A Guy’s Guide to Picking a Daycare Center

Getting ready to go over the wall when he found out his daycare does not show CNN.

After Mommy and Me Class Esther and I talked about putting Cristian into daycare a few days a week so he could learn socialization skills playing with kids his age.  Working from home meant gathering Intel on the local daycare centers was another item on the Honey-do list.  I was in uncharted territory.

Becoming a dad at 50 and an uncle at 36 didn’t help.  I had no part of raising either or my nieces, a decision they’ll thank me for as they get older.  With no practice kid to make mistakes on, I was starting from scratch.

Since Cristian’s a one and done child we didn’t want to leave him with anyone, we wanted someone good.  Our ideal caretaker possessed compassion and sensitivity but was quick on their feet and able to handle anything he could throw at them, I do mean throw.

Not All Daycare Centers are Created Equal. – Daycare providers vary in size and scope ranging from small setups in someone’s basement to large compounds resembling internment camps.  They run the gamut from 5 children sitting around a TV all day watching the Disney Channel, to elaborate programs preparing toddlers for an Ivy-League education.  At one site I sat next to a pregnant mother reserving a spot for her unborn child, six weeks after her due date.

Logistics and Reconnaissance – Being a parent less than two years required me to draw from my experience as a logistics specialist. I started with a Google search of every daycare provider within a 25- mile radius of home, 50-miles was just too much, checking all possible routes, factoring in inclement weather and traffic patterns.  After numerous phone calls, I developed an understanding of all things a baby needs to perform at maximum efficiency, diapers, wipes, bottles, etc.

Then working with the diligence of a British Intelligence agent preparing Donald Trump’s dossier, I watched and observed Daycare Facilities checking everything from curriculum and reputation to compromising information on parents, neighbors and staff.  I learned a lot, but chose not to post my findings on cleanliness and potty training on BuzzFeed.

Making friends with a mermaid at the Long Island Aquarium.

The Interview – After deciding on a daycare center, we scheduled an interview with the owner.  Staying true to form, my better half looked for safety, cleanliness, and a stimulating curriculum—I asked if the staff had paramilitary training, Cristian’s tantrums get pretty bad.   What sold me was the bouncy house in the backyard play area, perfect for tiring the most energetic toddler.

Ready to go from Day One.

Summertime Blues – For his last days of freedom, Esther and I sent him off with style, taking him to the Beach, Sesame Place and the Aquarium—okay we enjoyed it too.  Cristian ran up and down the Rockaway Beach Boardwalk, saw his favorite Sesame Street characters in a parade, and made friends with a mermaid.  We found out he loves, water, marine life, and photo bombing tourists at the Aquarium.

Worries/Concerns – Esther and I differed on this one.  As a Mom she worried about leaving the baby with someone other than family.  I worried about getting a phone call an hour after dropping him off. “Mr. Priegue, we are refunding your deposit, please pick up your son.”  We were curious how he’d react.  Would he cry or panic?  Not Cristian, as soon as they opened the gate, he went running in and didn’t look back.  Was he asserting a sense of independence or just happy to see new toys to play with?  We’ll leave that to the historians.

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Because You Can’t Flush a Cocker Spaniel

Cristian at the Long Island Aquarium

If you follow this blog you know I’m a cranky dad, a marathon runner and a dog lover.  When my better half and I were dating, her dog Chico’s approval helped seal the deal.  Chico was more than a pet—he was a friend and my practice child.

Chico’s passing left a void.  Esther and I want another dog, but we have too much going on right now. A dog is a major commitment, demanding time and attention we don’t have—plus we have someone who keeps us busy with walks, feedings, and cleaning poop—I’ve been writing about him for almost two years.

This summer Esther, Cristian, and I did the family thing, going to Sesame Place, summer carnivals, and a couple of aquariums.  We quickly learned he likes playing in water, but he loves fish. He loved the big tanks at the Long Island Aquarium, the small tanks at Petco, and the movie Finding Dory.  You should have seen him freak out when he saw me eating sushi that looked like Nemo.

Cristian’s love of fish had Esther and I considering getting him a fish tank instead of a dog—okay more her than me.  One night at the carnival, the decision was made for us.   We were playing a game, throwing ping pong balls into small holes when we won a goldfish.

I wasn’t worried, I won goldfish as a kid, they all died and were flushed a week later—but this was different.  Before handing me a fish-filled plastic bag, he went into sales mode. “You have a fish in a bag, but do you have a fish bowl?  No?  For only $10, I’ll give you a fish bowl, a second fish, and I’ll even throw in some fish food.  Now how does that sound?”

Walking home, trying not to spill water as I balanced the fish bowl on top of Cristian’s stroller, I wondered what just happened.  Did I miss something?  We left home planning on letting the baby run around a little,  playing a few games, and eating a sausage and pepper hero and maybe some funnel cake.  How did we end up with a couple of fish?   Good thing we weren’t looking for a used car.

When we got home, my better half started researching home aquariums, aka fish tanks.  If you’ve met my wife, you know she’s a big-picture type of person—big goals, big dreams, big ideas. I’m the one who brings her back to earth when she goes off the deep end.

My mental image of what our home aquarium would look like.

This is usually when I worry about how big a picture.  Are we ordering tropical fish, converting a room into a full-sized aquarium, getting a school of piranhas?  Okay the piranhas were my idea.

What do I know about fish?  I’m a dog person.  My family had dogs for as long as I remember.  Dad brought home Susy, our first dog, when I was in second or third grade and she lived until a few years after I graduated from college.  All I knew about fish was you flush them when they die.

Around the time we flushed our original goldfish into Jamaica Bay, we set up a ten-gallon tank in Cristian’s room, complete with new fish, gravel, and columns.  Although fish are lower maintenance than dogs, they aren’t maintenance-free, so instead of waking up early to walk a dog, I’m cleaning a tank every two weeks or so.  Saying goodnight to his fish is now part of the baby’s bedtime ritual.  It’s not the same as a dog, but for now it will do.

Cristian’s Fishtank
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The Last Days of a Stay at Home Dad

Enjoying my days as a SAHD

It’s been awhile since my last post—too long.  A lot’s changed in the four months since I posted about sore nipples—they’re still a little tender by the way.  Cristian turned two, an orange narcissist was elected President, and I’m no longer a Stay at Home Dad.

Shortly after Mommy and Me Class, (my last post), Esther and I discussed putting Cristian into daycare three days a week.  We figured spending time with kids his age is better for learning childlike-behavior, instead of spending days with his old man learning childish behavior.  We signed him up when he started throwing his sippy cup at the TV whenever CNN aired a Trump Rally.

Around the same time, I started receiving job offers.  A steady gig as a school photographer was a bit scary—not because of the workload but photographing elementary school kids was a sneak preview of the next few years of parenting.

Shortly afterwards I scored an interview for an academic advisor position at a college, my alma mater.  Since I was already working steadily as a freelancer with a possible full-time job lined up, we added two more days to Cristian’s schedule.  I had mixed emotions—I was excited at the challenge of a new job but was a little bummed too.

Getting his daily dose of CNN.

I’ve taken care of Cristian since Esther went back to work from maternity leave.  We’ve gone to MyGym classes, shopped at Costco, and he came along with me when I delivered documents for my medical billing job.

I knew I’d miss chasing him around the playground, watching him hit new developmental milestones, and miss the vein popping from my forehead as he tested Daddy’s patience time after time, (usually after the playground and hitting developmental milestones.  Life was changing yet again.

My mornings are different now.  Instead of taking Esther to work and Cristian to the playground, before settling into a few hours of spreadsheets and billing codes, my mornings are now a blur of shave, shower and get dressed.  Once again Esther and I are tag-team parents, one of us watching the baby while the other gets ready for work.  Sure my new job has nice perks like an office, but I still miss watching Cristian goofing on Wolf Blitzer after coming home from the playground

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Am I the Only One with Sore Nipples?

Cristian's First Piece of Original Artwork. Esther loved it, but I'm going to wait before we think about sending him to art school.
Cristian’s First Piece of Original Artwork. Esther loved it, but I’m going to wait before we think about sending him to art school.

I haven’t spent much time at the keyboard—it’s been a rough summer.  Although I haven’t been writing Cristian’s been growing and developing. I have material for several blog posts—I just need to sit and write them.

At the beginning of the summer Esther and I discussed enrolling Cristian in a Mommy and Me class.  Esther has a background in child development so when she suggested enrolling him in a class, I listened.  We agreed he needed to spend more time playing with kids his age.

Since she works six days a week, Mommy and Me class was another item on my Honey-Do List.  Although the class didn’t intimidate me, I was curious as to how a Mommy and Me Class worked and how I’d fit in.

Ever the artist Cristian explores a new medium, shaving medium.
Ever the artist Cristian explores a new medium, shaving medium.

Here’s what I found:

A Chance to Develop Social Skills – Mommy and Me Class offers a chance to develop social skills while playing with other children.  We wanted something more productive than him watching me yell at the TV during Donald Trump Rallies on CNN.  Our goal was for him to learn childlike behavior not childish behavior.

Dads Go to Mommy and Me Class Too– This was my biggest concern.  Playing nicely with the other children or adapting to the program, were minor details.

I had no idea what was waiting for me.  Would the women go to the ladies room together, like when we go out with friends?  Would I hear the hellish childbirth war stories, about who needed more stitches or had more tearing?  Would it be a group of women in Capri pants sipping wine while the kids played?

Not knowing what to expect I packed a cooler with a six-pack.   I know what some of you are thinking, but it was light beer— I didn’t want to give the wrong impression on the first day.  Image my surprise when there were two other dads were in class—they passed on the cold one I offered them.

Hey Dad, they have the coolest toys here.
Hey Dad, they have the coolest toys here.

You Will Channel Your Parents – Like every parent, I thought, I’d be more laid-back than my parents were—that theory went flying out the window midway through the first class.   Cristian playing with orange play doh right after munching on orange goldfish during snack time had me channeling my Dad big time.  I could imagine the smile on his face as I pried the baby’s mouth open five or six times making sure the only thing he was chomping on were goldfish.

New Routines and Kiddie Songs – Mommy and Me class gave Cristian a chance to model other children’s behavior—he learned sitting still (or as still as twenty-month old could manage) sharing and pretend play with the other kids.  Sure I left class with three or four new kiddie songs stuck in my head for a few days but it was a small price to pay.

Someone Needs a Nap, the Baby Could Use One Too – Cristian loved the class although it usually ran into his nap time.  I could relate, chasing him around class, keeping paint or shaving cream off both of us and making sure he didn’t gobble up another kid’s snack who would have thought he loved veggie straws, was exhausting (See the section on Channeling Your Parents).  Many times we both needed a nap when we got home from class.

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Remembering Dad A Year Later

Dad in mid conversation, probably talking politics.
Dad in mid conversation, probably talking politics.

A year ago today my Dad passed away and I’ve spent the past week with an overwhelming sense of déjà vu.  Whether it was driving past the nursing home where he spent his last days on the way to the baby’s My Gym Class or seeing images of him in a slide show at my niece’s Sweet 16 Party last weekend.  Last Friday night’s torrential rain awakened more memories than expected.

I remember a painful conversation with Mom as I drove her home from the nursing home in a heavy rain. I told her the doctor said Dad developed pneumonia, and probably wouldn’t make it through the weekend. That was the best case scenario—the worst case scenario was he wouldn’t make it through the night.  You would have thought a diagnosis of Pancreatic Cancer and three months of doctors and hospitals would have prepared us for this—it didn’t.

When my phone rang at 6am the next morning, Esther and I knew it was bad news.  How many early-morning calls are good news?  I felt numb calling Mom, my brother Bob and various aunts and uncles, informing them of Dad’s passing as I walked Chico.  The conversations were short and quick, the numbness stayed with me a few months.

We spent the weekend after Dad’s passing decluttering Mom’s house, devouring cold cut platters, and reliving memories.  I’ve always been amazed how people achieve saint-like status simply by dying.  I’ve written about my Dad several times he was a good man with many wonderful traits—but he was no saint.  We lightened the mood, spending parts of the weekend reliving stories of our favorite meltdowns or Mom and Dad bickering like George Costanza’s parents on Seinfeld.  Fifty plus years of marriage will do that.

Dad with my Maternal Grandfather in Puerto Rico in 1980
Dad with my Maternal Grandfather in Puerto Rico in 1980

A lot’s changed in the past year, Esther, Cristian and I moved in with Mom to help out with the house and dealing with losing Dad.  Esther and I do much of the former, Cristian handles the latter.  The numbness is gone—it’s been replaced with sadness and regret.

I regret not asking him more about the Spanish side of my family tree, about his dad and his brothers.   I never met them—they all died too young.  I regret being a stubborn child who didn’t pay enough attention when he tried teaching me basic carpentry and household projects.  I regret not thanking him for all he gave me, did for me, and for not saying I love you.

Dad helping pop a champagne cork to celebrate my 14th Birthday.
Dad helping pop a champagne cork to celebrate my 14th Birthday.

These days many people are concerned with their legacy.  Once considered the domain of athletes and politicians it’s now a concern among many average people.  Maybe it’s a product of the age we live in.  I doubt Dad put any thought into his legacy, but he did leave one behind.

To the many carpenters, electricians and other skilled laborers, most from Galicia, the part of Spain he was from, Dad’s legacy was helping them with a well-placed phone call to an employer or union rep finding them a job or a union card shortly after arriving in this country.  To him it was paying forward the kindness extended to him by a friend named Viña many years before.

Before writing this piece I thought about Dad’s legacy.  Was it fulfilling the American Dream?  He arrived in this country in 1956 with little more than the clothes on his back, a few dollars in his pocket, and a trade—he was a skilled carpenter.  Over the next 60 years, he married, raised a family, built a home, saved a few dollars, and gave his children a better life than the one he knew as a child.

Although impressive it’s incomplete.  As a father he taught me more by his actions and examples than his words.  He and Mom were married for 56 years and sure they bickered a bit as they got older—show me an old married couple that doesn’t—but it was his genuine concern for her in his last days that touched me.  He insisted I keep him up to date her latest doctor’s appointments, making sure she was taken care of.

Ever the doting grandfather, he waited 88 years for his elusive grandson.  Seeing his hazel eyes light up whenever I brought Cristian to the nursing home was one of the few bright spots for me during his last days–but there were sad memories too.  I’ll never forget him playing with his nine-month old grandson saying, “You’re beautiful!  What a shame I won’t be able to see you grow up.”

Today we’ll honor Dad’s memory, with a memorial mass for him and Esther’s Mom Maria—she lost her fight with Pancreatic Cancer three years ago this week.  After paying respects at the cemetery, I’m firing up the grill, serving up sardines and other grilled meats along with wine and beer just like Dad would do on any Sunday afternoon in July.  I can’t think of a better way of keeping his memory alive.

 

Grandpa's Stone

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