In Which I Am Profoundly Grateful

I want to take a moment here to talk about how much I love my current job. Often, people often see me doing childcare and ask me how many children I have at home, or how many I plan to have, and it gives me a moment of wistfulness.

The truth is, I don’t plan to have children of my own, ever. For all my skill with them, my health would not permit me to care for one 24/7. I only agree to watch children overnight in absolute emergencies, given how badly my body responds to having its sleep schedule disrupted (by which I mean I’m liable to be physically ill for days, if not weeks, afterward.)

Before you think to pity me too much, I’ve never really wanted to be a parent. I like having a lot of time to myself and keeping my schedule flexible. The idea of pregnancy has simply never appealed to me at all– in fact, it sounds very unpleasant. I worry about the strong genetic component to my own health issues (as a general rule, I don’t believe that disabilities are a negative thing to live with, but I’m willing to consider mental illness and chronic pain as exceptions). And I’m pretty well convinced that the last thing this planet needs right now is more human beings. I have occasionally considered adopting or fostering children, but unless my circumstances (especially my health) change dramatically, it’s an idle thought at best.

So: no munchkins for me. Which means I hugely appreciate the opportunity to spend time with children who aren’t mine. There is something ineffably wonderful about having the affection and trust of a child. I am so lucky that, at this point in my life, I’m in a position where I can afford to work in childcare for a year or so while I prepare for graduate school (and believe me, babysitting doesn’t come close to paying my bills). Even when I am exhausted, annoyed, or grossed out, I cherish getting to care for these young treasures.

Here are things that warm my heart:

… Today I got to soothe my baby-cravings with a cheerful, chubby, charming 9-month-old girl (I call her Plumpkin), who cooed and gurgled at me, tried to chew my fingers with her one-and-a-half little teeth, spat up all over both of us, and utterly melted my heart discovering the joys of playing with a paper bag….

… The other toddler, who will wake from his nap scrunchy-faced and wild-haired, and put up his little arms to me, clinging to me when I lift him, still smelling of sleep and babyness… or when he’s scared in a new situation, he turns wide eyes to me, fists bunched up in my shirt, waiting for me to reassure him that he’s safe…

… I haven’t seen 4-year-old Fishy in a few months, and I miss the way he leans his head against my chest while I read him stories, and the way he shrieks with joy when I spin around with him in my arms…

… I think of 7-year-old Rhythm, tugging at me to boost him up so he can see better, or clutching my hand as he walks along a narrow ledge, trusting that I won’t let him fall. His family recently threw a party, and one of the guests, a girl of perhaps 9, said to me as she watched us, “wow, he REALLY likes you.” I answered “well, we have a lot of fun together,” but I was honestly floored by her observation. I knew Rhythm had gotten comfortable with me, but I didn’t realize I had gone from barely-tolerated-babysitter to someone he liked so much that a friend of his would comment on it…

… And I remember Tangles, a beautiful 10-year-old with so few communication skills, staring at me intently as we sat together on the couch, then leaning over suddenly to press her lips to my cheek, to my flattered amazement…

I am so, so lucky to have these wonderful children in my life. When I tell people that I work with disabled children, often their first instinct is a sort of mixture of pity and being impressed. “Isn’t that so HARD?” they say. And I’m torn between laughter at how wrong they are and sadness at their misunderstanding.

“No,” I tell them, “it isn’t hard at all. The children I work with are incredible, every one of them. I wouldn’t trade them for anything in the world.”

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