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I think my son is my zen, my spiritual guide, my happy place. Photo by Flickr user Take Back Your Health Conference (Creative Commons license).

I think my son is my zen, my spiritual guide, my happy place. Photo by Flickr user Take Back Your Health Conference (Creative Commons license).

Once I admitted I needed help, everything fell into place. That could be a way to sum up my recent endeavor to secure affordable, attentive, reputable childcare; but it would be too easy to leave out the lesson. My existing care had been family—ideal on all three counts. It took me a while to decide I was ready for daycare, and the X factor is the toddler. My toddler, any toddler, is always the X factor.

Was Jax ready? Yes. Oh my word yes. He needs to interact with other kids more, period. He’s quite established and happy in his routine, and he has more energy than the hurricane that raged on the day he was born.

When we (Jax, his Mimi, and I) toured this place over the winter, I liked what I saw. The kids were separated by age, and there was one teacher and one intern assigned per six kids. There was a locked and gated playground area outside, and the classrooms were much larger than six or eight kids needed, and full of books and games. Plus, a common play room held big wrestling mats, balls, and even more room to run. A staffed kitchen provided daily nutritious meals and snacks.

I kind of wanted to go there a couple times a week. Myself. Bean bag chairs, books, and breakfast someone else makes? Water games outside every Wednesday morning? NAPS? Hurry, take my money!

Still, I couldn’t do it right away. Until I had to. I finally registered, paid my deposit, and gave them a schedule for the next few weeks. Jax’s first day was yesterday. Other parents I talked to prior to this momentous occasion seemed to treat the impending first day of daycare exactly this way: Oh no, that’s going to be rough, bring tissues, be strong, he’ll get used to it, and it’ll be good for him.

Every mom I talked to said she cried the first day, maybe the whole first week. One dad said he threw up when he walked out on day one. I heard horror stories of kids screaming, of moms collapsing into tears in the parking lot.

I feel you. I don’t mean to sound like I’m about to make light, or to suggest my kid is somehow better than anyone else’s kid. Again, X factor: I can never, for better or worse, predict with 100 percent accuracy how he’ll react to anything, ever. And though I quietly feared having my own first day nightmare, I also had a feeling he’d do well. I should’ve saved myself even that little bit of fearing, and that is the lesson.

See, Jax is also kind of a superhero. He’s fearless. He’s a little riser to challenges, a “trooper,” a warrior. Kids are notoriously resilient. I sat by this boy in neonatal intensive care for three months and saw his fight, witnessed his spirit. I fed him grapes and took his high-fives when he sat up 10 minutes after coming off anesthesia in March. I once moved his bedtime up from 8 to 11 PM because I worked nuts, late hours and wasn’t sleeping; one night I just kept him up, and we both slept until 10 AM the next day, and from that day forward. When I left that job and moved back home, he went back to an 8-ish bedtime within a couple days. I didn’t have to wean him off bottle or breast. When he falls down, he gets back up, no tears, no drama.

The flow? Jax just goes with it. I’m learning so much from him. We make it up as we go along. I think he’s my zen, my spiritual guide, my happy place.

The first day of daycare went as follows: I teared up a tiny bit in the parking lot because I got him out of his car seat and put on his Steelers backpack, on which I’d Sharpied “JAX” the night before. He held my hand and we walked toward the front door (where I key in—yay security), and he looked so grown-up. I told myself to get it together—if Jax can do it, I can do it—and we went in. He peeked in the room, which we’d visited a second time just the day before, and stopped. I picked him up, kissed him, and we walked in. I chatted with his teacher for a few minutes, who had already set him a place at the tiny table, with a plate of pears and half a muffin. And a Cars cup (all things cars, Matchbox to Cars movie, are IT for Jax right now). So he said, “Cars, cars, cars, cars,” and sat down. I told him I’d be back in a little while and to have fun playing, and I got up and walked to the door. He stayed. He watched me. I waved. He waved. He looked at the little boy beside him and I slipped out. I stood outside the door for a minute in case he cried, which is dumb because what would I have done if he cried? Gone back in and made it worse? But I heard, “Cars, cars, cars.” I peeked in the window. He was picking up a chunk of pear. I left.

I did not cry, but I did call after an hour. All was fine. When I returned a few hours after that to pick him up, he was reading while the other kids settled in on their cots for nap/quiet time. I’d told the teacher he would nap at home, and asked her to give him books after lunch. She had. He saw me, blinked a few times as if surprised to see me, then said, “Heeeeeeeeeey mama.” He put his backpack back on and held my hand, waving bye to everyone. He said, “tee cue” (thank you) to his teacher, and she said she tucked a daily report in his bag (they do a daily report! What he ate, played, times and details of diaper changes, and notes!).

When I lifted him up at the car, he hugged me. We came home, ate peanut butter sandwiches, and he took his usual nap.

X factors do not always mean apocalypse. My son taught me that.