Miss Jeannie is a matronly woman of unknown age who smells like gingerbread cookies. I want to love her but as David and I sit across from her, I’m aware that the opposite is happening.
She pushes her glasses against her forehead for the umpteenth time and explains the issue again.
“All of the children in our pre-school nap between one and two-thirty in the afternoon. Children need their rest. If they don’t sleep, they may play quietly but our rule is they can’t leave their mat.”
I conjure my best, Hallmark Mother-To-Mother smile.
“We completely understand. But gosh,” I venture, inviting her into my conundrum, “Dora is more of an — explorer. Could she maybe play quietly while the others nap? She’s not disruptive. She could play outside on the playground, or she’d love the dress-up closet –”
“– The children’s nap time is also the teacher’s break time. And there are no other staff members available to watch Dora during that time.”
“Ah, I see,” I say this as if a grand mystery has been solved with a perfectly reasonable explanation, even though I feel the punching feeling in my stomach again.
David chimes in, “Is it reasonable to expect a three year-old to stay on a mat for ninety minutes?” A scientist by nature, his question is absolutely sincere but I watch Miss Jeannie bristle.
Fearing the loss of any shred of compassion Miss Jeannie may still have for our situation, I pre-empt her response.
“ — Or maybe could you give Dora some books, or some little dolls to play with?” I ask.
“If we give your daughter toys, we’d have to give the other children the same.”
Miss Jeannie is Closed For Business.
David asks, “Might that be possible?”
Miss Jeannie shakes her head and changes the topic, “What time does Dora go to bed at night? Perhaps you put her to bed too early? Perhaps she gets too much sleep?”
The punching feeling inside of me grows.
My husband responds with a wild understatement, “Dora doesn’t sleep much at night –”
I interrupt him again. It’s a bad habit and I hate myself for it, but I refuse to discuss Dora’s longtime history of difficulties falling asleep with someone who seems unprepared to hear the F-word.
“– Dora is just not the kind of kid who needs a nap,” I say. “She’ll have trouble sitting quietly on a mat for a hour and a half, especially without toys. It’s just who she is.”
Miss Jeannie nods her head slowly and pretends to consider other solutions to this problem. This is what she comes up with: “Have you tried teaching her relaxation techniques, like meditation?”
I consider asking her whether she has ever been punched before, but instead we offer to pay one of the teachers extra to hang out with Dora during nap time. We are told this would be unfair to others, even though we offer to make this person available to any child unaligned with Miss Jeannie’s Daycare Nap Schedule.
On the way home, David listens as I rail against the unfairness of the situation. I don’t have time to manage this, I complain, my entire team is at an offsite tomorrow and I haven’t even finished the agenda. I’m behind in my email and there’s a presentation due Friday and so on and so on until I am in tears. He offers to help because he is great that way but I Am The Mom.
I find time to manage it, late at night, after the taffy-pull process of getting Dora to sleep, after I’ve pushed the email tide back to sea for the next six- to- eight hours. And after I’ve had my way with some screw-cap Chardonnay. I force time from this day like squeezing blood from a stone.
Our options are slim. We add Dora’s name to the fourteen-month wait list for the only daycare willing to take a non-napping child, even though the teacher- to- child ratio looks like Belmont long shot odds. We revive the never-ending discussion about whether we should just hire a full time nanny (not now). We go to bed late without sex. We wake up bleary and stumble back onto the treadmill.
I practice deep breathing at pick-up when Dora recounts the days’ nap time folly. I tried very hard, Mommy. Very hard. Miss Elaine was mad.
Weeks later, a spot miraculously opens at the progressive day care center near my work. The staff laughs aloud at my nap question: “Oh, we have quite a few non-nappers. There’s plenty for them to do during nap time.” I squeeze my eyes shut to stop the tears.
A few weeks after transitioning Dora into the new daycare, a spacious environment swimming in natural light and thick with creative materials, I receive an email from her new daycare teacher.
The email contains a photo of two smiling girls and a wild-looking contraption, along with this note:
Today during nap time Dora and Maria made an “computer engine” out of a chair, some boxes and various recyclable materials!
Her preschool graduation certificate says, “Dora has one of the most creative minds we have ever had the privilege to know.”
Even now, she’ll still sometimes ask to return to that daycare.