Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Someone to Watch Over Her

I put off calling Locate for more names of potential childcare providers in the same manner and for the same reason I put off looking for something I'm pretty sure is lost. Take, for example, the mate to my first anniversary diamond stud earrings. One morning, mere weeks after receiving the beauties I had longed for half my life, I realized only the back was affixed to my right ear as I exited the shower. I scoured the path from shower to bed and canvassed the sheets, even checking under my sleeping husband, but I did not move the bed or the things beneath it for days. Because I was pretty sure I'd never see the earring again, but until I checked everywhere I could still hope and pass said hope along to the heartbroken Boy. Needless to say, I have a single diamond stud and two backs sitting uselessly in my jewelery box and a note to myself to claim the earrings on our homeowner's insurance.

So I had no excuse to proffer when The Boy asked why I hadn't called even days after he had helpfully provided the number. I finally called and received every last name in the city we were hoping to get. "If none of those work, call back and we'll try another area," Sarah said, sympathetically. The search that had begun in August of last year netted only fruitless phone calls and disappointing interviews, and we landed in January with a one-month-old baby, the clock ticking on my maternity leave, and no childcare. I called all eleven people in one afternoon and ended up with two appointments for the following Monday. We did not set high expectations.

We arrived at our first appointment on time in a neighborhood where the houses look like trailers. Chain-link fences and above-ground pools abounded. We met the woman in the enormous Mickey Mouse sweatshirt who also had unfortunately severe astigmatism. The Boy later commented he wasn't sure which one of us she was looking at when she talked. Two children snoozed in little sleeping bags on the floor, a fact I wouldn't have minded if an enormous and ancient Irish Setter mut didn't brush up against my leg before roaming over to the children.

"He's a sweetheart, but the only thing is he sheds all over everything," the woman said. I glanced at the children and knew this interview would contain few questions.

"I guess the first thing you should know is that I take care of my mom," the woman added, "and that's a full-time job itself. It's the hardest job I've ever had." While I appreciated and respected that she cared for her ailing mother, I wondered who would watch the children while she performed this full-time job.

I asked about her sick time/personal day policy, a question with a long answer she summarized with: "Usually I just work sick."

"Okay, honey," The Boy said, five minutes after we had arrived, "I think we're all set here."

The woman insisted we see the house, a tour which included "meeting" her unconscious and elderly mother and viewing multiple Coors Light banners prominently displayed among the playpens in a back room. We told her we'd be in touch. When we arrived back at the car where The Boy's mother and our sleeping daughter waited, my mother-in-law asked why we wouldn't be choosing that woman. "I don't have enough time to give you all the reasons," The Boy said.

On the way to the second appointment that day, we surveyed the gorgeous homes around us and waited for the neighborhood to turn older and uglier, as it tends to do. It didn't. We arrived at our destination at the base of a cul-de-sac and a driveway with a Mercedes. We were welcomed into a foyer that belonged in a model home. The slippered woman led us to the expansive finished basement complete with permament playroom displaying children's artwork. They have their own table and chairs, refrigerator, bathroom, and exit to the backyard. The place was immaculate and beautiful.
The woman who is affectionately called Aunt Nae spoke of 25 years of day care. She spoke with love about the children she sees every day, the ones she misses who have moved away, and the ones who have graduated college and gotten married. "I like to be honest with people," she said, "I will not promise you I won't yell at your child. If I'm across the room and your child is standing on that table, I am not going to say, 'Sweetie, please get down from there.' It's not going to happen like that." She told us about her curriculum, her ridiculously reasonable rates, the birthday parties she throws for the kids, and the occasional trips they take upstairs to the main level. "The kids act like I'm taking them to Manhattan," she dead-panned. We laughed with her and before we knew it, an hour had passed. We were sold-- enough to forget we had left grandmother and child in the car in January (with the keys, but still). We gathered paperwork and left quickly, beaming. We had found her. We knew better than to deliberate long. We had already lost two slots to long deliberation (and less than full disclosure on the part of the providers). We booked her two days later.

So my insides flip over whenever I look at a calendar. I'm not ready to go back to work at the beginning of next month, though I know it's necessary and what is best and soon. I hate the idea of being away from my little girl all day every day, as it's only happened twice thus far and for several-hour increments. I anticipate crying at my desk, lingering in the bathroom, trying to force myself not to call to check in. But I know my daughter will be comfortable, safe, cared for and loved. And you can't put a price on that.
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