It has been several weeks since we met at your home tucked away in the rolling hills between Skaneateles and Marcellus, N.Y. You agreed to talk with me on the dawn of your retirement from 16 years as a licensed family child care provider, so I could “profile” your story for Child Care Solutions. The stories I typically write are attempts at illustrating the importance of the work we do on behalf of the Central New York child care system. I spin negative circumstances which our agency has helped parents or child care providers overcome into heart-tugging pleas for more money, better legislation, and progressive public policies. But your story is different. Your story is an example of our vision –“every child being cared for in a high quality, safe and nurturing environment that cultivates healthy development, early learning and joy” – being brought to life. There is nothing to spin, no barrier to hurdle, no struggle to detail. Yet I want you to know, you tugged at my heartstrings like no other person I’ve interviewed.
The day we met began with a nostalgic drive down memory lane on the country roads of my youth. Farm houses, sturdy barns and rolling pastures brought me back to simpler days and led me to a humble home that felt comfortably familiar. I stumbled up your gravel driveway; you held the door open for me, your cheery yellow scarf blowing in the wind, and shouted, “Honey, I’m so glad to meet you.” My heart knew you meant it. I loved you instantly. After formal introductions and offers of coffee and tea, I settled into a well-worn couch and learned about the volumes of knowledge accumulated during 16 years as a family child care provider. What was supposed to be a quick ½-hour interview about retirement evolved into a 2-hour visit that filled me with gratitude for having met such a kind soul. I could have stayed nestled in that couch forever. I’d liken the experience to what I am sure Jane and Michael Banks felt after realizing that Mary Poppins had magical nanny powers – it was mesmerizing!
Please know that meeting you felt like kismet to me. You came along during a period when I was questioning the relevance of my work and becoming increasingly frustrated with the lack of political/societal will to change a dysfunctional child care system. You single-handedly reignited my spark because in you I saw what I’m working for – child care that is filled with learning, play, security, comfort, and most importantly, love. You embody what every child care provider should be. This vocation was your calling and countless children and parents benefited from your passion. My hope is that by writing this letter, others will reap the rewards of your wisdom; they will know your story is a diamond in the rough … and that we need more diamonds.
In 2000, you worked up the courage to open your own child care business. “It was the scariest thing I’ve ever done,” you told me. You had never been your own boss, having worked in retail and at a Camillus copy center – where people would come in and scream and yell all day. The thought of anyone yelling at you is heartbreaking. Who yells at quite possibly one of the kindest ladies I have ever met? These jobs led to an assistant position at a child care center in Skaneateles, where you found your destiny. And I don’t use that word lightly. It is my belief that some people are simply hardwired to perform certain jobs. Child care is one of the hardest professions around and it takes a special person to do it really well – and to want to. Let’s face it, you weren’t in it for the money. You said yourself you should have charged more, but that wasn’t what it was about for you. For you, it was about the kids and loving them and helping their parents. “Where else can you go to work every day and get a hug and ‘I love you’?” Oh, how I wish I would have known you when my children were small. The heartache you could have saved me.
As you know, Esther, heartache like mine can be quite common among parents who rely on child care when they are at work. Leaving your child in someone else’s care is a leap of faith. It is the ultimate test of trust. For you, it was “a privilege that parents would trust [me] enough to help raise their children.” When you uttered those words, I choked up and thought, why can’t everyone feel that way? For truly, it is a privilege and an honor (albeit not always an easy one) to be entrusted with another’s safety, security and education. (We need this privilege to translate to community and political leaders – a letter for another day!) For 16 years you did it with grace, humility, confidence, common sense and a little bit of flair. That flair shines through in what I’m calling “Esther’s Pearls of Wisdom.” These are the nuggets you peppered into our conversation, and I’ve compiled them into a list so you can easily share them with others:
- Play outdoors all of the time, but be prepared for anything. Always have extra sweatshirts, socks, and underwear on hand.
- Thrifty Shopper and the Rescue Mission are a child care provider’s best friend for things like sweatshirts, coats and snowsuits. A little soap and water and things are like brand new!
- Don’t be afraid of making messes. It’s OK if you get paint on the table. It will come off.
- Let kids play. Let kids make mistakes.
- Kids are so smart. Give them the time and patience they need because slow and steady wins the race.
- Encourage, don’t discourage. Praise children for things they do well. Listen and get excited for them.
- Say “I’m sorry” as an adult and teach children to say “I’m sorry” sincerely.
- Place children on your heart and never take them off.
- Adults have good days and bad days. Children are no different – always remember that.
- Don’t buy expensive toys. It’s OK to get toys at garage sales.
- There are no bad kids – only bad situations.
- Greet children at the door with a hug or a handshake.
- Document, document, document every bump, bruise, tummy ache, etc.
- Jump in the mud!
- Do arts and crafts outdoors. Kids will be inspired.
- Parents visit a child care program multiple times before you make a decision. You can’t get a true sense of what a place is like in one day.
- Know what your limits are and what you’re capable of.
- If you can’t give kids 110% it’s time to quit.
- Have a schedule and share it with parents. Be flexible with the schedule if you need to.
- Enroll in CACFP.
- If you are the child care provider and you witness a child’s first step or word or smile, DO NOT TELL THE PARENTS! Let them have this experience.
- JUST LOVE THEM!
These pearls of wisdom are just a few of the examples of the kind of child care you provided, Esther. How lucky are the children and parents who benefited from this advice.
As you embark on your retirement, please rest assured knowing that you served the parents and children of your community well. The impact you’ve had on children’s lives cannot be underestimated. Children like Mackenna Caryl are better people for having been in your care; I’m sure she will always credit you for being the person who got her to eat green beans (a magical feat for many parents) and for being a second “grandmother” to her. Your “kids” who are now teenagers come back to visit you and write cards and letters. That says something! So from me personally and the entire staff of Child Care Solutions, thank you. Thank you for your dedication, for treating child care as a profession, for doing right by children, for being the type of child care provider everyone should emulate, for being Central New York’s own Mary Poppins. You will be missed.
Marketing & Development Director
PS. Don’t be surprised if I stop by for freeze pops one day this summer!
Esther made differences in children’s lives every day. We need more qualified and caring individuals like Esther to support working families. When you support Child Care Solutions, it’s an investment in Central New York’s future. Your donation supports professional development opportunities for child care educators and providers like Esther and our public policy and advocacy efforts on behalf of quality and affordable child care.
Every day Esther invested in children, parents, and our economy. Make your investment in Central NY’s future.