When we adopted Austin, and the maternity leave ran out and I was looking at going back to work as a full time teacher, a lovely lady we knew told us a long story of her son’s daycare. There was a small farm, with a husband and a wife running a 6 child daycare, and the story involved the Grandma taking the kids fishing in the irrigation ditch and at the end of the adventure distracting the boy until she could slip a trout she had bought, dead at the grocery store, on the boys line. He pulled it in and danced around in the thrill of success and eventually carried it all over the apple orchard and carrot patch and showed it off to everyone before begging her to cook it for lunch. She slipped the hot, muddy fish in the compost and cooked up some frozen fishsticks and the boy bragged about that fish for months.
I was so delighted when grandma Nadine had an opening for my 6 week old. And she asked me to buy him cloth diapers to keep there because she loved hanging freshly laundered diapers on the clothes line in the sun. She was a relic from another time, but 21 years later is still around. I loved her energy and creativity and joy and compassion. She added in my second son a year later, and as all our blood relatives were 1300 miles away, the daycare kids and grandparents were the most real family the boys knew. She wasn’t exactly honest. She got them to eat the ham on their salad by telling them she had taken her shotgun and killed the screaming bird next door and it was smoked peacock.
She also fed them possum and rattlesnake and amazingly bowls of caviar (banana oatmeal.) But most importantly she nourished their imagination and their bodies. Imagine Me, the sugar addict, stunned by my son begging for “broccoli Stalks” and beets. No wonder she could take two, two year olds on her lap and rise from sitting crosslegged on the floor without using her hands at age 75! The pictures show her, long after they were out of daycare surrounded by some of “her kids” at a weekend gathering, in the same spot the picture on the right was taken during the daycare days. In the older picture the boy in Yellow is my oldest. He is bottom right in the newer shot and his brother is snuggled beneath her left arm on the right of the picture
Having two sons, only a year apart was often difficult and we were exhausted because the youngest never slept more than an hour until he was two – and probably not then. I always suspect he just started entertaining himself by telling himself stories in silence.
It was also the most joy filled time of our lives up until that point. We frequently remarked, “we’ve never been tireder or happier.”
I had a lot of toddler experience. I’d been a big sister and had taught pre-school through age 7 special education for ten years, but my husband, the youngest of six – took to playing with the boys as if it was what he had been born to do. He never wanted to go anywhere without them, and we did a lot of playing in the local parks and beaches and going to family swim twice a week.
I know we were not perfect parents but it was something we both loved doing. I read stories and sang to them and let them make big splashy paint and playdough messes while I led the way. Greg let them be daredevils and pushed them really high on the swings and encouraged them to ride bikes and scooters and jump off rocks and climb trees.
When there were tears we both came running and we each took a year off to stay at home with them. Being thirty when we got the boys and being fairly stable in our job and relationship made us have it easier, but there were a lot of moments when it was the parents crying too. It was hard, and I could have focused on the times they were both vomiting and having diarrhea, or fighting with each other, or teething and screaming all night. I could focus on the day they came running in to announce that they had washed the fire truck, and I found the paint scraped from my van with river rocks to the tune of a couple thousand dollars. But I had waited so long to have a child and could feel the relentless passing of time as they grew while you watched them and my Dad was dying as they were 2 & 3 so I was reminded to get through the rough spots and hold on to all the joy.