My son started attending his in-home daycare when he was about 10 months old. The thing about in-home daycare is that there’s a certain “family” element to the whole thing.
You might get to know your provider’s partner and children. You might catch glimpses of their family life when you run into them after hours at the nearby ice cream shop. And you may even be reminded of the demands in their lives when they have to close early to take care of outside commitments, such as dentist and doctor appointments.
Sometimes, if things go well, your lives may begin to merge a little bit. For example, my son became friends with his daycare provider’s daughters, attending their birthday parties and going trick-or-treating with them on Halloween.
He talked about them at home frequently; they were his favorite friends.
A second home
My son’s daycare provider clearly cared about my son and the other children in her home. She kept them busy with art projects and outdoor play. She cooked them healthy, delicious food, like borscht from her native Ukraine. She took them on walks to the library and the park and Lake of the Isles. Basically, she was everything I wanted in a daycare provider.
My son loved her in return. He addressed her as “Mama” when he was at her house. He adored her daughters.
And there were several occasions when, to my great embarrassment, I had to drag him kicking and screaming (literally) away from the house: He was having such a good time he didn’t want to leave.
Judgment after the fact
Unfortunately, all of these great things came to an abrupt halt.
In late November last year, my husband and I received phone calls from the Minneapolis police, instructing us to come pick up our son from daycare. There had been an “incident.” According to police, our provider had allegedly harmed a child in her care, and then reportedly went on to harm a couple other people with her vehicle in the aftermath.
Most people who read this column will know about the incident I’m talking about.
I’ve been reluctant to write about this subject because I don’t want to contribute to the sensationalizing of this sad, destructive series of events. I don’t want to co-opt someone else’s tragedy for my own benefit.
And I don’t want to stoke fear and distrust of daycare providers.
“Don’t blame yourself, mama!” commented another mother to me in an online discussion of the incident.
Evidently, she meant something like, “Don’t blame yourself for choosing a questionable daycare provider — we all make mistakes!”
Another mother wrote something like, “Thank God I can trust my in-home provider!”
The thing is, I did trust my provider. What reportedly happened is one of those things that never happens — except when it does.
And when it did, I felt many of the things you’d expect to feel in this kind of situation — horror, anxiety, sadness and so on.
Empathy and guilt
But the reaction that stuck out the most was a feeling of empathy toward our provider.
If the expression, “There but for the grace of God, go I” was a feeling, I’d be feeling it.
I don’t know exactly what led to our provider’s alleged actions this past November, but I think it’s clear she wasn’t feeling OK — and she didn’t get the help she needed.
As a full-time daycare provider with four children of her own, she, I imagine, rarely had a moment for herself. She must have felt very isolated. I feel guilty for not noticing that anything was wrong.
If anything remotely positive is to come from this tragedy, I hope it’s that we, as parents, will make a concerted effort to pay attention to the people in our lives and speak up if we think someone might need help. (That goes for ourselves, too.)
You know, try to build that “village” everyone’s always talking about — because our lives might actually depend on it.
Shannon Keough lives in Minneapolis with her husband and two children. Send questions or comments to [email protected].