Toddler Life, Chapter 211: The Daycare Demon

Our kids have recently gone into daycare. And there are a host of parental tribulations that go along with that. What will the children learn outside of the house that we don’t want them to learn yet? What if they get sick? What if they hate us later? What if a helicopter crashes into the building? (Some of the fears are more rational than others.)

For better or worse, our kids have been fairly isolated in their development so far. Sprout the First was in daycare or in the care of his grandparents for a couple days a week  for a few months after he turned 1 — and he spent time with a few other kids, maybe three or four, during that time. And the kids have some cousins around their age, and some friends of ours (my wife’s and mine) have kids their age as well. But on the regular? It’s just been us.

Which is good and bad.

Good because, if they’re doing something, we can pretty easily isolate the cause. We know, for example, that when Sprout the First began telling his stuffed animals to “shut your piehole,” that we needed to start examining our, uh, turns of phrase around the boy. Good because, as a general rule, we can control the things that go into their tiny and developing brains.

Bad because, well, variety is the spice of life and all that. Maybe we shelter them too much. Maybe they need more interaction with kids their age. Maybe they need to hear the crazy beliefs of other adults in the world.

But I’ll tell you what’s definitely bad about sending them to daycare.

The Daycare Demon.

The Daycare Demon goes to your child’s daycare.

He’s the first child whose name your bright-and-beautiful offspring learns, because it’s the name he hears the most.

He’s the one you can pick out without anybody particularly pointing to him, because naturally he’s the one hanging from the curtains with fingerpaint all over his face, brandishing a paintbrush like a rapier.

He’s the one you begin to hate from afar because you just know that, through toddler osmosis, your precious darling is picking up on his bad habits.

Our Daycare Demon is definitely not named Fred, but I will call him Fred for the sake of not calling him by his real name, which causes my blood to boil and my face to distort as if I’ve chomped down on an enchilada full of ground-up bulls’ testicles and not ground beef, as I had previously supposed.

Every day, Sprout the First comes home with nothing but Fred to talk about. “Miss Smith told Fred to sit down or he wouldn’t get a sticker.” “Fred was getting in trouble because he wouldn’t come inside.” “Fred said I’m a baby.”

Fred is the one who, the first time I dropped the kids off at daycare for real, came and laid a square solid tackle on my knee and grinned up at me like the Joker. Fred is the one who, now that I have to comfort Sprout the First when I drop him off (because he’s upset about not staying at home all day), sticks his nose into our business and asks me WHAT ARE YOU DOING until a teacher can snatch him away. Fred is the one at whose name I brace for impact: what has he done today?

And I know. I get it. He’s just a kid. It’s not his fault. But that doesn’t change the fact that Fred has become something of a magnet for all my unquantifiable but vaguely negative feelings about putting my kids in daycare. It’s comforting to think that I can ascribe all the negative episodes, the questionable interactions, the dubious phrases brought home, to some anonymous ragamuffin.

It’s become a bit of a running joke at our house, to ask what the Daycare Demon has done today. Sprout the First always comes home with Fred’s name on his tongue. And that makes us laugh. But then, when we ask Sprout what he did that day, or who he played with, often the Demon’s name will come out. And that’s maybe a little troubling. Sprout might be fixating on him because he gets his name called so often (even for the wrong reasons). Sprout might be fixating on him because he’s loud and has his nose in everything like a coked-up bloodhound. Sprout might just think that the Demon is cool, whatever cool means to a three-year-old.

Still, there’s nothing to do about it. Fred is gonna stay crazy. So, for way too much time every day, my kid is flying in the same orbit as the Demon. And maybe that’s not the best thing. But it at least reassures me that my kid isn’t the Demon.

Not yet, anyway.