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Monday, February 27, 2006
On Lax Parenting and Biting My Tongue
I just dropped ST off at daycare this morning. It is a positively gorgeous morning here, full of sunshine, a slight breeze, and that perfect hint of chilliness that lets you know that it's not quite spring yet, but that spring could burst forth at any moment. "It's a beautiful day today!" ST exclaimed as we walked to his carer's house, stopping every now and again to examine the brown grass along the sidewalk. When we reached his daycare and went inside, he told his carer about how much he wanted to play outside today, and his carer was enthusiastic. "Sure! We'll go outside before lunch, OK?" she said, much to ST's delight. Then her mother, who operates the daycare with her, said quietly to us, "Well, we'll wait and see how Emma is dressed."
"Emma" is the oldest child at daycare, a sweet and cute girl who is soft spoken but who has a serious naughty streak. She is over four years old and should be in preschool -- she is clearly bored at a daycare meant for the 0-3 year-olds. Emma's mom usually brings her to daycare just a few minutes after I arrive with ST. I sometimes see them as they pull in the driveway, Emma seated -- without a seatbelt -- in the front seat of their littered minivan. ST's carer says that while Emma's mom is "a perfectly nice woman," she's also "one of the laziest parents I've ever met." And it's true, to a frightening degree.
A few mornings I've been there chatting to ST's carers when Emma and her mother walk in, and Emma runs up to give one of the carers a hug. Sometimes Emma's breath is so bad that I watch the carer recoil after the hug, nearly gagging from the smell. "Whoa, sweetie, did you brush your teeth today?" the carer will ask. Emma shakes her head. "Oh, I guess we forgot to do it this weekend!" Emma's mom will say nonchalantly. This weekend? An entire weekend without brushing? Other times Emma's mom will tell the carers that Emma had a big breakfast -- of Chips Ahoy cookies, Cheetoes, and Sprite -- and will not need a snack. And, on days like today when the weather is not committed to winter or spring, Emma's mom will send Emma to daycare in jeans and a short-sleeved t-shirt (no coat), which means that unless another child has brought an extra sweatshirt, Emma will not be able to go outside.
This makes me incredibly angry, not just for Emma's sake, but for the sake of all of the kids at the daycare who either 1.) have to smell Emma, who is sometimes so stinky that our carers have to give her a bath since Emma's mother tells them she bathes her only once a week (!); 2.) have to stay inside because Emma does not have the proper clothes to go outside, and the carers do not want to leave her out; or 3.) watch longingly as Emma eats her lunch of cookies, chips, and soda while the other kids eat the nutritious meal our carers provide (always a starch/protein, a vegetable, fruit, and a small dessert like a cookie or a pudding cup; Emma's mother does not make Emma eat anything she doesn't want to eat). It also makes me angry that Emma's mom is so nonchalant about everything, almost bragging about her lax attitude when it comes to her children (she has two older sons in addition to young Emma). She laughs when she reports to the carers that Emma hasn't had a BM in several days, blows it off when Emma complains that she's itchy "down there," and acts offended if the carers request that she bring an extra sweatshirt or light jacket for Emma. For her, being a parent to a young child is a burden, something to "get through."
I am not a perfect parent by any means -- none of us are. It's hard work. When kids are young they need your help for almost everything, and it's easy to let things fall through the cracks. But as a parent it is my responsibility to ensure that ST has fuel to get through the day, is clean, and has the supplies he'll need to participate in daycare activities. It does not take a lot of extra effort to ensure that ST has a bowl of oatmeal and some grapes for breakfast, that he has a bath and brushes his teeth every day, and that he has the right shoes and outerwear to play outside at daycare. When I see or hear about parents like Emma's mom, I just want to explode -- it's hard for me to bite my tongue, and I'm not even sure if I should. There's a huge part of me that wants to treat Emma like a stray puppy, to bring her into our home where, just for a few days even, she'll have good meals, warm bubble baths, and clean clothes. It tears me up inside to look at cute little Emma with her stained clothes and greasy hair -- she always looks sad, neglected. She comes to give me (and some of the other parents) a hug every day, and she absolutely clings to me, not letting go until ST gets jealous and pushes her away. It breaks my heart.
But what to do? The carers have given Emma's mom not-so-subtle hints that Emma is not clean, that Emma needs to brush her teeth, etc. The carers even bought a toothbrush for Emma to keep at the daycare and have on occasion called the pediatrician to ask what to do about a yeast infection in a four-year old girl after the infection went on, untreated, for over a week. The carers feel powerless, the other parents feel powerless. But I'll bet no one feels as powerless as Emma.