About a month ago, I found out that my mom is unable to take care of baby Alex for us. The thing is she has to take care of my brother’s prematured baby son (born in mid October). When I approached her for help before Alex’s arrival, she thought she could take care of Alex in December when I return to work, and it wouldn’t be too much effort since Alex would be 6 months old. At the same time, she could help my sister-in-law with her newborn son (supposed to be due in mid November). But the preemie baby requires a lot of care, and my mom is the one mainly responsible for that instead of the baby’s parents. So the situational change left my husband and I in a lurch, and we had to scramble to find alternative care for Alex.
Over a couple of days I was on the phone calling up various infant care centers around our place to enquire if there was vacancy available. (They provide care to babies up to 18 months of age from 7am to 7pm Monday to Friday, and from 7am to 2pm on Saturday.) There is the Sparkletots Childcare Service, which is a dominant player in the market, and it has a number of centers near our house. Unfortunately most were full. I called up the private centers, one of which is called The Pre-Schoolers Childcare & Development Centre, and it has vacancies. We went there to take a look at the facilities the same day I made the call.
The Pre-Schoolers center reminds us of the PCF Kindergarten (pre-schools set up by the charitable foundation of the ruling party), because it’s located in the ground floor of the public housing flat. We found out from the supervisor that they only have 4 babies in their infant care service, and a teacher is caring for them (their ratio is 1 teacher to 4 babies). The nursery is rather spartan with only a play mat, though there are toys. Apparently the cleaning lady also doubles up as a babysitter, because we saw her coming over to play with a baby after she was done with her work.
My husband doesn’t like the Pre-Schoolers Centre, which he feels is rather dreary. For S$1337 a month (excluding the S$600 subsidy for working mom, and S$300 for those not working), it doesn’t offer very much except for convenience. This will only be a last resort for us.
We also checked out Babyplanet Montessori at Siglap area, which is pretty close to Pat’s School House. Babyplanet is located in a 2-storey house with a large garden which serve as a outdoor playground for the kids. When we were there, the toddlers and babies were having their naps, and there were a lot of them. A teacher, who is also a registered nurse, showed us around. We like that they have a gym room where even babies can crawl around, and daily singing session. She told us that they strive to talk to the babies all the time, even during bath, to develop their communications skill. The nursery is airy with colors, and lots of stimulations for the babies. They have a ratio of 1 teacher to 3 babies. Unfortunately the center is full and I had to put Alex in wait-list. The fee is also the most expensive at S$1500 a month ex subsidy.
Of course we had to visit a Sparkletots center, one which is quite close to our home. I have to say we were surprised at how different it is from our expectations, which were not high, to be honest. I had expected something similar to First Pre-school. The center is air-conditioned, but bright. There are a lot of teachers around (1 teacher to 2 babies). I saw rockers and even a jumper available. But in terms of curriculum, the babies only get a singing session once a week when someone from outside the center comes in to conduct it. To me there doesn’t seem to be very much stimulations. However my husband likes the place and feels the small teacher to baby ratio means baby will get a lot of attention. He also likes the fact that the public can look into the nursery through the glass windows, which reduces the risks of any child abuse. He thinks PCF must have brought in a childcare consultant to revamp their services and facilities, so that they can compete with the private operators. Unfortunately this Sparkletots center is full for the time being. I was asked to register my interest and the supervisor will call when vacancy is available. The fee is also cheaper at S$1177 (ex subsidy) a month.
My husband felt we should check out the locations of all the Sparkletots centers near our house so that we know exactly where they are located. We spent one Saturday going to various centers and found that some are more convenient than others, by that I mean easy access and easy drop-off and pick up. We narrowed down to 4 preferred centers and I registered my interests with all of them. Over the next day, I found out that 2 of them have vacancies, but my husband prefers another one which is within walking distance from our house. But the supervisor couldn’t confirm yet if she could accept Alex, though it was pretty likely. After 1.5 weeks, we were able to arrange for Alex to enter the infant care center. This particular Sparkletots center has a ratio of 1 teacher to 3 babies, and they have a larger nursery than the other one we visited, and so have a larger crop of 17 babies under their care.
Last Friday, we put Alex in infant care for the first time. We decided to do it earlier to see if he can get used to it since there is a 2 weeks trial period, and I would spend some time at the center with him in case I am needed to soothe him. At 5.5 months old, he is getting wary of strangers and not as willing to allow them to hold or cuddle him. Even with family members he doesn’t take to them immediately, since my husband and I are the only ones he sees everyday.
So after I passed Alex to the senior teacher, Alison, he allowed her to hold him and I thought he would be alright. But after I stepped into the waiting lounge, I heard him crying. I wasn’t allowed inside the infant room, so I tried looking in through the glass door and the glass windows outside. From the windows, I could see Alex crying and his face red with distraught while he was being held by teacher Alison. I tried waving at him to let him know I was there and didn’t leave him. He saw me but continued crying. To be honest, I was also getting distraught seeing him inconsolable. Just then my husband called to find out how Alex was doing, and I choked with tears. (He admitted to me later that he felt guilty about sending Alex to infant care and was tempted to drive over to take him out of the center.)
Anyway Teacher Alison tried feeding Alex but he refused to take it, even though it was time for his feed. Finally she had to take him out to the waiting lounge for me to feed him. She had earlier told me that it is common for babies at Alex’s age to cry a lot when they are in a strange environment away from care-givers. In fact they even have a baby as young as 3 months old who is already aware of strangers. It will take some time (in some cases a few weeks) for the baby to settle down.
After the feeding, I had to hand Alex to teacher Alison. He started crying inside the infant room but she managed to sooth him to nap. When he woke up he received a bath and I could hear him crying again. When another teacher took over and tried to get him to socialize with other babies (which is basically placing him next to them), he also started crying. So Alex ended up being cuddled most of the time.
At 12.30pm, I alerted teacher Alison that I wanted to take Alex back. When he was handed to me, he looked tired which is probably due to the crying and didn’t smile at me. Teacher Alison told he was getting better. Well, we will have to go through this again on Monday when we bring him back. In fact we’ll be taking him for his 2nd pneumococcus shot in the afternoon, he’s usually cranky for a couple of days after the vaccination. So next week will not be easy at the infant care center. But the teachers are used to it. When I told teacher Alison about Alex’s cranky reaction, she replied that it depends on the type of shot. I find her pretty reassuring and experienced with babies. When I suggested to bring toys and play mat for Alex, she doesn’t think that was necessary. In fact she feels it is important for Alex to learn to crawl and practice his motor skill right now.
Hopefully Alex will settle down in infant care and take to the teachers. My husband and I have decided that we will still leave him in infant care even when I quit my job, because we want Alex to socialize with other adults and babies. If I take care of him myself, his social skill may not be well developed and when he enters play group class, the separation anxiety may be worse. We remember how my nieces were wary of us before they went to pre-school, and were relatively anti-social in their behaviors. For Alex, it’s possible he’ll be an only child and we feel it’s important for him to make friends with children from different backgrounds.
(Update on 23 Nov)
It’s been a week since Alex’s been put into infant care. I’m happy to report that he’s now settled down and accepts the teachers. On Monday (2nd day at infant care), he cried after being taken in, but was soothed by Big Mama (nickname given by us) and apparently she did quite a good job. After his vaccination shot that afternoon, he was a little cranky but not inconsolable. In fact, yesterday, after he was taken in and placed on the brick mat, he surprised me by not crying and instead played with a hanging toy. Same for this morning, he then proceeded to flip onto his tummy and try crawling. Unfortunately for him, he’s bottom heavy and couldn’t move, unlike other babies, and started crying with frustration. After a teacher turned him on his back and gave him the paci, he was alright. Now that he’s with other babies on the brick mat, he’ll be able to socialize with them, especially this baby girl who’s also rather smiley and sociable.