A few years ago, I don’t know if I blogged about it here, Emma (my youngest, then 15 or so) came home with a new boyfriend. He looked vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t think why … until I met his mother.
We looked at each other in stunned recognition. “Pat?!” “Mary?!” Then we looked at our children, a second time, astonishment on our faces.
“You mean, that’s Kevin??”
“And that’s little Emma?!”
Yes, indeed. Emma was dating a former daycare client. It’s a rite of passage of a sort, in my business. I had cleaned that young man’s little butt, once upon a time. (Strangely, neither Emma nor Kevin found that little tidbit nearly as entertaining as we two mothers. Mwah-ha.)
I have an interview tonight. Nothing exceptional about that, except …
The young mother? She used to help out in the daycare. When she was seventeen.
FIFTEEN YEARS AGO.
Now she is thirty-two, with a career, a husband … and with a four-month-old baby. Who will need care starting November. Thirty-two. Not even a barely-adult twenty-something. She’s over thirty. An established adult.
“You probably don’t remember me,” she says, “but I’ve remembered you often through the years. I learned so much from you, stuff that I’ve applied in my career. How you motivated the children, how you got them working together. People are people, no matter how old they are.”
Wow. I guess she won’t be asking for referrals.
I’m really excited! I hope it works out. Wouldn’t that just be too cool for words?
Hello! I’m still alive! Sorry about my vanishment, for those of you who have been so kind as to express concern. The rest of you who have wandered off, never to return, well, that’s my own fault, isn’t it?
What’s been going on with me? Well, nothing precisely, but it’s really good! You know my personal Happiness Project? You can blame it. Yup. Gretchen may have been able to blog through hers, but I’m finding that mine is so damned successful, it’s taking away my inclination to blog.
It’s going like this:
Week one: I was having trouble remembering my project. I’d get to the end of the day, and I’d be entering all these rotten exes, because I just plain old forgot I was supposed to be doing it. Boooo. I hate exes in my chart. All those exes were not contributing to my happiness! When it comes to charts and assignments, I am a keener. Always have been. My charts always have rows of checkmarks. My assignments always have gold stars. Even self-assigned assignments. Actually, as I get older and need external validation less and less especially self-assigned assignments. They mean more.
I had to make this thing less forgettable. I mounted the chart on a wall where it would be hard to miss.
Week two: I’m doing better, but I’m still forgetting! It’s getting better, but still, I’ll be halfway through a day and suddenly remember that the story-time, which is supposed to happen before naps, didn’t. Or I’ll be waving the last one out the door and remember I forgot to sing with them. Damnit, anyway. I want to do this stuff! I like doing this stuff! When it’s happening — which is more and more frequently — I’m really enjoying it. But I’m still forgetting too much. (Absent-mindedness. It’s a curse.) It’s also interfering with my rows of checkmarks.
Wait. Maybe that’s the problem. The chart, though in an obvious spot, is pretty low-key. Tidy little inked notations on a pale blue grid. It needs to call attention to itself. It needs to be gaudy.
Two sharpies later, my chart no longer sports neatly subdued checks and exes. Now it is resplendent in red and green boxes. THERE ARE TOO MANY RED BOXES ON MY CHART.
Week three: I’m hitting my stride. There’s only one red box under ‘outing’, but that’s because we had ice rain/hail that day. That day, there is a green box under ‘craft’, which we only do twice a week. Mwah-ha. I am winning at Chart!
I’m also winning in the daycare. The whole tenor of the place is improving, day by day. By doing all these things, I’m feeling more professional and competent, I’m feeling more nurturing, more organized, more loving. Am I happier?
Damned straight I am. By a mile.
It’s not that we were all wallowing in misery before. We did crafts (you’ve seen them!), we played games, we read stories. It’s just that now I’m being more focussed and intentional about it all. Less drifting. When you drift, it’s too easy to say “Ah, I’m tired today. I’ll just throw some crayons and paper down, instead of organizing something more labour-intensive.”
And that’s okay, some days. But in the winters, I do that sort of thing more often, and eventually, I find myself wandering around in a bit of a grey malaise. A child does something cute, I smile. Now? A child does something cute, I laugh. I’m laughing a lot these days.
We’re into week five now, and red squares are few and far between. More importantly, I’m laughing a lot these days. And because I am the emotional centre of this place, they are laughing a lot more these days. And their happiness feeds mine. It’s a virtuous circle, people, and I’m loving it.
When I started, I didn’t foresee this level of satisfaction. I thought it would be satisfying, sure; I thought it would likely work, or I wouldn’t have bothered. I thought the process of improving, tidying up, tweaking my professional behaviour would make me feel better about myself.
But I had no idea how the joy would explode around me.
We are not running around in bliss 100% of the time. These are toddlers. They are still cranky, petulant and demanding at times. They still clobber each other once in a while. I get annoyed once in a while.
But, in general terms? It’s so good. Joy is not too strong a term for the spikes of happiness that occur, often several times a day. Certainly you could call it ‘glee’.
So why have I not been blogging about all this wonderfulness?
Well, because I’ve been busy living it.
However, sitting down this morning and pounding out this post has been fun, too, so I think you’ll be seeing more of me. Thanks for hanging in!
I told you about her a little while back. She has had a few half-days here, but this week is her first week of full-time, full-day care. She turned a year old this week, too.
She’s a tiny thing, delicate of bone and slender as a reed. Her eyes are a sparkling brown, always dancing with good humour and mischief.
The only thing that disturbs her effervescent good mood is my front door. The Parent-Eating Door. She comes in through that door with a parent, she rests in a parent’s arms while parent and I exchange info, and then? Then the parent goes out through that door! And doesn’t come back all day!
She KNOWS the parent out there, and if she could only get through that door, or cause it to open, she KNOWS there would be the parent, waiting on the other side of the door.
Sometimes the door does open, but it’s always someone else’s parent, dropping off another child. Not Good.
She’s easy to distract, though. This high-energy, high-stim kid does not thank you for gentle crooning and soft soothing. Nuh-uh. What she requires is hands-on rowdiness.
So, as she points, wailing, at the Parent-Eating Door, I run at her with a cry of delight. “GOT THE BAAAAAY-BEEEE!!!!” I swoop down, scoop her up, and TOSS her into the air.
Other children would be stiff with terror at this point. Not this elfin child. She squeals, she laughs, she totally forgets the Parent-Eating Door.
She’s quite the character, this child.
And I don’t have a name for her! Her real name is Scandinavian, so I thought I’d use another, but the only one I can think of is Ingrid, and that name conjures up the serious intellectual type. (The kind who makes dreary depressive art house films…) She may end up being an intellectual, this little sprite, but I can’t see her ever being serious.
So. How’d you like to name that baby? Any suggestions? I’ve thought of Sprite and Elfin, but they’re names for pets, not children.
We’re looking for a name that suits a tiny, wiry, fiery, laughing pixie of a girl.
All ideas gratefully received!
I’m interviewing again.
In September, Timmy, Anna and Emily will be old enough to go to Junior Kindergarten. Imagine that! My babies are heading off to the Big World Out There! So teeny to be going. School starts TOO YOUNG. I will miss their little faces.
I have three spaces to fill. Three. Sixty percent of my income heading off to JK.
So far I’ve met with three families, representing four children. (Emma is so excited about the possibility of “Twins, mom! So CUTE!”) I have another interview schedule early next week. By then I should be in a position to offer a position to an interested family. Or, if all goes well, two families!
1. Family one. LOVELY people. Soft-spoken, easy-going, sort of granola (as am I — “sort of” rather than “fervently”). Warm smiles, apparently respectful and affectionate marriage. Introverts, (as am I). Both of them interacted equally with the baby. I just got a good, good, good feeling about them. We “clicked”. I hope they felt the same way!
2. Family two. Nice enough people. Mother wants long, long weaning-in, assurances about the number of other same-age children I’ll be taking on, assurances that I will pick up her child when she cries. Mother came with checklist on a clipboard. I don’t recall if dad spoke during the interview.
3. Family 3. Only met the mother, in fact. Dad was home with the twins. LOVELY woman. Warm, ready laugh. Extrovert. Anxious about finding care, but sensible, balanced, relaxed. A slightly irreverent sense of humour when it comes to her kids, a thing I love to see.
My preferences are, in this order:
Family 1, Family 3, Family 2.
Family one is just a good fit. The parents and I are on the same page about any number of things, beyond child-rearing. This is what I look for. It just felt right, and I would have no hesitation at all in offering them the space.
Family 3 is lovely, but they’re my second choice. Not because of the twins, but because there’s a bit of a mystery surrounding how she came to me. She needs care SOON, as in, five or six weeks, and with year-long maternity leaves, people just don’t leave it that long.
I get the impression, based on something she didn’t quite say, that she had someone lined up and bailed on them. (Or, worse, she has someone lined up now and will bail on them if she finds something better.) While I totally understand why a parent would feel the need to do this, particularly a parent of twins, who has much more difficulty finding a spot, it makes me a smidge uneasy. If she’d do that to someone else, would she hesitate to do that to me? Obviously, if I decide to take her on/she decides to go with me, I’d have to ask the direct question.
They may not opt for me anyway. It was clear that my closing time is an issue. Nothing she said, but she sorta winced when I told her. So I may be excluded on that very pragmatic logistical basis.
And Family 2? I will not take on Family 2, even if the others don’t opt for me. Now, the mother seems to be a nice person. Our child-rearing styles are not too dissimilar.
By the end of the interview, though, there were just too many red flags.
She’s too Earnest. Now, almost all first-time parents are Earnest, so in and of itself that wouldn’t be sufficient to exclude her from consideration. However, she’s Earnest with a large side of Controlling.
Not because of the clipboard and checklist. I have a terrible memory. My home is rife with checklists. Checklists are my friends, and I’m not about to deny one to the sleep-deprived mother of a brain-sucking 5-month-old.
– The so-lengthy weaning-in, where she’d be in my home for part of the day for weeks on end? Not happening. It’s a huge imposition on my autonomy. Yes, I will wean in if the parents want, but for a week or two, not months.
– The expectation that she can tell me how to respond to her child — not that what she wants is unreasonable, but the point is it’s my decision to make on my time. (She can find out what my philosophy on these things is, looking for a good match to her own. She cannot dictate.)
– The request for assurances that I will limit the number of other year-old babies in my care? Well, I’d like to. Three year-old babies is a PILE of work. However, the reality is that I have three spaces opening simultaneously, and that most parents looking for care are bringing year-old babies.
In short, she wants too much control over my work environment.
She also doesn’t understand that the interview is a two-way evaluation, she of me, and me of her. Though she is continuing with other interviews, she requested that if anyone else expressed interest in this spot, I would let her know so that she could have it first. No recognition that the spot would have to be offered to her, that there are two equal parties to the decision. This is the woman who perceives her caregiver as her employee, not (as I am) an independent contractor. This perception of the balance of power matters enormously.
Moreover, she’s not the best communicator. (Not, that is, if you understand communicating as including listening). When I underlined that I could give no such assurances re: ages of children in care, it obviously didn’t ‘take’. In her re-capping of the interview, she listed that as something we’d agreed upon.
I didn’t correct her, because I’d already decided I wouldn’t take this family.
Most of these are things I would not have picked up on 15 years ago. Even if I had, I’d not have seen the significance of them. But now I know that it’s these emotive, relational things that make the caregiver-parent relationship live or die. I can predict with some assurance that within six months, this mother and I would be driving each other nuts.
But either of the others? Yup! We’ll see.
Timmy, on looking at the creche on the mantlepiece:
“God lives at Mary’s house!”
Anna to Emily:
“I’m going to be an angel for Christmas!”
Emily beams and points to a (deliberately unbreakable) ball on the tree:
“Indie was eating this, and I put it back on the tree.” Her face breaks out into joy and she does a small skip of purest delight. “I’m a helpful girl!”
Anna, exuding joy, races toward her dad as he’s about to leave after morning drop-off. She has something pink and sparkly in her hand. “Oh, wait, daddy! You forgot THIS!”
Mary spins on her heel, whisks the thing out of Anna’s hand, and hides it. Fast.
“Yes, but not now, Anna!”
Daddy chortles and leaves. I pick the pieces of Anna from off the floor, put her back together with a snuggle, an explanation, and a distraction: “We have to WRAP it, honey!” She resumes her natural state: chirpy delightfulness.
Joy, anticipation, tears, confusion, and general mayhem. Christmas with toddlers: Such fun!
I try to be flexible with my parents. If your spouse is out of town this week, and you ask nicely, I’ll probably let you pick up 20 minutes late and waive the late fee. I’ve kept the kids late on Valentine’s Day so parents could have a date night. Early drop-offs are never a problem. You come part-time and want to switch days? Not a problem. Your holiday times get switched? I can accommodate.
If you present me with a reeking child and tell me “he pooped in the car!”, I’ll take him with a smile and deal with it. Because it happens.
If you do that twice in one week, I’ll take him with a smile and deal with it. Because it happens, sometimes twice in one week.
If you do that every morning for a month? I’ll start to get a little suspicious. I maybe might not smile so much after the first week or two. Because, yeah, it could happen, I guess, but…
If I look out the window one morning and see you in my driveway, changing your child on the hood of your car? I will cease to be suspicious.
I might even offer you a coffee to take to work with you, you poor soul, you.
When you are preparing to leave for daycare at the beginning of the day, you will probably chat with your child. You will talk about what you’re eating for breakfast, which clothes you will wear. You’ll maybe speculate on the friends s/he will play with, and the activities s/he might enjoy during his/her day.
All perfectly sweet. All developmentally and emotionally appropriate.
Do not, however, lead your child to believe that these speculations are, in fact, plans. Do not encourage this notion by saying to your child “Go to the library? What a good idea! Let’s tell Caregiver what you would like to do today!”
And then, when you arrive at daycare, do not prompt your child, “What did you want to tell Caregiver today?” (“Tell” Caregiver. Not, oh… “ask”. Hmmm…)
And when the child CAN’T REMEMBER, do not REMIND him/her.
“Remember, honey? You said you wanted to go tooooo…”
“That’s right, honey! You wanted to go to the library!”
Do not then look at the caregiver and say, “I hope it’s okay, but s/he really wanted to get out another CURIOUS GEORGE BOOK (right honey? you wanted a Curious George book!!)”
“CURIOUS GEORGE! YAY!!”
Do not do this, because:
1. Your caregiver might have made other plans for the day. It’s not that she can’t redirect your child (easily, once you and your expectations have gone), it’s that she shouldn’t have to.
2. Your caregiver, regardless of whether she’s made plans for the day, might prefer to be consulted about her workday’s agenda.
3. Your caregiver might have philosophical concerns about confirming a two-year-old’s notion that s/he is The Boss of the Universe.
4. Your caregiver might take offense at the implication that she does not take Precious to the library often enough.
5. Your caregiver might be annoyed that you assume that Precious’s wants should take precedence over any or all other children in her care.
6. She might further be annoyed that you seem to have less awareness than Precious that there are other children in the daycare with their own wants and needs. Kids, who, perhaps, enjoy, oh, the park as much as Precious enjoys the library.
In short, it will Piss Your Caregiver Off.
Don’t do it.