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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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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The Life of a Stay at Home Dad

Cristian with some old guy.
Cristian with some old guy.

Before becoming a Stay at Home Dad, I had no idea of what to expect.  It was so bad I did a Google search to find out what SAHD meant.  Working without a road map the first months were a bumpy ride but its gotten smoother along the way.  Taking care of Cristian is the toughest job I’ve had, multitasking and improvising are only two of the skills needed for the job.

Since little information exists regarding Stay at Home Dads I decided to share a few details on the glamourous lives we lead.

Taking care of him was easier before he started walking
Taking care of him was easier before he started walking

Start Me Up – I’m up at 6:30 every morning.  Jumping or staggering out of bed depends on how the baby slept.  He’s usually up once a night.  He rolls over and goes back to sleep after snatching the bottle from my hand—on a good night.  Teething and ear infections have a way of throwing things out of whack.  I start my day with a cup of coffee and some quiet time with Esther as we straighten up the baby’s toys.  How Cristian slept the night before determines how strong I brew the coffee.

All the tools needed for starting the day off right
All the tools needed for starting the day off right

Daddy’s Wardrobe – This varies from dad to dad but it’s not business casual.  Most parenting books don’t offer wardrobe suggestions.  Since a lot of my day is spent chasing him around the house, the playground, and keeping him out of the bathroom, he loves bathrooms, I wear the same gear I wear on training runs, a tech t-shirt and sweats.   They’re light-weight, comfortable and washes easier than a cashmere sweater, because you will be drooled, spilled and pooped on.

No more CNN Daddy, I want to watch Sesame Street.
No more CNN Daddy, I want to watch Sesame Street.

Is TV the Babysitter? – Everyone thinks Stay at Home Dads binge watch Netflix while the baby plays.  In addition to being a Stay at Home Dad, I’m also a Work from Home Dad.  Working as a consultant and freelance writing gigs keep me busy while Cristian watches Sesame Street or Baby Genius.  That doesn’t mean he spends all day in front of the TV.   I read to him, we play in the park, and he comes along on my daily errands. That said Cristian’s watched more CNN than the average toddler—we both agree HD isn’t doing Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton any favors.

Sleep When They Sleep – I mentioned this before but it bears repeating.  I’m convinced anyone offering this advice never took care of a baby. Maybe they had a nanny or they’ve forgotten how demanding babies are.  A baby’s nap time is like hitting Lotto.  Here’s your chance to do a load of laundry, take a quick shower, or catch up on whatever you’ve fallen behind on.  Use the time wisely.  I’ve written and published blog posts during Cristian’s naps.

Everyone’s An Expert – Stay at Home Dads are still considered an oddity—much like caged animals at the zoo.  On any given day, I’ll hear comments and receive unsolicited advice on all things baby.  Everything from it looks mommy dressed him today, to how cute you’re babysitting, to he looks hungry.  Okay that last one was from Grandma who thinks everyone looks hungry but you get my point.

Multi-Tasking Required – Most job descriptions these days require strong time-management skills and the ability to multitask, they’re also prerequisites for any SAHD.  One any given day I’m chauffeuring Cristian to playdates, My Gym classes, or the park for an hour, while maintaining a full work-load and finding time to write. Am I babysitting or parenting—maybe a little of both depending on the day.

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Chasing the Tazmanian Devil

cropped-Sent-to-Esther-3.jpgParenting is a time-consuming, energy-draining proposition.  Babies expect to be fed and those diapers need to be changed every day.  I knew this when I signed on, or thought I did.  Taking care of a baby is easy in theory.   Reality on the other hand…

During Esther’s pregnancy,  we debated baby names, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz had nothing on us, designed a nursery, she planned the layout while I moved furniture back and forth and back again and again and again, and stocked our home with every conceivable baby item.

I wanted to record Cristian’s birth, so we could show him the video every year on his birthday.  The doctor was onboard—the Go Pro Camera was strapped around his head and ready to go.  My better half objected, something about therapy being expensive.

Tummy Time - He hated Tummy Time.
Tummy Time – He hated Tummy Time.

Like most expectant parents, we thought had it all under control when in reality we had no clue.

As new parents we anxiously awaited each developmental milestone, lifting his head, tummy time, and crawling. We survived, sleepless nights, diaper blowouts and teething (wait that’s still going on).

Walking, or more accurately, chasing our walking baby is the challenge du jour.  We were so excited when Cristian took his first steps.  A baby’s first steps look a lot like college students on a St. Patrick’s Day Pub Crawl.  Before long they figure it out, and then it’s like chasing the Tazmanian Devil on Red Bull.

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Chasing a curious toddler down hallways and keeping him away from open doors and staircases requires teamwork (see my last post).  Think you’re keeping him out of the kitchen by putting a few chairs or a toy box in his way?  Guess again.

Cristian’s an amazing troubleshooter, climbing over and crawling under most obstacles.  He’s going to kill the Tough Mudder course in about 20 years, maybe 10, but that’s not helping me right now.

Hanging out with my brother last weekend didn’t help.  Ever the big brother, he let me in on a secret—we haven’t scratched the surface yet.  Thanks Bob, I knew I could count on you.  Oh well at the very least, I’m sure it will generate a post or two and give me some cross training once race season starts.

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