One of the kindest things that has ever been said to me by one of the moms whose children I cared for was, “Happy Mother’s Day! I know you’re not technically a mom, but you are a mother to all of these babies and these mamas and dadas and everyone who needs you.”
I’ll be honest: I cried. Outwardly. I felt so recognized. Like she had shined a light on the best part of me.
One of the least kind things that has ever been said to me by one of the moms whose children I cared for was, “Yeah. Well. I know you don’t know, but things are different when you have kids. You realize what actually matters.” She spat those words at me when I expressed sympathy for her dog dying and said that I had just lost a pet as well.
I’ll be honest: I cried. Inwardly. I felt so marginalized. (And, later, when I told the story to my husband, I will admit that I cried hardest for her dog.)
One of the first things mothers ask of me when they come to enroll their babies in my program is whether or not I have children myself. Some just ask as a way of making conversation. Some out of genuine curiosity. Some because motherhood is a badge and a certification. It’s a club. You can trust a mom to care for your baby because once upon a time they cared for their baby too and they are in tune with those mystical motherly instincts.
Do you know what I would do for the children in my care? I would do anything. I would lift a bus. I would take a bullet. I would give a kidney.
Do you know what I’ve done for them? I’ve lost sleep worrying about them. I’ve celebrated milestones. I’ve seen first steps and heard first words and watched them read or write their names successfully for the first time. I’ve caught wiggly teeth flying from their mouths. I’ve given up nights and weekends making plans for them. I’ve spent too much money on them. I’ve watched them conquer fears and I’ve held their hands and hugged them close when fears conquer them.
I’ve gone hoarse reading favorite stories just one more time. I’ve gotten favorite songs permanently stuck in my head. I’ve memorized those stories, those songs, and also all of the data generated by those children, from their birthdates to their allergies to their medications to their phone numbers to their favorite colors and animals and foods and rituals.
I’ve bandaged wounds, staunched bleeding, wiped fevered brows, bathed bodies, survived every bodily fluid leak imaginable. I’ve held babies having seizures, I’ve braced broken bones. I’ve given bad news and shared sorrow. I’ve ridden in an ambulance with a scared toddler and held him in the emergency room while he wailed and nurses stuck him with needles.
I don’t take them home at the end of the day. But when their families don’t come on time to pick them up, I stay. I stay until it’s dark. I cancel my plans. I skip dinner. I read books and play games and give snacks and answer questions about where Mom and Dad are (“They are on their way. They’re in the car thinking about you!”). I stay until they go. Always.
Do you know the advantage (for you) that I have in caring for your child? They’re not mine. I don’t care for them like they’re mine. I care for them like they’re yours. Like you want them to be cared for. Like a precious, valuable treasure to be returned completely intact if not a little better polished at the end of the day. I love them for you and for them and for me, all at the same time. When it comes down to making a decision, I make the decision based on what you think is best, not based on my opinion. Because they are your child, not mine.
One day I will fill a book with the weird and wacky things that have been said to me about my profession. One thing that people like to say is that I must do this job to “practice” for having my own children one day. I’m not actually “practicing”. I’m working. Like I’m trained to do. (Try applying this type of statement to another profession.)
The fact is that my job and the way that I do my job is about more than my training and education and knowledge. It’s all about my heart. When you’re truly a caregiver, it’s not just what you do, it’s who you are. (You may be able to relate, if you’re a parent. Or a friend. Or an uncle. Or a human being who cares about other souls in the world.) Being a caregiver makes my job easier to do and I find it to be a more meaningful way to live. Whether I have my own children one day or not, I’ll have left a legacy.
I’m not a mom, but I understand being a mother.