It’s My Toddler’s World, We’re Just Living In It

September 21, 2021  |  Published by

If someone told me 18 months ago that I would be introducing my baby, Penny, into childcare after 15 months in lockdown due to a global pandemic, I would have laughed in their face and told them that they were the biggest liar I'd ever met. Well, well, well... look who's laughing now! Spoiler alert: NOT ME. I was actually sobbing when this became my reality.

Let's set the stage for August 2021, shall we? It's time. Penny's Big World Adventure has arrived. As a mom three times over, I knew separating for the first time was going to be hard. But unlike my two boys, this was the longest I'd been with my children without ever leaving them. I knew I would get through it, but I was not confident Penny would make it in the Big World. She could barely handle me leaving to use the restroom, let alone being left with a complete stranger for five hours a day! My mama heart was ready for a break, but I knew my girl and I needed some pep talks together.

Penny... you got this, girl. I love you. You are brave. You are strong. And I will always come back for you!

Ashleigh's daughter, Penny
Ashleigh's daughter, Penny

August 13, 2021: I get Penny dressed and tried to prepare both of our souls for the separation that was about to happen. Did I do a good job preparing the teachers for how hard this was going to be? Did I tell them all of the things she likes and dislikes? Will they snuggle her when she is upset? Will they still want her to come back after they experience the blood-curdling screams? Side note: I told multiple people that I thought she would get kicked out because of her scream. If you've ever heard this scream, I am so sorry!

9:00am arrives and it's time for her to head off into her Big World Adventure with her Daddy. I say goodbye and hold my breath for what will come in the next five hours. Each hour ticks by and I'm shocked I haven't received a phone call yet. But wait! I've spoken too soon! Hour Three rolls around and...

Hi, Ashleigh. I am so sorry, but we have tried everything and Penny just isn't calming down. We think it would be best for you to come get her.

Ashleigh and Penny
Ashleigh and Penny

My heart sank into my kneecaps and I bolted out of the front door faster than I have moved throughout the entire pandemic. I get to the childcare center and am assured that this is just the beginning; it is not the end of Penny's Big World Adventure.

I work for Candelen, and I am forever grateful for the amount of resources I have on hand in a moment's notice. I frantically Slack message our amazing team for ideas and support to get us both through this transition. Sending pictures, reading stories about school, packing a shirt that smells like me, sending her favorite doll or book, easing her into school by extending each day by an hour, and keeping a consistent routine for drop off and pick up were just a handful of the ideas given to me. I decided to try a few at a time. I created a plan with the school to extend the day by an hour if she is having a hard time, and I packed her favorite picture, book, and dolly.

Now... it was time for Day Two. Let's do this, girl.

Daddy drops her off and I, once again, hold my breath as each hour passes. I am fully expecting a call at Hour Three, but it passes with no ring.

I look at the clock. 12:00pm. Okay, it's nap time. There is absolutely no way she's going down for a nap with complete strangers.

I look at the clock again. 1:30pm. She did it! She did the damn thing and made it through!

It's now 2:00pm, which is pick up time. I almost cried when I stepped into her classroom and found her sitting on her teacher's lap playing with a teapot. Her teachers and directors rejoice with me. We're in complete shock to know that she made it the full five hours. We did it!

My resilient "COVID baby" is fully thriving in her program today. She has created meaningful connections and attachments with her teachers. In fact, her teacher recently told me that she misses Penny on the weekends, so I'm taking that as a win.

If I'm being honest, I thought I would never have a moment to myself again. But here we are. Penny and I are both making it in our Big World Adventure. We did it, sweet girl!

Ashleigh Leonard
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