Confession: I worked at a large daycare for a few months when I was in college, and I was really, really, really bad at the job. I’m pretty sure the lady who owned the daycare was very relieved when I made up some excuse like, “Um, I’m going home for Christmas break and I’m never coming back here.”
You see, daycare is all about watching kids closely — to make sure the 3-year-old girl doesn’t punch the 2-year-old boy, to make sure the girl wearing a dress doesn’t fall off the top of the slide and bust her head open. And I just plain don’t feel comfortable watching kids super closely, especially others peoples’ kids. It makes me feel like I’m violating their little spirits — like I’m looking inside their fragile, unfinished souls and trying to finish a job I didn’t start.
Basically, people pay daycares to keep their kids alive. Turns out my definition of “alive” differs from most folks’. I really felt sorry for the kids in that daycare. Their lives were scheduled to the minute. They were herded like little bunches of cattle from the craft room to the playground to story time to snack time. One day I took a little boy, maybe 6 years old, to the bathroom and waited outside. He sat on the potty for a minute… then two… then three… and then my supervisor came storming past me, jerked the boy off the potty, wiped him, pulled his pants up, and sent him scurrying back to his herd. Apparently he wasn’t being efficient with his bathroom time.
Another time a boy who was well beyond potty-training age but who probably had some learning disabilities made a mess in his pants. I cleaned the boy up, dressed him in fresh clothes, then wrapped up the dirty clothes in a plastic sack for his parent to take home. The next day when I showed up for work, the owner of the daycare was livid with me. With hands on her hips, she reported that the boy’s parent had expressed extreme disapproval over the soiled clothes in the plastic sack; I hadn’t rinsed the clothes out before wrapping them up, and they had supposedly made a mess in the parent’s washing machine.
At the time I was humiliated beyond description. I took my lashing, head hung and tail between my legs, so incredibly mortified. I felt like a socially unacceptable failure.
But now, looking back, I see that I was also very confused over the whole deal. Now that I have my own kids and the perspective of a few years, I think this: What a strange society that was. What a strange concept to think you can pay somebody else to raise your kid for you. What a strange thing to criticize a college kid for not cleaning up your own kid’s (pun intended) shit.
Yes, I know that daycare is a necessary evil in this old world of ours, and that many parents have no choice but to put the kids in corporatized care while they work at paying jobs in order to make ends meet for the family. I also know that some kids are better off in daycare than at home. I realize that not everyone wants to or gets to live at a remote cow camp where there’s no daycare within 50 miles. I realize that not every mom — or dad — wants to or gets to stay at home with the kids. I tip my hat to single parents who work a regular job just to stop on the way home to pick up the kids… and that’s when the real work begins.
I thank my husband all the time for giving me the opportunity to stay at home with these kids of ours. I’m sure not making any money, and I know it’s cliche, but I happen to think that raising up this next generation is a specialized and important job… not a job that should be doled out to unfinished college students in a 5-to-1 ratio. I believe there’s nothing more important I could be doing.
In my admittedly idealized, admittedly small world, having kids is a responsibility. If you had ‘em… you raise ‘em.
But again, I know that daycare has to be part of that picture for many folks. Sigh. I am just very thankful that it doesn’t have to be part of mine. So the moral of the story is this: I don’t want you to take care of my kids. I don’t want to take care of your kids. And you don’t want me taking care of them.
© Tami Blake