I still recall almost viscerally a certain feeling of aggravated annoyance I used to experience intermittently while carpooling to my old job with my buddy Clutch. These moments would occur whenever Clutch needed to adjust our well-calibrated schedule because his presence was requested for an event at his youngest daughter’s daycare. And my annoyance wasn’t entirely focused on Clutch, in fact the majority of it was directed at the daycare center, which I felt was guilty of missing the entire point of daycare (please bear in mind this all hearkens back to my own pre-child days), that point being, in my mind, to make the lives of working parents easier. While mom and dad have to show up at their respective places of business day in and day out in order to bring home a paycheck, their child by necessity must be under some kind of third-party supervision to ensure their continued healthy survival. If it’s not extended family fulfilling this role, it’s some kind of professional, and if the supervision happens to be somewhat intellectually or culturally enriching, hey, that’s great, but the purpose is to allow the parents to work a normal job and obey the dictates of that job’s schedule. So if a daycare center wants to teach all the kids to sing together choral-style, more power to them. But if they then decide that a choral performance for the parents is in order, at 2 o’clock in the afternoon on a Wednesday? What. The. Hell. It strikes me as implicit in the child’s very presence in daycare that her parents are not going to be free at 2 o’clock on a Wednesday without massive schedule juggling. Even if it’s only once in a while, it’s an imposition, and it puts the parents in an impossible situation, because if they blow off the choral concert they are presumably sending a message to their own child that they don’t care as much as someone else’s parent who did make it. How infuriating.
Boom, cut to … six years later or so, and now I have kids in daycare and I’m in the same boat Clutch was once in. I will gladly credit the Montessori class the little guy participates in with this much: they had the good sense to schedule their show for 5:30 on a Wednesday, which makes a huge difference for me. Of course that does still fall square in the middle of my wife’s eleven-hour work shift, but her schedule is a bit more of an outlier than most. And she still made a heroic effort to clear her appointments around that time so that she could jaunt the ten minutes across town and put in an appearance for the show, only to be summoned back for an animal emergency, alas.
The show in question was an art show, which was an interesting choice in that it consisted of the following:
- Printed invitations indicating the time and place, as well as “formal attire required”
- Multiple displays of art projects done by the class, plus a few photos of the children engaged in artistic endeavors, set up in the central lounge area of the daycare facility
- Light refreshments including sparkling cider in little plastic champagne glasses
And again, I will give credit to the teacher for attempting to do something special and rewarding for the kids which was free-form enough that people could come late or leave early (or come early and leave early as my wife did) and not feel shortchanged at all. It was, all in all, very small-scale and low-key, and I have to admit I felt a little bit like it hit what it was aiming for by splitting the difference in a way that might as well have been a miss. For the adults, it was cute but potentially underwhelming, and for the kids, it was a little too subtle. Fourth or fifth graders probably would have gotten a huge kick out of it; three and four year olds, maybe not so much.
Still, let me run down the aspects a bit more. The formal attire extended to the children as well, and several of the girls wore fancy party dresses and some of the boys wore little clip-on ties. My little guy actually had the chance to get a second use out of the tuxedo he wore in his uncle’s wedding last summer, which still fit remarkably well. He was genuinely excited to put the whole elaborate rig on, vest and jacket and shiny black shoes and all. Of course he looks ridiculously adorable in eveningwear and received numerous compliments to that effect. There’s a photo I took of him smiling charmingly at the camera while holding a full champagne glass that will no doubt be part of the hologram montage shown at his wedding rehearsal dinner in 2034.
Since the little guy only goes to daycare three days a week, he hadn’t done all of the art projects that were on display, but his collagework and watercolors were very nice and he was duly proud as I expressed my own pride in him. One of the projects he missed out on I was legitimately fascinated by, as it consisted of taping together plastic cups and random Happy Meal toys (or parts thereof) and then coating them in monochrome tempera paint, which I swear is neither exaggeration nor oversimplification and is also kind of gloriously weird. The little guy was watching me staring at those particular pieces and then explained to me, very seriously, “That’s modern art,” and I had to agree with him there (though I spared him any further meditations on how that’s certainly what most people think modern art is &c.)
5:30 happens to be snack time at daycare, so it was logically sound to include refreshments at the show. I helped the little guy put together a very modest plate of one cheesecube-on-toothpick, four grapes, and three crackers, and once he finished that he was hungry for more, but of course by then all the food had run out. So not getting enough snack was the low point of the art show for the little guy and very nearly led to a fullblown temper tantrum, but I somehow managed to get him under control with promises of more cracker-snacking at home. (Said home-based crackers basically ended up turning into his entire dinner but, you know, any landing you can walk away from and all that.)
I like to (gently) mock, but I’m sure the memory of my little monkey-suited guy excitedly giving me the guided tour of the art installations is something that will make me smile for a long long time. I don’t even really see much contradiction between knowing that I should cherish every special moment of wonder and discovery and joy before it all turns into unpleasant pre-adolescent struggles for identity and all that, and on the other hand thinking daycare sometimes extravagantly overreaches way past geez-just-keep-my-kid-from-electrocuting-himself-for-eight-hours-k-thx. It’s all just part of the grand design.