Who Says You Can't Go Home Again?

by Tina Blue
July 22, 2007

I ran a home daycare for 18 years, until the younger of my two children graduated from high school and went off to college. I did not want to put my own children in daycare, because I could not imagine surrendering to some other woman the pleasure of watching them grow up during most of their waking hours. Nor could I imagine letting someone else be responsible for so much of their intellectual, emotional, and moral development. I wanted that job--not just because I felt it to be my responsibility, but because I wanted my children to grow up to be the sort of adults that I would want to hang out with, "my kind of people."

In my articles "Small Children Don't Belong in Daycare" and "Do Good Parents Put Their Children in Daycare," I detail the very real risks of putting your kids in full time daycare. Nevertheless, I also understand that most parents have no choice about whether to put their kids in daycare while they work. That being the case, the best that they can hope for is that their daycare provider will treat the responsibility as the precious charge it is and provide not only an enriched environment for the children in her care, but also the love that is the absolutely essential foundation for every child's development.

During my daycare years, my apartment was a magnet for lonely latchkey children, so I also formed attachments to several children that no one was paying me to take care of. A very large number of children managed to burrow their way into my heart, and that can be a recipe for a whole lot of heartache.

Before I ever had kids of my own, I always wondered how people could take in foster children. How, I marveled, could anyone take a child into her home, love that child, and raise that child, knowing that he or she could be taken away at any time? It seemed like volunteering to have your heart periodically ripped right out of your chest.

But running a daycare was a bit like being a foster mother. I helped raise over thirty children (not even counting the latchkey kids) during the 18 years I operated my daycare.  Most of them came to me as infants or very young toddlers and stayed with me until they no longer needed daycare. But a couple left when their parents had enough children to make working and paying for daycare a losing proposition; and some left when they started school full time, because their parents arranged for after-school care at the school, or for someone near the school to pick the child up and care for him or her until the parents got off work. A few parents even successfully petitioned the school board to allow their children to go to a school near my apartment--far from their own residential district--so that I could still take care of them before and after school.

As long as the children remained in town, I didn't really lose them. They would continue to visit frequently, and I would visit them, too.

But a couple of "my" kids, including some of the latchkey kids that I had become attached to, moved with their families out of the city or even out of the state. That was hard. They were still young enough that it felt as though they should still be in my care, and they moved far enough away that I really was losing them. Unfortunately, modern life is so busy and difficult that people have trouble staying in touch with close friends and relatives, much less the babysitter or the stay-at-home mother that their latchkey kid happened to attach to while they were at work.

Sometimes, though--surprisingly often, actually--a child whom I have not seen for years will show up again on my doorstep, all grown up. Two months ago, I got to see a 23-year-old man who was in my daycare from age 7 to age 12, and who stayed in town until he reached 18, at which time he moved to California. He was here for a few days, so we got to spend a lot of time just hanging out.

A few years ago, when I opened my door to a knock, I found a stunning young woman, perhaps 28 years old, standing on my doorstep. I didn't recognize her immediately, because she had very short hair, and when I had known her from age 11 to age 14, she had worn her hair down to her waist. But the woman's huge eyes and the fact that she was barely 5 feet tall finally registered: she was Melina, a latchkey child who had spent an amazing amount of time with me before moving to another city in Kansas at age 14. Even after moving, however, she would often return to Lawrence on weekends or during vacations to visit friends, and while there, she would always stay at my place, sometimes with a couple of her friends from her new town.

Four days ago I was awakened by the phone at 7:30 a.m. I am severely hearing impaired now. My hearing has always been pretty bad, but it is much worse now. The man on the phone had a voice of the sort that I really have trouble understanding at all--and of course it was 7:30 and I had been sound asleep. My brain wasn't all the way on yet. It took several tries before he could get me to understand his name--but when I did I started shrieking, "Omigod! Omigod! Omigod!"

He was the father of a little girl who came to me at age 2 and left when her family moved to New Mexico when she was just 5 years old. Losing little Jenny had been one of the great heartbreaks of my early daycare years. She was the same age as my daughter, and for two years, she and my own two children had grown up almost as siblings. She had been one of my most precious children ever, and I had not seen or heard from her since her family had left Lawrene 21 years ago.

As it turned out, she and her parents were visiting relatives in Kansas City, and she had asked her parents to make a side-trip to Lawrence so she could visit me--and introduce her husband and own children to me. She has two little boys, ages 2 and 3, just the age she was when she was first in my care. I absolutely could see little Jenny in their faces.

They came by a few hours later, and we spent perhaps two hours visiting. I wish it could have been more, but as I said, modern life leaves little time for friends and family, and they had other places they had to go before leaving the area. Her children are lovely, well-behaved little darlings, and she married well. She is a kindergarten teacher now, and her husband is a secondary school math teacher.

But her face! She is all grown up and beautiful, but her face is still very much my Jenny.  Some kids grow up to look very different from the way they did as toddlers and preschoolers. But some kids keep their same face even as adults. Jenny kept her same face. It took a while to get my emotions under control so I wouldn't keep tearing up every time I looked at her.

Most of my former daycare kids still live in Lawrence, so I still see them frequently--more frequently than I see my own two adult kids, whose careers have taken them to live half a continent away. But even the ones who live far away now have come to see me as adults. Now that I have seen Jenny, the list is almost complete. Except for one little latchkey girl from next door who practically lived with me for 2 years in the 1980s, all my grown-up kids have come back to let me see how they have turned out.

I am very, very proud of the way "my" kids have all grown up.

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