Four years ago, Brian and I moved here to our house on the Square. Four days later, I started a new job. It wasn’t really new, per se; my mother has been a daycare provider since I was a year old, and I was raised to do this. Leaving my “day job”, the one I had the degree that said I was qualified for, was the easy part. I was burnt out, and I was ready to be at home. Daycare was returning to what I knew and what I love.
On that first day, four days after moving and before anything else was unpacked, I broke out my new Pack n Plays, my new toy box full of shiny new toys, new sippy cups and baby spoons and bibs that hadn’t been killed by the dryer and Chef Boy-gross-dee, and my borrowed swing and I opened the door to my very first Munchkin and her sister. Her sister was there for summer care, and was in elementary school – she was more fun than work. That little baby girl? All 18 pounds or so of her with big brown eyes and a headstrong attitude? She was a handful. She was determined, she was motivated, and she was sure that she was the princess. And she was right.
She also taught me a few things. Like never underestimate how much a child who can’t crawl can move. And never, ever, ever assume that children consider naptime as sacred as you do. Because that little girl refused to sleep, and would spend entire days so cranky she was unbearable. I’d put her in her bed for morning nap at 9 and afternoon nap at 1, just like my mama taught me I ought to do. And she’s scream bloody murder. I’d sit on the top step, five feet from her door, crying myself and willing her to sleep. I’d go in, pat her back, settle her back down, and the minute the door closed she’d scream. I’d sit at the bottom of the steps, calling my mama for advice. At night I’d lament to Brian that I had made a huge mistake, and I was simply not cut out for this. This went on for what felt like a year. I think in reality it was probably a month. Eventually, just like my mama told me, she slept. Blissfully, for two two-hour naps. I thought I was a genius.
Together, she and I have negotiated daycare in a home environment. It’s totally different than the center-based care I had worked for a few years after college, and a world away from the behavior modification style of music therapy I was trained in. It’s so much better, at least for me. Princess M and I worked our way through cruising and walking, feeding herself (even the peas, please!), sharing toys, following directions, and potty training. Over four years we’ve seen six of her friends move on to other centers or situations, with one more going this fall. I’ve watched her grow into a delightfully sweet, smart girl who gives so fully of herself I wish she could teach seminars to grownups. When she has toys, books, and clothes she no longer uses, she asks to donate them to friends and “people who don’t have nice things” voluntarily. When someone is hurting, she is there with a hug and a kind word. She stands up for the littles when they get pushed around, and she never hesitates to tell people how much she loves them. She has more artistic ability in her pinkie than I have in both hands, and there’s not much she can’t draw when she puts her mind to it. Part tom-boy, all girl, she’s destined to be a heartbreaker and those big brown eyes will get her anything she wants. She’ll try anything once, and she knows right from wrong. She’s officially a big kid.
At the end of the summer, she’ll turn five. The same day, she’ll start kindergarten. Between now and then there are vacations, trips to grandparents’ houses, and all the cool end-of-summer things to be done. But after Friday evening, she’ll be doing all that with her family and not coming in on Tuesday to tell me all about it. Because Friday is my last day with Princess M, and I’ll only see her at rare family events, daycare picnics, or by happy accident when we run into each other out and about. I’ve lost several children in the past four years, and it’s usually been expected. They went on to a center and I knew I’d only have them for two years. I knew I had two years to pack five years of love into them, and that they’d always touch my heart but not remember me after a few years. Since April I’ve lost two kids suddenly and will lose M and Prince P within two weeks, and even the expected transitions like kindergarten tear my heart out.
Each of my Munchkins have taught me things and touched my heart. From my little buddies H and P and their little brothers who taught me that if I have a houseful of boys that would be just fine. Big P made Brian want kids, and I couldn’t love Little P any more than I do. From my anime-girl N who taught me that my mother was right (ssh, don’t tell her): This Too Shall Pass and It’s Just A Phase. Sweet K who is the smart, sassy kind of kid I want to raise. A and E who were just so sweet and wonderful, and they reaffirmed my faith in myself and my job each day they were here. Just-For-Awhile girls that love and hug and remind me that learning to love briefly is a skill I’ll need soon. Tiny E who gave me my first real taste of foster care and how that means doing things you don’t want because this baby isn’t yours…yet. She showed me that in the space of a week you can care about someone enough to go to bat for her over and over again, and I know her foster mama will.
Unfortunately, loss is part of the job. It will always hurt, and I’ll get over it. Knowing that my Munchkins are moving on to fabulously fun adventures helps. I’ll miss each one for special reasons, and every one of them is dear to me. But no matter how many fabulous kiddos I have come through our house over the next however many years (Mama’s at 33, and counting….) there will only be one First. And I’ll miss her.