I work at a pre-school in the Midwest where I’m responsible for 14 two-year-olds. They’re all from affluent, intelligent families. There’s a co-teacher who works with me and we plan lots of activities every day, and have to sit down and do family-style lunch with the kids every day. The kids take a nap all at the same time. I change an average of 20 diapers a day and my co-teacher does an additional 20.
I think when you go into education, a lot of people dismiss you. Like, “Oh you just want to be a teacher, you don’t have any aspirations, those who can’t do teach” — and we feel that attitude a lot. I’m not a moron and you shouldn’t want to leave your child with one, so please don’t treat me that way.
The kids are all clean, they’re well taken care of but sometimes you question — did you have kids because it’s the expected thing to do in your life? I work a nine-hour day, and if they’re spending more than nine hours in a childcare center — those kids want attention and they want to be with their parents. You can absolutely tell when a child isn’t getting attention at home. We have parents who will drop a kid off and be on her cell the whole time. We have parents who push their kid in the door and wave and not help them hang their coat or anything.
Designer baby clothes — I don’t see the crazy, crazy stuff but we have the Juicy Couture baby stuff, and every once in awhile some Armani baby stuff. Kenneth Cole’s got a big baby line. I have kids that can identify car brands — they know their mom drives a Mercedes. Everyone wants their kids to be the cute kids. Because we have successful parents, they want successful children. They want their kid to be the cutest, they want their kid to be the first one potty trained.
Sometimes we deal with nannies, babysitters not as frequently. There are rotating nannies — some will have three nannies, and they have the teachers at school and they have mom and dad. There are kids that are unhappy and you can tell. The way that those kids interact with their peers — a lot of time they’ll try to parent their peers or give their affection to their peers. They’ll be very comforting, they’ll try to hold another child’s hand or try to run the other kids’ lives. But they’re trying to nurture other children. It’s really bizarre, actually. As little as two! It’s crazy how clever they are. And they want a lot of hugs and a lot of kisses and they want to sit down and read a lot of stories, and you give them that individual attention.
Usually parents of those kids aren’t aware because they’re the ones who don’t schedule parent teacher conferences, so we don’t get to tell them. They run in and out the door without finding out how the day was. They miss out on a huge piece of their kids’ lives without taking the five minutes a day to talk to the person who’s interacting with the child.
It’s so important to schedule a parent-teacher conference. Even though they’re only two we can tell you what’s going on. The younger you can identify something like a learning disability, the better help you get. A child with a learning disability at the age of two is already in the system, but if you wait until they’re three it’s a whole lot more complicated. I’m not a psychologist and that’s not my specialty, but we want to get them all the support they can get in the easiest way. Things like hyperactivity, aggression. Aggression is really hard at age two because you don’t know if it’s just part of being two or something larger. You also have sensory perception disorders and feeding disorders, like children who don’t enjoy the texture of food and so they don’t eat enough. So that’s a new weird one right there.
We had parents try to put their kids on diets because they’re “too fat.” There’s definitely a really competitive aspect to parenting right now that I never felt growing up. It’s almost like your child has become an accessory to your perfect life — you have to have a perfect baby.
Childhood obesity is a huge thing, but at the same time it’s up to you to set an example. And that’s why in childcare, now we sit down and we eat family style. I eat whatever the kids are eating for lunch. We serve as the models and that’s what the parents need to do. If you’re taking your kid out for ice cream, of course your kid’s gonna want ice cream.
Parents try to put them on, like, skim milk instead of two percent milk, or they’ll try to put them on two bottles of day instead of four. Or they’ll say I don’t want my child to have thirds on something, they can only have seconds. If the kid wants thirds on broccoli, I’m going to let the kid have thirds on broccoli. We’re not supposed to limit the kids’ choices. If your kid wants to eat nothing but pears, my bosses want them to have nothing but pears. Legally we can’t force a child to eat anything. So when people come to us and say they want us to limit their food, we explain to them that two-year-olds don’t have a concept of eating for pleasure. If they’re eating it’s because they’re hungry.
I don’t think we have any kids where I work that look unhealthy. They’re all fine. You’re concerned your kid is pudgy? That’s how we’re supposed to be at two years old.
But oh my gosh, food allergies. My building is not allowed to have any nut products in it at all because of food allergies. So we have a whole nut-free building and some of the kids have issues with dairy, as well. My degree certifies me through third grade, so even if you work with a third grader and then the babies, you see a huge difference in the number of allergies. I’d never even heard of children who couldn’t have breast milk. We have kids who are on $40-a-day super formula that has to be imported. It’s insane the allergies that these kids have.
You have to have a healthy level of fear because if you serve a child something that they’re allergic to, that’s your child, that’s your teaching license — you’re done.
As told to Amy Odell.