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Monday, July 16, 2012

Other People's Children.

In the spring, a neighbor of ours with four kids (two older, two my kids' ages) approached us about babysitting them on a regular basis. At first, the dad just threw numbers at us, I think trying to get us in by sheer dollar amounts alone. He added that knowing Kyle was a teacher and therefore bonded by the state to be around children was a bonus, and in our neighborhood something not even I could argue with.

We thought about it heavily, with this summer adding up to be an expensive one, and decided that it would be the grown-up, responsible thing to do, even if it were to completely overtake our summer. We didn't say anything, though, because we wanted to know more information, like the hours required and what we'd need to do to become licensed by the state, a requirement for this family since the only way they could afford care for all four kids was through a county program, which required the home care provider to be licensed as such with them and the state.

Of course, the catches started piling up. The hours they wanted were nearly 50 a week, which were mostly second-shift and later. Due to cat allergies for one of the kids, the care would have to be at their home, not ours, although we'd have to jump through fire hoops with the state to get our home licensed. The money wasn't as much as they'd initially thrown out there, though it still wasn't something to shake a stick at. I would have to become bonded like Kyle, and our home would have had to undergo rigorous inspections we knew we couldn't pass. All "to help them out" while completely obliterating our summer. It was, at best, a lot to ask.

I think they caught the hint, that we were hesitant, because they all but dropped it, and we've spied their kids at other neighbor's houses on and off -- places that frankly, I wouldn't feel comfortable leaving my kids without my supervision for more than five seconds unless it were an EXTREME emergency. And we felt good in our guts that we chose time with our family over money from someone else's and though it would have been super nice to have that extra income for a while, we're okay and feel we made the right choice. Besides, I joked, I can barely handle my two kids, how would I ever be able to handle six, with four of them being under 3?

On Kiedis' first day of Autism Camp, right after his school year ended, I went along because we didn't have the chance to check out the classroom beforehand and I know he has transition issues. I wasn't concerned about the teacher -- she's on a committee with Kyle at school and even when we took him for testing at the area Autism Clinic the staff there knew her name and how great she is with special kids. Ends up her son is highly functioning, but she did seem pretty perfect for her job when I met her.

Anyway, I went planning to stay until lunch, since Camp was an all-day venture instead of Kiedis' regular half-day experience, but I think we all know here that I stayed all day because I still have tremendous guilt in leaving him alone away from me because what if what if what if. That's what happens when you lose your child, no matter how temporarily or unjustly. You get clingy.

So I stayed, and I watched the other little boys (because it was ALL BOYS in his group) and interacted with the kids, adapting quickly to the ones who were runners (one of them in Kiedis' regular preschool class during the school year) and helping to discover the name and communication skills of another little boy who had never been out of his house before at nearly 3 years old. I participated in the snacks and meals and craft time, sang songs and read books, played trains with a little boy who only spoke Spanish and kitchen with my own kid. I gave them hugs when they asked for them or needed them, helped them to sit or to stand when appropriate and signed my everloving hands off because almost all of them understood me better that way.

I came home with Kiedis in the car instead of making him ride the bus -- he asked to come with me and I couldn't begrudge him that, it was a big and long day for him -- and I was exhausted as Kyle put him down for a nap. I was drained of my usual tepid energy, but in other ways I wasn't. I talked all evening to Kyle about the little boys I met and the things we did all day, of watching Kiedis interact with other kids and realizing how being his mom totally helped me to relate to these children who weren't mine, some of whom had completely different issues than him, most of whom I'd never met before, and how awesome that made me feel. Like I made a difference, just because I took the time to understand them and be there for all of them instead of ... discounting them. 

Kyle shook his head and told me I'd burn out being a preschool teacher so fast, and I knew he was right, that it's different when you're just a Helper Mommy than from when you're the Teacher.

But for a second, it didn't seem impossible.
We don't have a lot of friends in the area that have kids the same ages as ours. Hell, we don't actually have a lot of friends in the area, period, between life stages and drama and whatever have you. But the kids thing really puts a kink in it all. The friends we do have left are just now getting married or having their first babies and are still in the under-one set, which fosters a lot of commiseration but makes playdates hard, especially now that Tova is so much more a toddler (and a near-two-year-old) than a baby and Kiedis is, well, him.

But there is one couple, who have a son Tova's age nearly exactly, and our kids love each other. Okay, so their boy loves Kiedis and Kiedis is like GOD THEY'RE MULTIPLYING half of the time and the other half is okay with the socialization and Tova basically already wants to marry him and he's rather blithe about all that, but that's not deterring her so mazel, Tova, get 'em.

He's a lovely child but that's to be expected as that his parents are easily two of the most awesome people on the planet, but I do love watching him grow up aside of my kids, often in Kiedis' hand-me-down clothes because well, I like to share. They brave their cat allergies to come to our house and we sit out back despite the gang of wild children that hang on our fence and watch us like a zoo exhibit because their supervising adults don't really supervise them much and while we do let them come over and play and our kids seem to enjoy them, it's always in short spurts between Kiedis getting overwhelmed by the sheer number of them (there's always at least three, and it's been upwards of eight children before, which holy overwhelm even for us) and them basically just coming over to play with my kids' toys and not sharing with each other or my kids, so I send them home. Boundaries, the neighbor kids don't have them.

After several occasions of our kids getting along just fine, we've volunteered to watch our friends' son, and they've actually taken us up on it a couple of times now. This morning was one of those times, where Kyle took the wake-up shift and then took Kiedis to the doctor while I hung out with the littles here at home, making it feel much more like our usual school-year routine of just Tova and I in the mornings, plus one very easy going and gentle toddler.

We watched Sesame Street and sang the songs we knew, then we turned the TV off (such a welcome relief from Kiedis' incessant need for the excess stimulation) and put on the classical station (something I miss from Kiedis' baby days) and we had fun with Play-Doh and play kitchen utensils and I found myself trying to teach the little boy signs for "open" and "all done" much like I watched the intervention specialists do with Kiedis when he was about the same age -- not intentionally, though, just more out of habit because that's a big part of how we communicate in this house. He was amused, and I had a moment of profundity where I realized that having him around put me more in Teacher mode than Mommy mode, because I was responsible for the care and well-being of a child I didn't create myself. I mean, Tova and I do all of that stuff too, but I rarely see it as a sharing of knowledge and more of a survival skill, but perhaps that's all just perspective. Tova was having a bit of a time adjusting to sharing her things, but she lives in such a different world than Kiedis most of the time so in a lot of ways, she's kind of an only child when it comes to cooperative play. She's also very used to having all of my attention in the morning, and this was an interesting lesson for both of us on the kinds of experiences she may be lacking in the shadow of her big brother.

But the three of us, we played and giggled and danced and for the first time I realized this joy I get from doing these things with my own children, it extends to other children, too. The glee isn't necessarily contagious, but it surely spreads itself wide whenever I make a connection with a little.

Around lunch the little boy was picked up by a grandparent per the plan, and I was honestly sad to see him go. I told his parents about his morning through the Interwebs and tried to gently express my enthusiasm at having him around, about how he makes me feel like a better and capable parent and the invaluable socialization Tova and Kiedis got from semi-routinely having him around for more than just a couple of hours. Basically, he's pretty much the closest thing to a cousin these kids have right now (they have step-cousins whom we rarely see due to crazy schedules and residual family issues) and I love that they're forming a relationship with each other, and I only want those bonds to strengthen.

And I'm kicking myself for being hesitant two years ago when they kind of jokingly asked me to become a home care provider so I could watch their son while they both returned to work.

Because now, now I see that I would love it.

If we had more friends around who had kids close to my kids' ages, I would seriously consider doing this on a more real, regular basis. While other people's kids generally irk the everloving crap out of me, I know that I could handle children from families who have some of the same values and goals as we do, and kids who maybe haven't had the best start at life through medical or developmental issues. I would enjoy being able to help not just the parents out with childcare, but I'd really feel good about helping the kids learn and grow and become capable little people no matter what their charts and records say.

And I mean, yes, bonus that I wouldn't have to leave my house (or really my pj pants) to do so.

We're pretty sure at this point we will not be birthing any more children. But that doesn't mean I don't crave being around littles, watching them grow up always too quickly, and hoping that somewhere in everything I helped them to just be happy. Because I care about these kids as if they were family, and like family I just want what's best for them, and I have a lot of resources I didn't even recognize I held in my possession to do just that.

But I think I'm a little late to the game on this realization, so I'll make do with playdates and occasional adventures in babysitting and hope that however small, the difference their presences make for me is reflected at all in their own lives.