I fell into childcare when I was 17. I was tired of balancing my high school classes with closing shifts at my restaurant job, and my dad knew someone who was the director at a daycare. It was happenstance. I wouldn’t have guessed that four years later, I’d still be wiping snotty noses and saying “criss cross, applesauce!” and getting completely attached to kids who aren’t mine. I feel like I know almost every kid in this town and for a while, I could rarely make a Wal-Mart trip without running into someone who called me Miss Meghan.
Last summer I was working in the afterschool room at a big, busy center with two other girls I happened to know from high school. We all got along well and had a bunch (forty!) of great kids and, while it was stressful, it was the best non-writing job I’ve ever had. But at first, I was just missing what I’d had before.
Before that center, I worked at another daycare for two years – the job I got because my dad knew the owner. I was there every day after school and all day in the summers. It was home. I knew every single kid.
I remember so many little things about that job. I worked in the infant room a lot and every time I needed to walk down the hall to get ice or construction paper or something, I’d take one of the babies with me. I’d balance them on my hip or walk slowly behind them as they toddled through the hall. I’d point out the older kids’ artwork on the walls and they’d slap at it with their chubby fingers and grin that baby smile that makes everything in the world, even the bad things, seem good.
So when I first started last summer’s job and was asked to work with the school-aged kids, I was cringing. For the first week or so I missed the simplicity of caring for infants who don’t have attitudes and who don’t talk back. Then somehow – I don’t remember how – I fell in love with the job.
Now I’ve started my third childcare job, at a smaller center doing the same floating-all-over-the-place work I did at my first job, and I find myself so nostalgic for last summer. I’m remembering marathon games of Mother May I and Simon Says and Hello Mr. President and how simple it is, really, to entertain kids once you know them. I’m remembering dredging up my tattered copy of Superfudge and making the kids sit quietly for just a chapter every day. I’m remembering scraped knees and movie field trips and the garden in the back field, and a stack of 20th birthday cards with various creative spellings of my name (Miss Meggin is popular). I’m remembering the shirt I can’t wear in public because I thought fabric paint in spray bottles was a good idea, and popsicles on water day, and braiding the girls’ messy waterpark hair.
I’m just missing it.
But now there’s this new job. And today on the playground, a tiny girl with messy blond hair and sunburned cheeks brought me a little bouquet of weeds and brush and dandelions. Dis is for you, she said. So serious! So many things are serious for four-year-olds.
It hit me then that one day, I will miss this job. Over the summer, I’ll get to know these kids – all their quirks and mannerisms and anomalies. I’ll fall into patterns and habits. . Right now it’s so new but one day, it’ll be well-worn and familiar.
And then I had one of those moments where I realized something so very, very simple about life that it sounds ridiculous when put into words.
See, there are all these things in your life – things and people and places – and then they’re gone. But then there’s a new thing. And then you love it.
That’s what we have.