Light blue, curious eyes glance up at me from the kids’ watch display at the Swatch store, checking to see if I’m seeing what he’s seeing. Utterly enthralled by not just the colours and shapes, but also the way the watches are attached to the wall, Fitz is so engaged that I just let him play there for 10 minutes. We go to West Edmonton Mall to get out of the house in the cold, winter months so that Fitz can explore – and West Ed offers a wealth of stimulation for a toddler, never mind for older kids. From the rows upon rows of books at Chapters where toys are set up for kids to play, to the pirate ship and the steering wheel boat game; from the rides at Galaxy Land to the endless places to run and roam, Fitz has a blast whenever we go. At 18 months old, the world is fresh, thrilling, wholly intoxicating.
From books to backscratchers, toilet paper rolls to toothbrushes, Fitz examines and experiments with (what seems to me) the most mundane objects, things I wouldn’t even give a first glance, let alone a second one. But I’m desensitized to the colours, sounds, textures, smells, and tastes of everyday life. While I’ve lost that sense of awe and wonder and that fervent desire to investigate constantly, Fitz is enamoured with life – and I don’t want him to lose that. As new parents to an only child (we’re one and done), Craig and I are endlessly entertained by Fitz’s curiosity. So much so, that we spend less time on our phones than we used to and more time watching our kid trying to vacuum, climbing his highchair to reach the light switch, using a wooden backscratcher as a golf club, and opening the spatula drawer to extract whisks, potato mashers, and turkey basters. Fitz is forever running, climbing, squirming, dancing, crawling, and wiggling, all while testing us and his environment.
I look at my son and I desperately don’t want him to spend his life in front of a TV, iPhone, or tablet. I want him to engage with the world around him, to always see the potential in the mundane. I want to nurture his imagination, and I want curiosity to be an inherent part of his being – which is why I let him touch everything, look at everything, and play with anything. It’s also why Craig and I work so hard to afford daycare. In the whole scheme of what your life is “supposed” to look like in your mid-thirties, we worry that we come up short. We live in an old, unrenovated house, we drive old cars, and because of student debt, our budget is strict (we don’t have much in the way of discretionary spending). Plus, I work from home and barely make more than what EI paid me while I was on maternity leave, so choosing to put Fitz in daycare was a conscious choice to provide him with an environment that we can’t always give him at home – especially the interaction with other kids.
When Fitz was two months old, I toyed with the idea of becoming a stay at home mom, but as he grew, I realized I’m just not stay at home mom material. If I’m completely honest, I like to sleep in, I don’t play with my son for very long, I don’t go for walks, I don’t elaborately plan fun activities for him to do at home, and in the winter, we never play outside. On weekends, we spend one day lounging around the house (he plays while I read or watch TV) and one day where we go out and run errands or visit friends. I think I’m a fun mom, I’m spontaneous and I like to be silly and dance and entertain, but I don’t do it all day long. I don’t know how stay at home moms do it all, full time momming is exhausting! It’s a lot of work to be with your kids 24/7. I have infinite respect for those that do it, but I know my limitations so even though I work from home, Fitz goes to daycare. Mind you, if he were at home with me working, I’d never get anything done and I’d be exhausted trying to teach him everything he learns at daycare. I’m sure I could manage it, so many amazing moms do, but I don’t want to (and sometimes I worry that it makes me a terrible mother).
Because we voraciously read Brain Rules for Baby, Zero to Five, and Bringing Up Bebe, our parenting goals are steep and we knew that to achieve those goals, we’d need help. All of these books emphasize limited screen time, play-focused learning, empathy, and friendship. Between our disinterest in being Fitz’s playmates and the fact that we aren’t giving Fitz any siblings, we chose a daycare that shares our values. At daycare, there are no TVs or computers – no electronic gadgets to play with. Instead, there are endless toys to explore: babies and blocks, light tables and sensory bins, and books, books, books. Every day, the kids play outside (morning and afternoon), where they jump in puddles, fall in the snow, roll around in the leaves, or play in the mud kitchen. Inside, their teachers engage them in play-based learning that enhances their skill development and introduces them to new ideas and concepts. Not only does my son get to play all day, but he also learns healthy habits and socialization: how to play well with other children, how to sit nicely at a table and eat lunch, how to brush his teeth, how to wash his hands, how to use the toilet, how to dress himself, and how to feed himself like a grown up. Since these habits are established and encouraged at daycare where it’s their job to be patient and consistent, we just have to support them at home. Daycare teaches Fitz everything that I don’t want to, which makes my job easier. For example, I’m terrified of potty training, so I’m grateful that daycare does this and will tell us what to do! The skills and development alone are worth the money, but ultimately, for me and Craig, daycare makes us better parents.
Whenever I start to feel that old mom guilt creeping in (which is often when other moms shame me for “letting someone else raise my kid”), I remind myself that we want an independent child who has his own life. Brain Rules for Baby says that the most important element in ensuring that children are happy is friendship. By putting Fitz in daycare, we’ve given him that: he has friends, he has confidence, and he has a daily environment that is ripe for learning. If he were home with me all day while I work on a computer, neither Fitz nor my work would be getting a fair deal. At daycare, he spends his days with people who adore him, people who share our values of empathy, community, imagination, and gender equality (socializing boys and girls the same way) and I get to focus on growing my business and pursuing my passion. I’m sure I could attempt to do both with him at home, but I don’t want to. I like having the time to myself and Fitz loves being at daycare, so it’s a win-win. He’s a better kid for it and I’m a better mom for it.
Like any mom, I want to feel good about my choices and I want to make the best decisions for my family – every family is different, every mom is different, and every child is different – what works for us might not work for another family and that’s okay. For me, I love that I have time to miss my son, it forces me to be more present when we’re together. That doesn’t mean that I am constantly engaging with him or playing with him – we’re firm believers that a child should know how to be bored, how to entertain himself – but I’m always present for him, aware of him, sneaking peeks at him while he plays and explores our home.
As spring begins melting the snow and the sun starts warming our faces once again, Craig and I eagerly anticipate the summer. We cannot wait to show him the world, to fill his days with new experiences, to build our collection of family memories. Things that were boring, everyday activities before we had Fitz are suddenly magical now that he’s a toddler, and we’re eager spend our summer outside exploring, swimming, running, biking, and playing. When we think about what we want to give Fitz, it’s always experiences; we want to give him something real, we want him to engage with life, to experience a tangible childhood.
To us, this also means protecting Fitz from excessive demands on his time and freedom – right now, we’re planning to put him in only one extracurricular activity at a time because we want him to just be a kid, because we don’t want to spend our evenings driving him around (selfish, I know), and because we want to save our money for family vacations. Tangible childhood is a movement that emphasizes preserving childhood, allowing children the space and time to discover the world for themselves, to engage with their surroundings joyfully, to grow and learn and develop without the hindrances of strict scheduling or technology. Because I grew up without much money (I never had the brand name clothes and didn’t have dance classes or soccer teams to play on), there’s a part of me that wants to give him everything, but there’s also part of me that sees how spending so much time inventing games and playing outside was great for my creativity and imagination growing up.
We’re not the kind of people who want to “Keep up with the Joneses,” so as a family, we focus on activities and making memories, not buying Fitz the latest toy or gadget. We’re troubled by how often we see kids engrossed in technology, sitting in one spot for hours staring at screens and seeking constant stimulation, we don’t want that for our kid. Mostly, as parents, Craig and I want Fitz to value experiences, not things, we want him to hold on to his innocent wonder and reverence for the world as long as possible, so we’ve made choices and sacrifices to support that goal. We’re not always successful, but we try and that’s the best any parent can do.
First published in the Spring 2017 Toddler issue of Inspired