(This column originally appeared in Refreshed Magazine, February 2015)
People always tell me that I’m good with kids, usually after I’ve entertained their three-year-old by asking stupid questions like “I like your sparkly shoes. Do you think I could borrow them sometime?” and “I can’t seem to find my tail. Have you seen it anywhere?”
The ironic thing is that I’m not actually good with kids. I like kids, one or two at a time, in a supervised environment, for a limited period of time. Put a bunch of kids together in one room and my anxiety level quickly shoots into the red zone. Add in a few babies, and you’re guaranteed to hear screaming and crying.
And the babies aren’t usually very happy, either.
And yet I hear it again and again: “You’re so good with kids!” In fact, if I had a dollar for every time someone told me that, I wouldn’t have had to start a new part time job.
At a day care center.
I am not joking. Twice a week, I spend seven and a half hours (total for the week, not each day, thankfully) at a day care center, where I play with children, feed children, read stories to children, and encourage children to use the potty several times an hour.
I admit that I was nervous. I’ve spent decades working at home, usually in pajamas, with dogs as office mates. I did try a real part time job a few years ago, which did not turn out well, mostly because I wasn’t used to interacting with humans all day.
It helps that the day care where I work is owned by my sister and that it’s in her house. She knows me well enough to keep her expectations low. Plus, two of the children are related to me, so I have at least two allies in the event the whole horde turns on me.
That is a very real concern. When my own daughter was a baby, she wasn’t all that fond of me, preferring my mother for almost every physical interaction. I was convinced that my own baby knew that I was going to be a terrible mother. It caused me no small amount of distress. But we eventually realized that whenever my mother held my daughter, she usually wrapped her in one specific, very velvety blanket that my daughter enjoyed rubbing between her tiny fingers. Mystery solved! We learned to always keep the baby and the blankie together and ta da! My daughter stopped screaming whenever I held her.
Fortunately, I didn’t have to work that hard to get the kids at day care to like me, possibly because they have their own mothers to torment. I just show up, and they’re entertained.
On my first day, for example, I spent quite a bit of time sitting on the floor, putting together a puzzle with one cherubic two-year-old who told me a highly detailed story about her cat. Then she turned to look at me, smiled brightly – and sneezed directly in my face.
Germs aside, I think I’m getting the hang of working with kids. I’ve stopped strapping babies into high chairs and announcing, “That one’s locked in its crate,” and I just successfully changed a diaper for the first time in two decades. The main part of my job, though, is to entertain the older kids when they get home from school. I’ve been trounced several times in card games that require advanced math skills (like adding and subtracting) and spent one afternoon playing office (turns out I’m a terrible employee even in a pretend business).
And the kids are actually teaching me some things. If you’re happy, dance. If you’re not happy, cry until someone gives you a hug, and then go be happy. If you want a cookie, ask for a cookie. If the answer is no, you’re not any worse off than before you asked. Plus, if you cry you might get a hug and a cookie.
These are definitely lessons for a happy workplace.