Nursery is a bit of a blind spot for parents. We spend every day following these tiny people around, monitoring their every nap, meal and nappy change, and getting enrolled into each tower building session and every repeat of the Hungry Caterpillar. Then, suddenly, we delegate this all to someone else. It’s like going into heart surgery. You’re suddenly trusting someone else to look after something that’s really quite important to you, and you’re not able to watch what’s going on when you’re doing it. I want to know what’s going on during this blind-spot.
Little Bear knows the nursery morning routine now, Pappa straps him into the toddler-carrier after a frantic morning of running around the house. He starts shouting ‘Go! Go!’ (or since we like to pretend his Swedish is dominant ‘Gå! Gå!’), and we’re out the door. Pointing at (every) car, bush, dog and bird and shouting their names with more enthusiasm than I’ve ever managed before 10am, Little Bear finally gets to the train station, raises his hand calling ‘beep beep’ to be handed the Oyster card (an e-ticket for those non-Londoners). With a serious expression on his face, he leans forward and touches the card to the beep beep machine and waits for the satisfying noise to squeak back. On the train and off at the next stop, we wander into ‘dagis’ (nursery) and he knows what’s coming… His second breakfast.
His eyes will dart around the room self-consciously as he spots all his play-mates. He points to a breakfast food of choice, and Pappa’s out the door (peeping through the glass wall round the corner before leaving, ‘just in case’). The weird feeling of leaving him there to do all his own little things whilst I head off to work (to do all my little things) is still there every time I leave the nursery. What’s going on inside when I’m gone?
To fill the blind-spot, we get a report of his activities at the end of every day. It nearly always starts with ‘Little Bear had a great day today’, and then goes on to list the day’s fun, food and bowel movements. Only a parent can understand why the type and regularity of his nappy changes is so important to read every day: ‘hmmm’ I say to my wife over dinner ‘he only had one poo today, which is odd given how much he ate yesterday…’. Did we ever have such interesting dinner conversations pre-baby?
The fact that they always start with ‘Little Bear had a great day today’ is not something that builds trust. It doesn’t make me think that he’s over the moon continually at nursery, it just makes me really worried on those rare occasions when they say, ‘Little Bear had an ok morning this morning’. What? So he probably had a melt-down 10 minutes after I left that lasted until lunch time?
The one thing I always look forward to when I get to pick him up is the description of his antics. A few weeks ago he spent over an hour driving a truck around the room picking up every brick and putting it in the truck, telling off the other kids who tried to do something else with the bricks (I know how they feel). He’s now learnt that the carers don’t like him dismantling their displays, so he’s taken to hiding behind pillows near the displays until they turn their backs, removing a few sheets until they call his name, then hiding behind the pillow giggling.
There’s certainly a lot of confusion at nursery. I completely understand. There’s like 12 toddlers in the room, 3 or 4 adults running around, open sand boxes and water fountains, trucks filled with bricks for people to trip over. It’s chaotic. Which is why I’m pretty sure that there’s another little blond tot that gets frequently confused with Little Bear. At the end of the day, his report informs us that he’s eaten the entirety of 4 full meals, didn’t care for any milk, and slept for 2 hours. No, this is not my child. My child is a milk addict and sees food more as wall paint than something that belongs in your mouth. There must be another Little Bear in the group. Are you sure you’re not confusing him with Little Bean or Lilly Bear?
Of course the alternative is that they’re lying (given the “had a great day” deal this isn’t implausible). The report says things like: ‘snack: tomato soup (ate all)’ and lunch: fajitas (ate all)’… You started to lose your credibility at the word tomato to be honest, just because you gave him back to me in the same clean clothes I handed him over to you in this morning. And how do they get a room full of 12 tinny people to eat Fajitas, when Little Bear’s Pappa can’t eat a Fajita without spilling half its content everywhere! No no.
One thing I have noticed though is how much he’s learning. Yes, I know, kids need ‘messy play’ to learn, but the problem is that he already turns the house into a tip just by spreading his toys around for five minutes. So, not unreasonably, we’ve outsourced all the messy play to nursery. Every nursery day he gets to paint, splash and squish to his heart’s content. Meanwhile we only have to spend half an hour every day cleaning his food off the wall at home, rather than all the other mess he would have caused.
He’s learnt to scribble, ‘tidy’ and play-cook; all skills he’s keen to bring home and ‘help’ Mamma and Pappa around the house with. And above all he’s been learning his social skills. He now no longer sees other toddlers as a nuisance. They are now fascinating, and deserved to be called ‘bebi’, followed, patted, hugged, and even invited into the crazy little games he dreams up. Notably this is only a slight improvement on how he treats dogs and the hoover, but we’ve got to start somewhere.
Despite the gloss his nursery carers seem to be putting on his nursery days, he’s always happy when we pick him up, and unlike the early days, I no longer feel bad about heading off to the office in the mornings. I don’t know exactly what goes on at nursery, but I know enough to realise it’s going pretty well. Fingers crossed it stays that way!
I'm Dave, dad of Little Bear. Also known as 'Pappa' to the little man as we try and bring out his Swedish roots