She have to learn.

So here’s a little story about our first attempt at finding childcare. A HORROR STORY.

We belong to the local YMCA. We used to belong to the Y before we had a baby, and I guess we had sort of deluded fantasies about how belonging to the Y with a baby would be almost exactly the same: we would go frequently for an hour at a time, we would sweat and feel righteous. It would be great!

But I think we somehow forgot to factor in the part about how we DO have a baby (toddler, now) and because we’ve had a parent at home with him all his life (often TWO parents, we’re just that committed… and semi-employed.) we have minimal experience with

LEAVING HIM WITH OTHER PEOPLE.

For my birthday a few months ago, Seth arranged for our dear friend Naomi to meet us near the restaurant and hang out with H. for an hour. This was simultaneously the best gift ever – the ability to eat without someone snatching at your fork! Nobody was spitting crumbs into my water glass! Nobody demanding to nurse in the middle of the main course! – and really, really weird. We spent the entire time saying things like “So. Hey, this is kind of… what do you think he’s doing right now? He’s okay, right?” and kind of on edge. I don’t think we’re super fussy people, either. It’s just that the only time I’m away from my kid is when he’s with Seth, and vice-versa. So I think that being together without our kid made our lizard brains go “!!!!!!!! DANGER ALLIGATORS WHERE ARE BABBY???”

Anyway – of course he was totally fine. As an experience, it was a little strange for a few minutes, but no big deal.

And that’s what we thought leaving our baby with the childcare professionals at the Y would be like. …but it wasn’t.

So, Y childcare. It’s called “Childwatch”. Before we tried leaving him there, we went there with him a handful of times, and just hung out. The Childwatch area is just a medium-sized room with colorful carpet and a bunch of toys. It’s usually staffed by two women: often one of them will be about 50 (this is the person in charge), and the other one will be younger, a college student. Occasionally it will be staffed by two college students.

The first time we went, I was in there with him while Seth worked out. A little girl of about three was playing with the play kitchen by herself. She was very involved in her work, pretending to cook and wash dishes. She was perfectly happy doing all of this by herself. It was sweet. It was age-appropriate. She was having a good time.

And out of nowhere, for no reason, the older Childwatch woman came up to her and said, in a snide, reprimanding tone, “You have to put the food in the refrigerator.”

You know – like, OH MY GOD, WHERE’S YOUR FOOD SAFETY?!? WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE OF E-COLI.

And then she took an empty plastic container of completely imaginary food and put it in the completely pretend refrigerator. And the little girl stopped her play and looked up at the woman uncertainly. Had she done something wrong? What was going on????

There was also the thing later in that same visit where one kid was drawing a cupcake and another kid heard the word “cupcake” and, unsurprisingly, was like “Hey, what’s up with all this talk of “cupcakes”?” and then the Childwatch woman reprimanded him for that, “Pay attention to your own drawing! Don’t eavesdrop!!!! YOU DON’T NEED TO KNOW ABOUT CUPCAKES!”

Sheesh.

Man, I don’t like the thing you see people get into sometimes where they treat kids like they’re dumb and doing it wrong or are just generally disrespectful to them in a way they probably wouldn’t be to an adult. For no real reason. Just because the kid is short and will put up with it. I didn’t like it when I was a kid, I didn’t like it when I was a childless adult, and I don’t like it now that I’m somebody’s mother. (I’m guessing that makes me a flagrant hippie. So be it.)

Even though this kind of weirded me out, I went with H. to Childwatch a few more times. Once or twice I went when only the two young girls were there. They’re fine. They play with the kids a little bit (as opposed to the older women in charge, who don’t really want to interact with the kids – I totally get this, kids are exhausting. And after all, it is called ChildWATCH, not ChildINTERACT or anything fancy like that.) and I tried to work up some hope about the whole thing. Maybe this could work out! Maybe I’d get to go to the gym, man!

But then I went back and witnessed the saddest and worst thing ever.

A little girl of about four was wandering around and went over to play with a little boy of maybe a year younger. He had found some noisy plastic toy and was having an okay (although, per his expression, pretty dull) time with it. The little girl politely sat down and started to watch him play with it. The little boy looked up, noted her presence, and continued to play. That’s it. That’s all that was happening.

The cranky older woman in charge of Childwatch at that time looked up, saw this, and snapped at the little girl. “Leave him alone!”

The little girl tried to explain that she wasn’t bothering him (she wasn’t) she was just watching him play (she was) – but the Childwatch woman refused to listen. “Get away from him! Stop bothering him!”

So she basically fires this girl out of that completely innocent interaction, and the little girl hopelessly goes and stands in the middle of the room, and sits down, and starts silently crying. She just had these waves of humiliation and frustration coming off of her. IT WAS AWFUL.

And here I should say – I am not proud of this, but I was so startled by this interaction that I didn’t say anything. This particular Childwatch lady already kind of gave me the stinkeye for being in there with my baby, and said accusing things like “Are you a member here?” (No, man. I’m just here so my kid can play with your slightly broken toys. I’m totally gaming the system, I get dressed up in my workout gear and come over. FOOLED YOU, HA HA.) and made me feel kind of weird. But I still should have said something, if only to that little girl. I was just frozen and I didn’t know what to do.

So. That poor little girl is sitting there crying silently. And the other Childwatch worker – one of the younger girls – comes back in, and sees the little girl, and starts hugging her. And she says “What happened?” and the little girl tries to explain – she had been sitting quietly, watching that little boy play, and then the other woman told her to beat it. And the older woman interrupts, loudly and harshly:

“She have to learn! She have to learn.”

LEARN WHAT? SHAME AND HUMILIATION AND DISTRUST OF AUTHORITY FIGURES? Awesome.

One of my main goals for my baby is that he grow up not giving too much credence to What Other People Think, because that stuff is a trap, and also it leads to you spending lots of money on therapy and booze and self-help books. Also, I think that dealing with little kids is hard, and it doesn’t pay very well, and not everyone in the field is really that suited to it, so the people who are most likely to teach your child that he’s basically pretty cool are not necessarily the people most likely to take those jobs.

And the whole thing just seems so scary and hard to navigate that we’ve just shut down and will never leave H. with anyone, we’ll be coming with him to college.

(Just kidding! IN THE FUTURE, NOBODY WILL BE ABLE TO AFFORD COLLEGE. He’ll live at home forever.)

We did make one final attempt, and we actually left H. there for 3 minutes before the girl came to get me because my baby was sobbing piteously.

(This made me feel GREAT, by the way.)

I went and got him, and we wandered out to watch a bunch of women taking a Zumba class, and I held him until he calmed down. It was hard and strange to see him so sad. I don’t think he was scarred for life or anything, but still I felt pretty lousy about the whole thing.

So – I know that some of the 2.6 people reading this post may conclude that Seth and I are fussy helicopter parents who think that kids have no resilience. I don’t know. We’re pretty laid-back about physical stuff and let him lick the sidewalk and interact with dangerous strange dogs 24/7. But even if I am fussy…

Look. I know that the mean Childwatch lady or someone like her will eventually make him feel bad about himself. I’m just trying to put off the inevitable until maybe he’s developed a good sense of sarcasm, or at least some basic comebacks. (Like “YOUR FACE!!!!”, maybe?)

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4 responses to “She have to learn.

  1. thehandsomecamel

    “That’s not what your MOM said!” and “You smell!” are also good.

  2. May I recommend the all-purpose, “Your MOM’s a {insert topic of conversation here}.”

    When my son was in high school, he told me this was especially effective when the insult was nonsensical. For example:

    Boy 1: That’s not a quadratic equation.
    Boy 2: Your MOM’s a quadratic equation.

    Adolescent boys are weird.

  3. Aw
    Elana,
    that is so sad that she is working there.
    As for H. He is a bit young to leave. No wonder he was sobbing.
    Send me a plane ticket, I’ll come stay while you go work out.
    love
    cher

  4. Reader number 2.6 chiming in here to say you’re not fussy at all. There’s absolutely no reason to tolerate crap childcare. This is one of the battles that is worth fighting, whether you’re an over-protective “helicopter parent” or not. (Although I don’t think parents of babies and toddlers can be called helicopter parents yet; at this stage you pretty much have to “helicopter” over your child to prevent him from falling off chairs and ingesting button batteries.)

    H. will probably cry a bit no matter who you leave him with, which is really hard, but it’s easier if you feel confident about the caregiver.

    I’d have written a thoroughly-documented letter of complaint to the Y’s board of directors, but maybe that’s just me.

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