First Day of Summer

Let’s talk about today.

First off, I started the week by putting my back out. Mr. O is going through a second phase of stranger anxiety but at 18 months instead of nine. So now he’s twice as heavy as a 9-month-old. And I’m twice as old as somebody who should be hauling around any baby.

When Famous Carol came to sub for me to go to Younger Son’s graduation from elementary school, I picked up a screaming Mr. O, the back went pop and so, pretty much, did the rest of my week.

With school out I don’t have to transport the boys back and forth, which is great, and I love having them home more than anything. But they are two extra bodies in the house who, however self-sufficient, still need attention and feeding and leave a trail of dishes, crumbs, and wet/dirty/smelly clothes in their wake.

Younger actually wants to help with the day care kids, which is awesome, but requires extra work in finding supplies and cleaning up after the highly complicated art projects he chooses at random each morning.

I had an interview coming at noon and had to print out a contract – and the printer was out of ink. I should add that an interview makes you want to have everything clean and tidy. But there are seven kids underfoot who don’t care all that much about cleanliness. And that just creates a lot of angry noise in your brain that you’re carrying around on top of the usual chaos.

The weather has been crazy this week and it was downpouring all morning. At 10:15 when there was a break in the rain I told the kids, we need to get out in the yard now before it comes back! Once we got there, the skies cleared and the sun was beating down on us.

I hadn’t brought out any supplies for swimming (towels, bathing suits, change of clothes) but the children were already half-naked and jumping in the pool full of rain water.

Well, OK fine, they’re distracted, we’ll deal with that mess later, I thought. Now is the perfect time to put together my new climber that the neighbors donated and are bringing over at this very moment. The interview will see it and think, what an awesome place to bring my daughter. That climber will put me over the edge, I’m sure of it!

The babies were running around naked with soaking wet “pendulum diapers,” as my neighbor noted. Miss A was playing a half-serious game of chase with Mr. L in which she showed him her doll, he tried to take it, and she ran away screaming, “You can’t have my doll!”

I stopped her and explained that she should stop showing it to him if she didn’t want him to take it. She listened politely, showed Mr. L the doll again, and ran away screaming with him trailing behind her.

I realized the climber was going to need more help than a good swift kick to pop it together, so I went to grab the rubber mallet out of the garage. Not there. But this small axe should do the trick!

The two big girls were playing a game of princess rescue in which one of them hid somewhere in the yard and screamed in pain to warn the prince that she needed help. This game intersected with the baby doll chase and four children were now running through the yard tackling each other with various levels of real- and fake-pain screams. The babies were beginning to melt down, lunch time was approaching, and I feared my interview could walk in at any moment.

Pay no attention to the axe in the play area.

I hustled the sweaty, dirty, crying, mosquito-bitten, sunburned, droopy-drawered children into the house and somehow miraculously managed to get them all cleaned up, changed, and sitting down ever-so-beautifully at the lunch table when the interview arrived.

I found out five minutes after she arrived that she used to be a preschool teacher. She was completely nonplussed by the disaster, and sat down with a book and two kids on her lap while I finished cleaning up lunch. Some things are meant to be.

They left and I put the kids down for nap and to have a lie-down on the living room floor (oh yes the back is still twinging amidst all this). I have lately fashioned a pillow out of two comforters and a pillow case for Mr. L who, instead of drinking his water, dumped it out in his bed and wailed about having a wet bed.

It’s 1:50. I’m just sitting down to lunch. We’re only two hours behind schedule. And I’m just a few clicks away from a nervous breakdown. Welcome, summer!

Lest You Think a Mother’s Life is Not Busy…

Younger Son had a field trip last week and I chaperoned. This was my to-do list:

  • Make sure my sub (Famous Carol) can come for day care
  • Alert parents that Famous Carol is coming and they need to pick up at 4:00
  • Send in check for Younger’s cost to school
  • Make sure permission slip was signed and returned
  • Send in $2 for his “I belong with this class” bright blue t-shirt
  • Find out that chaperones need to pay and send another check
  • Send another $2 for MY bright blue (“I belong with this class and am not a kidnapper”) t-shirt
  • Ask Michelle to pick up Older after school
  • Make sure Older knows he’s going with Michelle
  • Write dismissal email to Older’s homeroom teacher
  • Note for Older to remember to go home with Michelle and not on bus
  • Have talk with Older to figure out what will happen if he does go home on bus
  • Write down Michelle’s phone number for Older in case he goes home on bus
  • Reassure Older that he will remember to go home with Michelle and not to worry
  • Email Famous Carol to be sure she’s coming and tell her what’s going on with the kids this week
  • Send parents reminder email and write early closing time on whiteboard
  • Write “Bag lunch” on the menu for that day so Dad won’t make normal lunch
  • Take a picture of the TV remote and upload it to computer, print it out and write instructions for Famous Carol
  • Find my small travel backpack (throw out first one I found because it’s disintegrating)
  • Charge two iPods since they’re allowed to bring them for entertainment
  • Gather Younger’s book, headphones, charged iPods, and journal to go in his backpack
  • Find a better journal because the first one is too small
  • Pack my own bag with sunblock, magazine, snack for four kids, bandaids, tissues, itinerary, etc.
  • Go over the checklist sent from the school to make sure I didn’t forget anything (but I’m plagued with the feeling that I did)

Now for the morning of the trip:

  • Pack the bag lunches and Younger’s snack
  • Change whiteboard message for parents to pickup early today
  • Set up the cribs
  • Get pile of VCR tapes
  • Leave check and instructions for Famous Carol
  • Leave the tv set to VCR
  • Vaccuum under the snack table because I forgot to last night
  • Greet kids arriving at normal time
  • Review TV use with Carol
  • Make sure Younger’s ready (which he is, because he’s awesome)
  • Go on field trip!!!

Older’s field trip is next week.


This One’s for My FCC Ladies

I was having a great little chat with Famous Carol the other day about the state of family child care. She subs for several other women and shares my worry that home day care providers are a dying breed.

Between us we know several home day cares in the area that are closing. Maybe more parents are choosing centers. But it might be that for some people the workload is starting to outweigh the rewards. Carol pointed out how sad it is that we’re becoming more and more institutionalized.

It really hit me hard when she said, “It used to be like dropping your kids off at Grandma’s house for the day.”

That just sounded so sweet, and I would love to have that kind of house. It’s getting harder to maintain that family atmosphere with all the requirements we have to meet. I have to admit that I barely skate by as it is, especially since I just started a four-month-old who needs to be held a lot (as all babies do).

So I got into my usual funk of comparing myself to other providers and coming up short. Carol told me to stop being hard on myself (she knows this is what I do). She tells me if the kids are happy I’m doing a great job. Well, they’re happy a lot of the time…

But then the very next day a funny thing happened. My after-schooler went to girl scouts, two kids stayed home sick, and another got picked up early with a fever. I was left with just three girls for the afternoon and quickly realized I had a lot of time on my hands.

As we came home from the school pickup (I still had my own son to get, don’t forget about him) I said, “Instead of me making a snack for you guys, how about we bake our own together?” YEAH!!! They ran in the kitchen. “Amy remember when it was Miss A’s birthday and we make cupcakes?” “Remember I got the egg on my hand and I cried?” “Do we still have the halloween holders?” (Cupcake wrappers. Yeah, it’s been a while since we baked.)

And in a strange twist, Older helped us while Younger played video games. It was delightful for me, first to see him bonding with the kids instead of being annoyed at them (his usual state), but also because I don’t think he’s made muffins with me since he was about five years old.

So when I don’t have a four-month-old plus five other kids plus an after-schooler plus my own two kids, I am really damn good. And it’s not that hard.

Today I was down to one at the end of the day with half an hour before her dad came to pick her up. I asked if she would be scared if I vaccuumed. She said yes but I tried it. She covered her ears and watched me. I said, “Do you want to try it?” An old trick to get kids over being scared of the monster.

She jumped at the chance. Of course it’s too heavy for her to push so I took the hose off and showed her how to magically suck up the cracker crumbs and popcorn pieces. She was delighted.

While she sucked up the snack detritus from under the table, I used the dustpan on the hardwood floor. We knelt side by side and she giggled hysterically every time the vaccuum hose sucked up her dress. It suddenly felt a little old-fashioned to me and I thought, this is like grandma’s house.

Until she thought it would be fun to see if the vaccuum would suck up her sock. That thing was whipped off her foot and up the hose faster than I could even blurt out one word in response.

It was kinda funny.

Then it was more like Grandpa’s shop than Grandma’s kitchen, and the boys were back to see me doing surgery on the vaccuum, and then they all played jumprope with the hose (which I had to remove), and Older showed me how they learned about waves in science class by sending jolts of different size and speed down the length of it, and Miss M had a chance to use the screwdriver, and I had to stick my fingers into the bag to fish out the sock. (Gross.)

But we got it straightened out. And the whole scene was something I don’t think you’d see in a center. Hang in there family child care providers – the children of the world need us.

Sneaky Toy-Snatching

You never stop learning as a child care provider. There is always some new trick (or old trick but new to you) or different way to handle a situation, no matter how many years you’ve been doing this. I learned a new one from Carol yesterday.

Famous Carol was here because I had to go to the knee doctor. I love when the few precious hours I have to myself are spent on an exam table. And I’m in awesome blue paper shorts with my brown socks and I have to remind the x-ray guy to give me the lead blanket so he doesn’t irradiate my butt. He told me I could take the shorts home and show my husband if I wanted. Oh he was a saucy x-ray guy. At least it made the time a little less boring.

So I got home and I love it when Carol hangs around for a while before she leaves. Mostly because I crave adult companionship (and she’s hilarious), but also because she sees how the kids behave and lets me know if I’m on the right track with how I’m working with them (a.k.a. assures me that I’m not insane).

Today Miss M was trying to grab the new pink baskets with handles. The twins have taken to carrying around all the people from my ginormous Duplo block collection. (The funny thing is when we took all the people out, there were actually about six sets of twins, which delighted them even more. But now we spend a lot of time looking for lost “matches.” “Match Amy!?” Yes, Miss D, that’s a match! “Where da other match?” Damn.)

So I found two pink baskets in the basement and thought it would be adorable to see them carrying around their little people in their little baskets. Knowing full well that every child in the place would want one. I’ll get back down there eventually and find more baskets, don’t worry. (The knee, remember? Pain, not laziness?)

As Carol and I are chatting Miss M is trying to grab the basket from the Tornado, who is momentarily interested in it. He’s a boy toddler, he’s momentarily interested in everything. Carol and I know this but Miss M is determined to have it NOW. My usual way of handling this situation is to step in and say, “Miss M, Tornado is using that right now. You can wait your turn,” or, “Let’s ask him for a turn when he’s done.”

This works with varying degrees of success depending on what kids are involved. Sometimes they’ll hand the toy right over if they’re asked nicely (really!). Sometimes we’ll say the words, I’ll get the borrower interested in something else (distraction), and when I see the other one’s finished I’ll say, “Look, it’s your turn with the toy now.”

Of course the optimal way would be to get the first child to bring it over to the borrower, but again – depends on the kids involved. Sometimes they will. Sometimes it’s just easier to get the toy to the person who wants it, and who has really been waiting so patiently. It’s one of those power struggle moments that you don’t want to get dragged into for everybody’s sake. When the first one realizes they’re losing the toy and someone else is interested, suddenly it can be “MINE!!!” again.

OK so Tornado has the toy, Miss M wants the toy, and she wants it NOW. She’s got a good grip on it and she’s pulling. Naturally, he is screaming. Carol says to her (conspiratorially), “Miss M! Come here! Come here, I have to tell you something!”

Miss M doesn’t want to let go of the toy, but she is interested in what Carol has to say. She comes over, and Carol puts her arms right around Miss M’s shoulders, turns her to look at Tornado, and whispers. “I know you want that toy but you can’t grab it out of his hands. He’s not that interested and he’s going to put it down very soon.”

Miss M: “But, but…”

Carol continues to whisper and tell Miss M what’s going on. “No, wait, look he’s already mad at it. He’s trying to put it in the big basket but it doesn’t fit. He’s going to get frustrated and put it down very soon.”

Miss M is still twitching to get the toy but she’s listening to Carol too. Tornado puts the basket down and Miss M starts to make a run for it, but Carol continues to hold her. We both know if Miss M goes over now to grab it, Tornado’s hands will be back on it faster than, well, faster than tornado-strength winds.

So Carol gets Miss M to wait. “Hold on, not yet, give it one more second.” Tornado takes a step to the left and Carol tells Miss M, “OK, go sneak behind him and get it really quiet.” I get in on the action and tell her, “Be a spy, Miss M! Be super-sneaky!”

And she did it, and got the basket, and was just so darn pleased. What a great moment for her.

Of course she then turned around, walked over to the other Miss M, and tried to grab the second basket out of her hand.

But what a cool trick! I totally dug it, and it’s something that I wouldn’t think of by myself. This is what someone who has been doing child care for years has to teach us. This is why I have pushed for years for child care providers to have mentors who visit their program rather than having to go out and take classes. We’re out here learning this stuff on our own, and unless we’re really creative and intuitive, it can be really difficult to know the best way to handle the myriad of problems that present themselves during our day.

Sometimes it’s a matter of being in a rut with your kids, because you’re with them all day every day and you’re in a routine of doing the same thing. Then a new person walks in, sees the situation with fresh eyes, and wham – there’s a whole different way of handling things that you just didn’t see.

And there was something else going on in the way that Carol handled that situation. She was demonstrating the true art of child care – being able to step out of your grownup mind and engage a child on their level. We grownups can predict that someone will lose interest in a toy in thirty seconds and if she’d just wait she could have it without the fight. We get frustrated that she doesn’t get it. Just be patient! Wait for half a minute! Gawd!

But why not just explain it to her? And why did that never occur to me before? Because I am in such a rush, so distracted by what’s going on next, that I don’t slow down to examine the moment. Carol slowed us all down, and we were all interested in what was happening because she was engaged in it too.

And how many learning opportunities happened in that small moment? Too many to count. Miss M learned how to wait for her turn. How to be a good listener. How to cooperate. Self-control. Sharing. Following directions. How do you quantify something like that on paper?

This is why child care is a fine art. People think that we just sit around and change diapers all day but that is so, so wrong. We are highly skilled workers. Many people tell me all the time they don’t know how I do it, and I should just tell them that if they were properly trained, they could do it too. In the meantime, I just have to keep trying to convince everyone that we – especially those of us who’ve been doing this for many years – truly have a great deal of wisdom to share.

Why Your Day Care Provider is Frazzled

Here’s the search item/question of the week: “why your daycare provider always looks frazzled”

I just laughed and laughed when I saw that one, and I know any other day care provider would too. I could refer you to this post, or this one, but I’d also like to delve into the idea of a provider being “frazzled.”

There are many, many reasons why we are frazzled. If you spent your days in a house with several children of varying ages, trust me you would be frazzled too. If you’re worried that her hair and makeup aren’t done every day so she’s looking beautified when you arrive, it’s because instead of a 40-minute morning beauty regimen, she’s preparing for the kids. She’s pouring several cups of juice and milk, she’s finding art supplies, she’s digging toys out of storage, or picking new books for the bookrack. And if she has her own kids she’s getting them ready for school too, on top of everything else.

And if she happened to be exhausted and hit the snooze button one too many times, that doesn’t stop kids from arriving at their normal time. She’s late, and she doesn’t have the luxury of coming into work a little late. Work comes to her whether she’s ready or not.

Now let’s look at the different degrees of frazzled.

There’s the totally schizo, “I’ve had it up to here and can’t take one more thing or I’m going to totally lose it” frazzled. If your provider is at this level all the time, there is a problem. I hit it about once a month, and that’s about as often as I can live with (and that can be realistically expected of anyone unless they are, quite literally, a saint). Once one of my dads went home and told his wife, “Amy was so upset when I walked in. I’ve never seen her like that.” That would be when I hit schizo-frazzled.

If it’s the hair askew, clothes stained and snot-covered, bags under her eyes, shoelace-untied kind of frazzled: you’re fine. That’s every day.

The “this baby has been crying for two hours and making everyone crazy” frazzled is also normal. This can happen anywhere from 2-3 times a week.

You can also run into the “my own children are not listening and purposely, openly rebelling because they’re sick of my job and pissed at me” frazzled. You can’t do anything about this one. It happens a lot. It sort of goes along with the idea that your kids will be mad at you no matter what you do simply because you are their parent.

Even if you’ve given up a career to start a job in which you can be home for them before and after school every day instead of putting them in someone else’s care. Do you see the irony?

A cousin of this frazzled is, “I’m worried about how my kids are going to behave in front of you, and what nice words they’re going to say/teach to your baby, while you’re worried that your child is being properly cared for in a nurturing environment.”

Those are pretty common for me, and I’d guess for anyone who has her own kids in care.

There’s also this one, which happens most often: “I prepared four activities and not one child is interested, and the toddler won’t stop climbing on the table, and the baby needs to be fed but someone has a really stinky poo that needs to be changed first, and I just twisted my ankle because someone left toys all over the floor.” That’s your basic, garden-variety frazzled.

So why are we any degree of frazzled? And why can’t we just have every moment of our day be as nice and happy as the pictures on the brochures would have you believe? Well we do have those moments too, and they’re lovely. But for the most part we are meeting the many, many needs of several little children all day. Pottying can be a half-hour adventure, and by the time you recover from it you’ve missed arts & crafts time and have to move straight into making lunch.

We are also the only adult present all day. We make every decision, we’re in charge of every situation, we call all the shots. At some point your brain just reaches overload. We don’t get a coffee break (or even a pee-pee break for that matter, on some days) and it’s different than providers who work in centers. They have other adults to rely on.

There are providers who have reached a level of zen that amazes me. My friend Carol is one of them. She is in complete control of everything and everyone in her realm at all times. Then again, she was a provider for twenty-plus years (and, as she pointed out, it was after her children left home). So she is the pinnacle – it’s not fair to compare the rest of us mere mortals against her.

Keep this in mind: frazzled is different than apathetic. In fact, I’d be more worried if my provider had the “Everything’s cool! We’re all awesome!” vibe every day. You want her to be confident, but not necessarily picture-perfect. Frazzled means she’s working hard, doing her job. Trust your gut, and know that the kids really don’t care about the snot on her shirt, because they put it there. It happened when they were hugging her and that’s a very, very good thing.


I’m just adding a little more here a few months after writing this post. I drove past my friend Dee’s house and her stroller with the walking rope was parked outside. The walking rope is actually plastic and there are five or six little colored circles on it. It looked like the stroller had been attacked by Froot Loops. But it was also kind of weird seeing it empty, out of context, not in the schoolyard filled with three kids and a few others hanging onto the Froot Loops.

I thought how hard it is to have a conversation with Dee when she’s got that stroller, and how hard it must be to have a conversation with me when I’m working. And I realized that if a provider has six kids, her mind is in six places at all times (seven if you count trying to talk to you). We never stop thinking about those kids, and where they are and what they’re up to and if they’re safe. So that’s just one more very logical reason why we’re frazzled: our brains are split into several pieces all day!