Sponsored by KinderCare.

The first day of childcare with my first son was fairly typical. I'd read numerous studies about the benefits of childcare (I'm a former elementary school teacher, after all) and I knew that socialization would do him good. We started with a half day for practice, we implemented a brief goodbye routine, I sent him in with a lovey from home and tried to act super-confident before secretly dashing to the car and loudly sobbing about my baby growing up. My second son's transition was similar.

And then came child number three.

Getting out of the car on the first day of childcare

“He's…a busy guy,” I hesitantly explained to the childcare administrator, who I'd known at this point for several years. How do you tell someone that their entire organizational system is going to be put to the test? That they'll never get to sit down for more than thirty seconds during any given day? That this child would literally turn over just about anything that wasn't bolted down, simply out of curiosity about what was underneath?

I'd come up with gentle descriptive words for my sweet boy over the years, quietly telling people that he was rambunctious, energetic, active, lively and animated. In spite of that, he still had a tendency to catch people off guard. I remember the day I asked my best friend if perhaps I was just remembering my other kids' developmental stages differently. Maybe all kids were like this. Maybe I was simply more tired because he was the third and my patience level was lower. She laughed and shook her head. “That sweet little boy is a spazz! I don't know how you get ANYTHING done.”

And so, my spazz and I prepared to unleash our hailstorm of energy during his first day of childcare.

The First Day of Childcare with my Go-Go-Go Guy

The first day of childcare with a rambunctious kid

We showed up late

With the other boys, our childcare administration had suggested that we drop off really early in the day. With Minion we did things differently, coming in after most of the kids were already playing around. The hope was that he'd seamlessly join, and not feel any sort of angst over too much quiet unfamiliarity. My appreciation for the childcare teachers' guidance on this was palpable.

The strategy worked like a charm…once he actually got through the door.

Kid playing by a tree

We blazed our own trail

He started by bolting for a tree by the front entrance, before we'd even made it through the gate. He had toured the place several times in the past without making a run for it, but he knew this time was different. This time I toted a backpack full of carefully-chosen snacks and books and emergency pants. I thanked my lucky stars that I'd sent Nate to drop off the big boys ahead of time and wasn't trying to juggle them AND the rambunctious new preschooler AND our newborn.

Preschooler throwing backpack around

He tried to break some stuff

I let him run out a bit of energy before luring him back over by the main building, explaining that it was time to go in for school. Knowing where the entrance was, he got a sly gleam in his eye and walked up to a nearby stained glass window, acting goofily confused when it didn't open. “That's not the door, buddy, that's the window.”

He picked up a rock to chuck at the window, and I quickly confiscated it. So he threw his backpack instead, giggling as it went overhead. “Weeeeeeh!”

One of the childcare workers watched us from inside and I could see her snickering quietly, knowingly, to herself. Our lengthy approach was drawing attention, and I was mildly mortified about my son's behavior. As active as he is, I usually keep a fairly tight leash and don't let him take THIS much advantage. However, I didn't want to fight with him before his first childcare day.

Kids know, you see. They can sense when your defenses are down.

Preschooler holding a shell

There was the quiet during the storm

We finally made our way in and dropped the backpack off – that part went quickly – and he made a beeline for the playground area. He obviously had a very particular mission in his mind, and it soon became clear as he plucked a small shell off of the ground. Obviously a remnant from show-and-tell or craft time, this intricately-formed piece of beauty was lost here on the ground. Lost among fellow bits of nature: leaves and twigs and sand.

Lost, I thought, perhaps like my son would be in this place with kids who peacefully glued things and wielded little pencils with precision.

Preschooler playing peek-a- oo behind a tree

And he soon found his place

Then suddenly, he chucked the shell behind him, gaze drawn abruptly to another activity. He darted over to a sturdy tree where a group of kids were playing some makeshift cross between hide-and-seek and peek-a-boo. He giggled, ducking his face behind a branch and wryly smiling at a little girl across from him.

I stepped back and realized that the hurdle I expected…simply wasn't here. Our biggest challenges had ironically been outside the childcare gates. A familiar teacher gave me the thumbs-up as her watchful eyes tracked the kids. I glanced back at my son, blew him a little kiss, and smiled as his energy beamed like a light off of everyone around him.

To my surprise, I walked away confident and energized as well. I felt proud that my son was part of a community that's as vibrant as he is. His unshakeable self-worth wasn't an intrusion in this place, and I realized that these childcare walls weren't built to contain that conviction. They were built to foster it.

I speak with fellow moms and dads every day who are trying to juggle work and family and experiencing conflicted feelings about childcare – much like the ones I've felt myself. They're concerned about researching the right center, finding personalities that mesh well with their kids, balancing play and structured learning. They seek an environment that's dynamic, responsive, and that measures success in a logical way. Above all, they want reliability and experience. When I'm making recommendations nationwide, I always encourage parents to find a local KinderCare to instill confidence and guide them through the process so their experience can go as smoothly as my own. Open since 1969, KinderCare is a consistent, robust resource for child development. It's good for the parents, and it's GREAT for the kids.

I'm proud to share that – through some magic, bribery or peer pressure – my rambunctious boy has learned to occasionally sit quietly and glue something or wield a little pencil. He usually doesn't even try to stab anyone with it. There's hope for us yet!

Do your kids go to childcare?