It’s Not All Mary Poppins

It’s Your Child, It’s My Life, part 2 (updated with picture)

“How was his day?” Laughing Mommy asks. I like this woman. She’s cheerful, upbeat, sensible. She loves her children, but doesn’t idolize them, nor has she made herself their servant.

A few weeks back we discussed a neighbourhood school whose parents, every year, line up from mid-afternoon the day before to register their children for kindergarten. Laughing Mommy’s little boy will be starting Jr. Kindergarten in the fall, and they’re considering which of the neighbourhood school to send him to. So, there’s this school five blocks away, and it’s supposed to be a good one; in fact, it’s so very good, that all the Earnest and Anal Mommies and Daddies, who want to make sure their wee ones are solidly on the Ivy League track when they’re three, line up OVERNIGHT to get first dibs on the spots. Let me explain that this is a public school. If you live in the cachment area, your child WILL get in. Guaranteed. If they have to hire another teacher, that’s what they do, but they don’t turn kids away.

But these aggressive, intense parents line up, nonetheless. Overnight – 18, 22, 26 hours. In FEBRUARY, people! February in Ottawa, it gets COLD overnight. All this just to make sure their precious baby gets into MORNING kindergarten, and, better yet, MORNING kindergarten with the RIGHT teacher, oh, and maybe in FRENCH IMMERSION. I have always thought these people were nuts, but my parents, tending to be an Earnest bunch all in all, don’t necessarily see it quite like that. “I wouldn’t do it,” they say, “but you can see why some people do.” Um, no. We’re talking KINDERGARTEN here, and JUNIOR KINDERGARTEN. It will not make a life-long different. It really won’t. (And I did, briefly, teach kindergarten, so this isn’t disrespect. Just facts.)

Laughing Mommy, though, said, “Those people are NUTS! Like it can make that much difference. As I was saying to HirsuteDad last night, ‘I really don’t think they have any axe-murderers on staff’.”

Well, exactly.

A happy, sensible momma. Relaxed. Grounded. So when I answer her by saying, among other things, that I’d had my final physiotherapist appointment that afternoon, and that an adult friend had sat with the kids during nap/quiet time for an hour and a half, I had no idea I was dropping a bomb.

That night I get a phone call. She wanted to let me know that she was concerned that I’d done that. She didn’t feel comfortable with anyone but me caring for the children.

I reminded her that this option is in the contract. She’d forgotten. I informed her that I’ve done this before. She was surprised. (I don’t always mention it to the parents when I’ve been out – it’s not something their child did, and often I don’t think of it during the buzz of hometime, which is more focussed on how Junior ate and slept and diapered, and whether she’s bitten anyone again, and how the potty training is going, and how good he’s getting at sharing, and all the new words she’s learning… That kind of stuff.) Still, her son has been with me close to three years. I’ve popped out during that time, and I must have told her at least a couple of times.

“Well, I’m okay with you leaving someone else for a short time.” Oh, phew. I was beginning to worry a bit. This sounds more like the sensible mom I know and love. “Like if your husband watches them while you take out the garbage.” Hello? Do YOU hire a sitter to take out the garbage if YOUR husband isn’t home? Oh, dear. Perhaps not as sensible and grounded as I’d thought. However, professionalism doesn’t allow me to snort at something a client says, and her feelings are real and sincere. It is not for me to mock her. (To her face, anyway. I ask you, Internet, do you hire a sitter when you’re alone and need to take out the garbage? Remembering that we are city folk, and it’s probably a 30-foot round trip.)

We resolve this issue with a compromise. She allows me my right to arrange suitable back-up when necessary; I agree that I will let her know in advance so that she has the option of keeping him home at that time. She’s happy with this. I’m all right with it, too. I’m surprised that it was an issue for this mother in particular, but we’ve come to an agreement that accommodates her needs and doesn’t discommode me.

Ten days later, my son is home during exams. There are only three children here, and they’re all napping. “I’m going to pop out and get myself a coffee,” I tell Adam, almost 17, and, what with having grown up living in a daycare, a boy with more baby experience than most first-time parents. “You mind keeping an ear open for the kids? I’ll be back in twenty minutes.” And out I go.

Mine is an isolating job. You know how much effort it can be to get out with one child. Imagine how much more constrained you’d be with five. My parents can all have one or two coffee breaks a day – coffee breaks where they can leave their office and stretch their legs, and get a bit of fresh air. I’m lucky – very lucky – to do this once a month. I don’t think I’ve ever done it twice in one month. (Without the kids, I mean. I take the kids to coffee shops all the time…) So here I have an opportunity to take my once-in-four-to-six weeks coffee break! Wahoo!!

Halfway to the coffee shop, I realize, “I’m out of the house, and I didn’t call Laughing Mom!” Damn! Thank God she works in a suburb way to the west. But now I’m all tense and nervous. Jumpy. “What if she calls while I’m out? What if one of her friends sees me?” This was supposed to be a little treat! Now it’s a subversive venture, fraught with peril. I then realize, “This alerting her to my every absence is a pain in the butt!”

This is why it’s in the contract. From time to time, I will have necessity, or simply, as in this case, opportunity, to be out of the house during daycare hours. I put it in the contract that I may arrange substitute for myself at my discretion so that it can be done easily. Yes, they hired me, and trust me to care for their child. They did not hire anyone else. But, I reply, they hired me and trust me. This could – should?? – reasonably include trusting my judgment as to appropriate back-up, trusting me not to endanger their child.

If I allow them input, then I will be stuck wrangling who is appropriate, and for how long, and how much notice do they need, and can Mary sneak out for a coffee during naptime… This would be running my business by committee, and you know, you just know, that in every bunch of parents, there’s going to be one neurotic, over-protective parent who would have me chained to their child, interacting, stimulating, soothing, educating, at all times. Even though I, the queen of benign neglect, believe that’s actively bad for a child. I’ve never much liked committees.

This is one of the many reasons I’m self-employed.

So now I’m in a bit of a bind. Do I go back to Laughing Mommy and renegotiate (or perhaps it’s only “clarify”) the terms of our agreement, or do I say, “Nuts to this!” and pop out for a coffee when I have opportunity?

If she were going to be with me for another year, I’d talk to her for sure. However, she’s only going to be with me for another three and a half months. So we’re talking, at most, three coffee breaks. I’m not sure it’s worth potentially upsetting her. Do we have the conversation, and risk upsetting her? (It’s only three months.) Do I say nothing and just go? (It’s only three months.) Do I pretend I thought our agreement only meant longer outings? (Because I’m not entirely sure about this. But no. The woman who thinks I should have back-up for a trip to the curb with the garbage probably hasn’t even considered a quick trip to the coffee shop – even with a sitter.) Course, if I go and I’m caught, that will definitely upset her.

These are the horns of my dilemma.

Related posts:
It’s Your Child, It’s My Life;
Holiday Hassles, Boundary Disputes.

February 18, 2006 Posted by | controversy, daycare, parents, power struggle, the dark side | 21 Comments