When I started out looking after other people’s kids:
- I did zero programming.
- Lunch came out of a package, box or can.
- I read parenting books, blogs, and magazines nonstop.
- I never shouted, walked away, refused to listen, or issued the universal hand gesture of “shut-UP-already!”
- I took maybe a dozen photos a day, and emailed them immediately.
- I did all of the housework while the kids were sleeping, and routinely got to bed after 1am. My house was spotless.
- I never said no to “read to me”, “play with me”, “watch this!”, or any pre-verbal combination of movements and word-sounds that could be interpreted as a question, comment or call to action.
- My life revolved around the kids’ schedules, serving lunch three times based on when Kids A, B, and C woke up for the day, and snacks around Kid B’s refusal to eat anything that wasn’t white and had sugar on it.
- And so on.
That lasted about a year.
Two years in, I had increased programming to a solid three hours a day of learning activities, worked myself into a constant state of near-narcotic sleeplessness, took the kids on a minimum of two field trips per month, and continued to adapt to multiple families’ eating and sleeping schedules. I handled complaints about the food I served and the way I served it. I engaged in near-endless discussions about schedule adjustments and napping arrangements and whether or not it was an issue of liability if I sent photos to individual parents of their children at play without cropping out the image of all of the other kids. I worked with great families whose kids thrived here, and a few families whose demands or expectations kept me up at night. I lived and breathed for child development and read endless reams of literature on how to grow healthy, happy, grateful, authentic, experience-rich, Renaissance children who did not turn into caricatures of Greek mythology the moment my back was turned. My weekly meal planning took almost as long as my program planning. Ninety percent of the food in my pantry was bulk purchased from free-range, organic, locally sourced and self-consciously healthy private vendors.
I felt like I was doing everything absolutely, completely and totally right. And if I could martyr myself to the cause by sleeping less than five hours a night and triathlon training? Well, it does make for great conversation.
(Yeah, I’m an idiot.)
And then, of course, my sweet little girl started acting a lot more like The Queen of Hearts than Alice. And my fiesty little boy starting jumping off whatever was the highest thing he could scale in the two minutes my attention was diverted. And then extra kids who had been spending at least twenty hours a week with each other since infancy started acting more like combative siblings than friends. Cheering each other on through adventures in potty training was quickly replaced with competition over e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g. My small cast of future geniuses had the gall to develop their own personalities. Sometimes they didn’t like me. Often they opted out of activity time to just, you know, play. I considered alcoholism, reminisced fondly about the decade or so during which I smoked heavily, and then re-purposed my parenting/early-learning/child-development texts to hold up one of the kids’ precariously glued-together and completely unplanned craft projects.
It was beautiful.
So, now, with a graduate course load at 3/4 of full-time, a six-year-old who challenges me constantly, and a four-year-old who continues to jump off of the highest thing available whenever possible:
- I clean less often.
- I spend less time program planning.
- I spend less time answering questions, being an audience, and directing tasks.
- I spend more time asking them questions, ignoring overt attention-grabs, and saying things like, “Okay, so what’s your solution?”
- I trust that they can figure out how to do it themselves, most of the time.
- I rarely take photos, rarely send photos, and have homogenized my daily email reports. (Which, during academic crunch time, have been more, ahem, bi-weekly.)
- I make and serve a fresh homemade lunch and two healthy snacks, and if they don’t like it, they can sit at the table and show good manners until everyone else is done.
- I’ve given up on doing it the right way, because that is impossible. I do what’s working for us, for now, until we all grow and change again.
- I’m more relaxed. About everything.
Coming into my fifth year of business, I’m looking at summer/fall activities planning for infants and toddlers, summer learning programming for bigger kids, and meal planning for changing palates and allergies and texture issues. I’m not returning to the completely structureless days of my first year or so working at home. And I’m absolutely not going to replicate the second and third years of stress-packed epic feats of educational martyrism. We’re going to learn some stuff, together. Maybe grow our brains a little bit, feed our bodies, and do tricky stuff like social development.
But mostly? We’ll leave lots, and lots, and lots of time for play.