems so fragile, so breakable. So perfect, and so difficult to let go of.

That’s what we’re doing now in anticipation of Baby Vilhauer. Daycare shopping. Eventually, the ten weeks of combined maternity/paternity leave will be up. We’ll need to find someone to baby-sit. We’ll need to find someone that will eventually become a very large part of our child’s life.

How’s that for pressure?

So we’re taking a grand tour of available infant-ready daycare homes and centers in the ten-mile radius of our home. You can’t imagine how many childcare providers there can be in an area of 150,000 people. But, at the same time, the numbers don’t lie. In South Dakota, 47% of children under six are in paid childcare. This is the highest in the nation – nearly double the national average (26%).

The choices are staggering. The safety and clinical sameness of centers – with their secure entrances and structured lesson plans and higher frequency of sickness – or the down to earth, more reasonably priced home daycares – bastions of indie ideals, yet many times lacking the entire breadth of opportunity. Do we go corporate and justify ourselves with easy to handle sick days and extra support? Do we go into the home and worry about what happens during the day?

Technology and information make some choices easier. Why worry about sub-par conditions when you have access to an Internet feed from inside each daycare room? Why fret about not knowing your child’s daily welfare and learning when reports are sent home every day?

Regardless, you’re sending your child into the world at a ripe young age. You’re exposing him or her to communication, to the beauties of social interaction, to the idea of play, of constant attention, to a structured learning environment based on educational ideals.

So no matter how hard it is to let go, you make the effort. You watch as your child is left behind, but you doing it that you’re working to bring them a better life. And you do it knowing that the interaction, the safety and the experience has already been approved, months in advance, by your watchful eye, your intense questioning and your ceaseless struggle to choose the perfect place.

So through the over-thinking and hyper-analyzing, you choose your child’s new daycare knowing that every option was considered, boosted up or knocked down by your visits elsewhere. And with that, you understand that even though daycare shopping is a draining, stressful experience – akin to buying a house or searching for a new career – it’s all worth it to ensure the development of that little person you’re soon to be responsible for.

With that said, it’s quite amazing how – two full months before Baby Vilhauer is born – I’m already having a hard time letting go.

This was lovingly handwritten on May 31st, 2007