Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Daycare Redux

I'm the type of person who has to consider all of my options before making a decision. This applies to gripping internal debates ranging from such diverse topics as what to eat for dinner, what to wear to work, and - evidently - what daycare to select for my child. Thus, in a fit of productivity this week, I decided that it was time to stop congratulating myself on finding *one* good daycare and to start exploring all my other options.

All told, I scheduled five daycare visits - one today, one this Friday, two next week, and another the week after that. The plan is to pack in as many visits as possible before the end of the month, enabling me to make a decision by the end of May, a full six and a half months before I'll even need daycare. Crazy? Possibly. Proactive? Definitely.

Today was Visit #1, and Oh. Sweet. Jesus.

Now, I should have known by the $400/month price tag that we're not talking top quality here, yet I wanted to give the place the benefit of the doubt. After all, the woman had run a daycare next door for 18 years, until it closed this past December. Perhaps a diamond in the rough would be lurking on this nondescript little street in North Hollywood.

And perhaps not.

As I pulled up, I desperately hoped that the ramshackle apartment building on the corner was not my final destination. I called the woman to be sure I was in the right place, and she assured me I was - "Pull in and park against the garage!" I did. As I got out of the vehicle, she stuck her head out of a window and gestured to me to come up the stairs.

There, I was greeted by an intimidating outer steel door, something I would expect to find gracing homes in South Central, not Toluca Lake-adjacent daycares. Did this bode badly? I told myself to keep an open mind, and forged onward.

A pleasant woman in her mid-50s opened the steel blockade and welcomed me in. Stepping inside the dimly lit living room, I immediately found myself transported back to 1983. Circling the perimeter of the room were bright red leather couches, giving the appearance of lacquered lips circling the area and slowly swallowing visitors. The walls were covered with large posters of the cheap nail salon variety, like something I used to see at Supercuts during the few Big Girl Haircuts of my childhood. These mod, graphic shots of heavily made-up uber-women staring listlessly off into space were interspersed with enlarged prints from 25-year-old power-ballad-heavy hard rock album covers. Every inch of bare wall had then been plastered with unframed photos stuck haphazardly in the empty space. The air had a musty, sickeningly sweet fragrance to it.

Strike one.

As the woman began chattering to me, I looked around for the children - for any sign of children. Where were the Pack'N'Plays? Where were the toys?

I caught a glimpse of movement out of the corner of my eye, and noticed a baby sitting on a couch at the far end of the room, wedged up against a cushion, staring blankly out. On the other side of the couch there sat a slightly older infant, looking equally glassy-eyed. In front of them, at the far end of the room, a large television was playing General Hospital.

Strike two.

"Hellooooo!" I said, walking over. I smiled goofily down at the babies - they stared up at me without a hint of interest. Who was this person who had rudely interrupted their precious soap-viewing?

As the woman chatted with me, she picked up one baby and stuck it in the only discernable baby-related device in the apartment, an uninviting pale pink chair of some sort. The little girl wasn't old enough to sit up, so she remained wedged in the seat, feet kicking weakly, as I was given the tour of the apartment. The older child was left to entertain herself near a small chest at the end of the room, around which was scattered several building blocks.

I asked all of my standard questions:
Cloth diapers?
"Never had anyone use those - not in 18 years."
Both babies were on formula, and she proudly presented me with their two cans of powder. Breast-fed infants?
"Yeah, I had those, back at the daycare."
"I used to be, when I ran the daycare, but not anymore."
What if you go on vacation? What happens then?
"Oh, well, I usually give the parents at least a week's notice."
Ah. A whole week, no less.

She led me back into the apartment to show me the bedrooms - her boudoir was bedecked with more 80's pop posters, including one notable work involving a sad-eyed brunette clutching a rose, with the words "LOST LOVE" splashed across the top. I briefly wondered what brothel she had stolen her bedding from.

Finally, to top off the tour, she proclaimed, "And here are my sons' rooms," leading me into one teenage-boy-looking room and then another. "This one's 30...and this one is 32."
Oh - do your sons still live at home?
"YES - I can't stand the idea of them moving out!"


We exchanged pleasantries, and at last I was free - free of the musty air and creepy 80's weirdness, free to roam about in the sunshine, free to text my husband "No way in hell are we putting our child in that daycare."

Downside: see above.
Upside: if all other daycares are like this, my decision will be quite simple. Time will tell.