I’d barely begun telling people I was pregnant when the question came: “Was I on the list?”
Not a baby registry list or the one for a private room at the hospital when baby finally arrived. The day care list.
Jews might not have baby showers for fear that the planning courts bad luck, but superstitions fly out the window when you have to sign up for day care.
I was warned, time and time again, if I wasn’t already on the list, I’d never get a spot.
While maternity leave is 12 months long, the vast majority of day-care centres don’t take kids younger than 18 months.
So, with competition fierce, you have to get on the waiting list early – like when you’re only four months pregnant early – if you want your child at a centre.
Choices are even more limited if you’re looking for a Jewish component to that care.
Why did this matter to us?
We wanted quality care for our child first, but also somewhere that would feel like a home.
When you come from a Jewish home, a Jewish centre helps provide that feeling.
At the 12 month mark, there are no formal options in Ottawa for Jewish day care.
There are a number of excellent initiatives in this city for young families. Shuls are working hard and there’s PJ Library run through the Jewish Federation of Ottawa.
There’s also the ongoing concern about the future of Jewish education.
So, perhaps a question that should have been in the recent survey of young families and their education needs is “If your family needed care for your 12-month-old child and there was an option to enrol them at a licensed Jewish day-care, would you? And would having that care influence your decision on further Jewish education?”
Three centres do provide Jewish care beginning at 18 months, so we began there.
Early Beginnings, Ganon and Westboro Jewish Montessori offer excellent, well-rounded and devoted care.
Despite their merits, neither Ganon nor Westboro Jewish Montessori is structured in ways that meet our need for care Monday to Friday, 8 am to 6 pm, all year round. It’s possible, but requires extra fees and back-up care for all the days they are closed.
Early Beginnings (EB) is the only one that worked for us. Not just for us. During the year I was on maternity leave, I knew at least 10 others hoping for a spot there for the same reasons we were – it’s the only centre that worked for them.
“Did you hear from EB yet?” was a common question at playgroup, as was the discussion about what to do to bridge the six-month gap if you were lucky enough to get a spot.
Enrolment figures suggest demand for full-time Jewish education in Ottawa is waning. Has anyone looked at the constant demand for full-time Jewish day care? And how many families end up being turned away?
Initially, we were one of them.
So we found a wonderful home day care, where our daughter has been thriving for the last two years. The idea of pulling her after six months, even if a spot opened up at EB, faded because she was so happy there.
As we’ve waited for the spot, we put down other roots.
The families our daughter is in care with now are part of our community, as are the many other young families who live within two or three blocks of us.
Our daughter knows and is comfortable with them in a way she isn’t with the kids she only sees from time to time.
Our excellent local public school is only a block-and-a-half away.
These are things that come to mind when we’re asked another question: “Have you decided where to send your daughter to school?”
We’re lucky and now have a spot at Early Beginnings, where our daughter will start this fall. We’re looking forward to being part of that community.
Is that the start of the plan to enrol her at Jewish day school when the time comes?
I’m not being superstitious when I say I don’t know.