When Megan was born, my new friends at a mothers’ group told me that it is almost impossible to find an opening in government-run crèches or pre-schools. I immediately put my name down at the village garderie, just in case. A year later, Megan has a spot two afternoons a week and her space has come at the best possible time.
If I lived in South Africa, with access to family and affordable domestic help, then Megan wouldn’t be at daycare so young. I’ve developed an overactive thyroid and my body is telling me to slow right down. I can’t carry on collapsing into bed every night like a felled tree. I need some time during the day to rest.
It is good for Megan to hear more French and hang around real dinkum Swiss kids instead of expats all the time. Two of the carers are Portuguese and I imagine Megan will speak French with a Portuguese twang. My boss at my old job said his American mother learned most of her French from her Portuguese cleaner and, for the rest of her life, she spoke French with a Portuguese accent.
I’ve been impressed with the crèche so far. It’s bright and buzzing with activity. It reminds me of a big chimps’ tea party and I am pleased Megan will experience this kind of vibrancy during the cold winter months.
On the other hand, the crèche is so … Swiss. It’s structured, organized and sterile-clean with no frills. There is one carer to every two babies, which I think is fabulous for a government-run daycare.
It is not as touchy-feely and cootchy-coo as I imagined a crèche to be. They practice the French parenting ethos of ‘C’est moi qui décide’ (It’s me who is in charge) which may be a shock to Megan’s system because, while I have been very clear that she is a Princess, I may not have been as explicit that I am the Queen.
Orientation week was intense. I had a two-hour interview with the chief carer who quizzed me about Megan’s sleeping and eating routines. We walked through a list of every vegetable on the planet to confirm Megan has no allergies. They asked me if she had tried côte de bette, artichokes or beetroot. When I got home, I had to look up côte de bette (“chard” in English) in the dictionary. Perhaps Megan’s palate (and mine too?) is not sophisticated enough and I must expand my meal repertoire. I think Swiss-French kids have the same advanced eating habits as my niece who, when she was four years old, asked a waiter, ‘Do you serve Won Ton Soup?’
During the orientation, they dabbed a blob of sun cream on Megan’s arm and asked me to confirm she didn’t develop a rash overnight. They enquired about my bum-wiping preferences – wipes or just water? Drinking options are fennel tea or water (filtered, then boiled, then cooled). There is one formal snack time at 15h00 when they have yoghurt or fruit compote. There are no sweets, no junk. It’s my kind of place!
When I left Megan for the first time, my instinct was to slink out or disappear in a puff of smoke – poof! – and then return later. They said this approach was traumatizing and suggested I look Megan in the eyes and explain the situation as if she were an adult and not a one year old. ‘Megan, Mommy is leaving. I will be back later. I will fetch you in two hours.’ I wasn’t aware that Megan had such a good grasp of language but they said it’s amazing how much a baby understands.
The first few times I left her, Megan flung her head back and wailed, her mouth a big, wide O and her face a livid red. Sometimes when I collected her, she seemed unusually passive and I found her numb, trancelike state a little disconcerting. I suspect she was just emptied out by the emotional stress. As soon as she was back in my arms, she was quiet and happy, as if a switch had been flicked.
This crèche ordeal reminds me of Maggie O’Farrell’s novel The Hand that First Held Mine. One of the characters, Lexie Sinclair, leaves her child at daycare and this is how she feels about it:
When she leaves the house, she senses a thread that runs between her and the baby, and as she walks away through the streets, she is aware of it unspooling bit by bit. By the end of the day, she feels utterly unraveled, almost mad with desire to be back with him. It takes a while to wind back to rightness, to get the thread back to where it ought to be – a length of no more than a couple of feet or so feels best.
I think that is why Megan and I are struggling with the crèche experience. The first few times I left her, I couldn’t sit still. I walked around the house like an agitated ant. We haven’t been separated from each other before and when we are apart, we feel unspooled.
A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog about how parenting is full of extreme paradoxes. I need Megan to go to crèche so I can relax but I can’t unwind properly when she is not with me. I need time to myself but I am wild with longing for Megan when she is away.
Megan has slowly improved. She cries initially but settles down a few minutes after I leave. She is still delicate and prone to bursts of tears but the carers assure me that she will soon adapt to the new normal. I hope I will too.