Only when I took a job in a federally funded childcare center did I realize kids went to daycare for multiple reasons. Not only so parents could eek out an existence, but to further their education, for example.
Still, I was loathe to think anyone would leave an adorable, tear-stained child of six months in the care of a substitute with absolutely nothing invested in the child – except a paltry paycheck at the end of two weeks. The idea of a woman leaving a child to fulfill herself in a career that raked in six-figures was beyond my comprehension.
It was decades before I got real.
Not that I approve of reality. It’s just that I’m not that ostrich-woman any more. I’ve pulled my head out of the sand.
Still, I weep whenever I read about the latest case of a baby dying in the care of a babysitter or childcare provider. Recently there was another tragic case. The baby was reportedly making “baby sounds” in her crib when her father, who was supposed to be watching her while the mother worked, repeatedly smashed her head in with his fist.
How did this happen? Everyone wants to know. A young and immature parent, someone who doesn’t understand why he’s angry, why he’s even there at all, and resents taking care of his baby while the mom is at work. Punch! Punch! Punch! The baby’s dead. And the dad is going to prison.
Lots of ruined lives here, people. There’s no turning back the clock.
If you’re leaving an infant in the care of a grandparent, a father, boyfriend, neighbor, older sibling – someone other than you, the biological mother – please educate yourself and your caregiver, on your infant’s developmental needs.
Get a book from the library. Order one off Amazon.
Because in raising a baby, you need to be curious. You need to ask: What should I know that I don’t know right now?
And then make yourself find out.
Ask yourself, “What would my baby want me to tell the babysitter?”
Be sure to include your own preferences, because dammit, it’s your baby.
(I am not addressing daycare facilities here. But if you do have to leave the baby in a daycare center, make sure the center is fully licensed, and comes highly recommended.)
- First and foremost – in your opinion, and the opinion of others, is the person keeping your child mentally stable? Are they smart? Get references. Talk to neighbors and friends. It’s not worth the risk of leaving your baby with someone who has a history of aggressive or erratic behavior, unstable emotions, drug or alcohol addiction. Or who has the intelligence of a turnip. So don’t compromise.
- Comfort is important! Babies need to be comfortable in order to be happy. They can’t communicate what’s wrong. So – how does a sitter know if your baby’s onesie is scratchy at the neck, or if the elastic is too tight? She needs to be curious, asking, “What could be the problem here?” And find out!
Tell the caregiver to feel your baby’s hands and feet often throughout the day. Are they cold? Time to put on another layer, or add socks. Is the baby fussy because he’s sweltering under three layers of clothing? Is there something irritating his skin? Remember, a baby cannot speak for himself. It’s up to the adult to pay attention to his comfort-level. Remind your caregiver that your baby is 100% dependent – on her!
- Make sure the caregiver knows it’s alright to change your baby’s diaper frequently. Not just because she’s soaked through to the skin. Or because the box advertises that one diaper lasts seven hours! But because babies needs hands-on nurturing.
- Babies brains need stimulation. (Watch this video on The Neurology of Secure Attachment, featuring UCLA psychologist Allan Schore. You’ll learn what happens when babies are given the interaction they need – and what happens when they don’t get it.) This means your caregiver must be the kind of person who talks to babies! Sings to babies. Picks them up and holds them. And – this one is very important – the sitter should have no problem making eye-contact. This is what babies need. The caregiver must be attentive to your baby’s cues and respond accordingly. When the baby looks at them and coos, they should look back and interact. Will your caregiver pick her up and take her for a walk around the house? Is the environment stimulating? Are there paintings and photos on the wall? Pretty plants to look at (but not touch!)? Show the caregiver how to point things out to the baby. How about looking at clouds? Gently take the baby’s hand and point it in that direction. Tell them to talk about what they see. “Look at the doggy!” Or the rain, or the mailman. Etc.
This is called verbal stimulation. The benefits last a lifetime.
- Babies need to be picked up when they start to cry. Not five or ten or twenty minutes later. This is because babies do not yet have their own internal stress-response system. The parent or caregiver acts as an external stress-response system. The ability to cope with stress takes time to develop. So becoming upset with a crying baby only makes it worse.
Letting them cry doesn’t strengthen the lungs. Or teach them patience. Letting them cry elevates cortisol levels, which, if chronic, can damage developing brain architecture. Crying-it-out teaches babies that no one will meet their expressed needs. Can you guess what the result is?
- Babies who are bottle-fed need to be held during feedings. No propping a bottle! And they need eye-contact, gentle stroking, and a soothing voice. This closeness makes them feel calm and secure. It helps both the baby and caregiver produce relaxation hormones, and promotes bonding. Which in turn helps the baby thrive, by assimilating the nutrients in her formula and feeling emotionally secure.
- Your baby definitely would want you to tell the caregiver that babies cry for reasons other than hunger and physical discomfort. Babies may cry because they’ve been overstimulated. Maybe the TV is too loud. Or they’ve just come home from a shopping trip. Or maybe they’ve been passed around to too many people. If hunger or a dirty diaper isn’t the issue, allow the baby to cry while HOLDING. Tell the baby it’s alright to cry. I like the phrasing, “It’s OK! Tell me your story.” The caregiver’s empathetic tone tells the baby it is safe to express his emotions. This is how children and adults develop a functional voice – not one that is deflected and denied with offers of food or even threats (stop that crying!) – but acceptance.
- To prevent abusive head trauma (formerly called shaken baby syndrome) have everyone who spends time alone with your baby watch UC Health’s amazing video, The Crying Baby Plan. This video is shown to every mother who has a baby at Memorial Health System in Colorado Springs, CO. Tell them you insist.
- A baby needs to be removed from the car seat upon arriving at home, at the store, post office, or other destination. Bring their head to a “kissable” height – whether in arms or in a wearable baby-carrier. Don’t leave them in the same reclining position stop after stop. Why? It’s about the baby’s ability to breathe. Car seats are for safety in the car. Not for walking all over creation. Not even for the convenience of the caregiver. And never leave a sleeping baby in a car seat. Not even in the driveway. Not even for a minute. Take the baby out of the car seat and bring her into the house. Always.
Here’s why: Babies’ necks are still weak. They can fall forward when unsupported. As a result, this could block the airway, obstructing breathing. (I know, I know. Once the baby goes to sleep, the caregiver doesn’t want her to wake up. But it can be dangerous.)
- Does your caregiver follow your feeding instructions to the letter? Some caregivers like to surprise parents: “Today I gave Lilly her first French fry! She was reaching for mine, like she really wanted it.” Being a childcare provider is a job. It comes with rules and guidelines. Give your sitter a list of what your baby can and cannot have. They should note how much formula or frozen breastmilk the baby consumes, any food eaten, along with changes in the baby’s routine or appetite.
- And here’s a bonus – # 11. Does your childcare provider spend a lot of time Facebooking or talking on the phone? Distracted with video games? If so, your baby would probably want you to tell them to stop it. If the sitter is the baby’s grandmother, auntie, or other family member, and not charging you much – or nothing all, you need to have a talk.
Make time to sit down with your sitter and together, watch the linked video featuring psychologist Allan Schore. Talk to your sitter about how babies’ brains develop. If your caregiver is usually distracted, that means your baby isn’t getting enough attention. Don’t compromise your baby’s brain growth to make someone else feel comfortable. Speak up.
In closing, I think it’s easy for young parents to feel intimidated by caregivers. Maybe embarrassed. It’s easy to let the sitter call the shots without questioning their knowledge and ways of doing things. But it’s OK to do that.
Parents can ask, “Is that plant poisonous? I’m afraid Annie can reach it.”
Or, “Can you please turn down the volume on your music? I don’t think you’ll be able to hear the Annie when she wakes up.”
Speak your preferences: “Will you please wash and sanitize the plastic toys before tomorrow? I think little Bonzo over there has a runny nose.”
Standing up for yourself is part of becoming your child’s best advocate. It’s part of following your parent’s intuition.
Because every parent is ultimately responsible for his or her own child. Take that responsibility a step further, and inoculate your child’s care provider with information. Talk about your wishes, your requirements.
Even dog-kennels have web-cams that allow owners to check in on their pets. Find out how you can do the same thing.
Remember, it’s your baby. You’re in charge. FFG
“Parents should get into the habit of always opening their back doors when they leave the vehicle,” says KidsAndCars.org founder Janette Fennel in a recent AP story by Jamie Stengle.
Why is this so important? Because so far in 2016, 23 children have died after being left in hot cars. Twenty-three. The same number of hot-car deaths for all of 2015.
But why don’t parents just remember their kids?
Maybe because the parent dropping the baby off at daycare doesn’t usually have that job. Maybe because a grandparent running late to work was in the driver’s seat and forgot to check the back. Or the mom ran in to the grocery store “just for a few things” and was gone longer than she expected.
I feel very strongly about the hot-car issue. Years ago, one of our kids hopped in the “way-back” of our car and hid, totally unbeknownst to his father, who was about to make a trip to town. About 20 minutes later, my husband made a quick stop at the drug store. He opened the back door to put his purchases inside, and found a grinning little boy of four. “Surprise!”
My husband didn’t think it was at all funny. That was before cell-phones, and I assumed he had taken our son with him at the last minute. And he thought I had him.
So don’t forget to check for stowaways.
Some dogs can be pretty sneaky. Like my grandchildren’s black chihuahua, Noche. I nearly left him in a hot car one hot summer afternoon. The naughty pooch had hopped in without being noticed. But luckily, thanks to cell-phones, my son was able to let me know the dog was missing. I found him – hunkered down, hiding in the dark “way back,” behind tinted windows that had made it impossible to spot him from the outside. And we were just about to disappear inside a museum for two hours.
Noche would have fried.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a locked car sitting in the summer sun quickly turns into an oven. Temperatures can climb from 78 degrees to 100 degrees in just three minutes. To 125 degrees in 6-8 minutes.
Here are some tips to safeguard your most precious cargo, courtesy of www.safekids.org:
Reduce the number of deaths from heatstroke by remembering to ACT.
A: Avoid heatstroke-related injury and death by never leaving your child alone in a car, not even for a minute. And make sure to keep your car locked when you’re not in it so kids don’t get in on their own.
C: Create reminders by putting something in the back of your car next to your child such as a briefcase, a purse or a cell phone that is needed at your final destination. This is especially important if you’re not following your normal routine.
T: Take action. If you see a child alone in a car, call 911. Emergency personnel want you to call. They are trained to respond to these situations. One call could save a life.
This is important if your child is in daycare: make sure they will call you if your child does not show up. Many times a child has been left in a hot car because a parent who doesn’t usually do the drop-off went straight to work instead of taking the baby to daycare.
And here’s one of mine: Never leave a sleeping child in the car – even in your own driveway.
In 2010, Washington Post journalist Gene Weingarten the won the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing for his story “Fatal Distraction,” about parents who tragically left their small children to die in hot cars.
The story’s riveting. And possibly the most uncomfortable piece of journalism you will ever come across.
Read it anyway.
The truth is, Weingarten had a heart for those grief-stricken parents. They trusted him with their gut-wrenching remorse and raw emotions. Maybe that’s because he once left his own daughter asleep in the car.
I know how hard it is to be mindful. I forget things all the time and have to run back inside for a notebook. My keys. Stuff for work.
But when my kids were babies, I was wildly mindful. Uber-mindful. First off, my babies and I were joined at the hip, as the expression goes. I was chemically bonded with them through mothering hormones – the product of pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding – and constant holding.
Breastfeeding just magnifies a baby’s need for his mother. It also yields an emotional connection that is nearly unbreakable; I could no more leave my babies than walk naked through the streets.
We were a couple. Not just a mom. Not just a baby. But a dyad. And we were inseparable. And we took life slow. No rush. Because in my book, babies are to be enjoyed.
I was attending a writers’ conference in Grapevine, Texas, a few years ago, when Gene Weingarten shared his personal story with the audience. On a day he had his little girl with him, he ran into the newspaper office – just for a minute – and left her sleeping in the car. He forgot all her about her. Lost track of time, he said.
But then, by the grace of God, he suddenly remembered.
You might say it was a close call. But not everybody gets one. Better to do something radically different.
I know, of course, that not every mama can stay home and breastfeed, cooing the morning away over over cups of herbal tea. But maybe it is possible to spend a few more minutes just gazing into a child’s eyes and realizing they are a gift from God, and truly irreplaceable. FFG
Now that she has COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), getting around has become more difficult for my friend Susan. After fasting for blood work Tuesday morning, hunger gnawed at her stomach. She felt dizzy. And now her senior-ride driver – some new guy they hired – was late again. She decided to wait inside the doctor’s office, out of the brutal heat hitting St. Petersburg.
She didn’t know that in all her discomfort, a tiny miracle was in the making.
Now in her mid-70s, Susan gave up driving about five years ago, handing the keys to her SUV over to a friend, who just happened to need a car at the time. It just worked out, she said. After leaving New Mexico, where we met some 25 years ago, Susan is finally back “home” in Florida, along with the daughter she raised there.
I don’t know many women who value their independence quite as much as Susan. A classy, hard-working single mother most of her life, it chafes her pride to depend others, especially for getting around. Her freedom means too much.
The requisite 30-minute grace time came and went. Still no driver. Dehydrated, with her blood sugar declining like an ebb tide, Susan started to lose it. Calling the ride-service to complain, she hoped for good news.
Give him another 25 minutes, the dispatcher told her. But he was already half-an-hour late! Why couldn’t they get their act together?
Talking on the phone that night, Susan told me about the former driver, a nice man who managed to keep people on schedule. Too bad he quit, she said.
Placating her patience, she imagined autumn and how lovely the rest of the year would be. She could get out and walk, and not have to sit inside all winter. But this kind of disregard, she decided, she could not tolerate.
Finally at her limit, she called a cab. It was the only thing to do, even if it did cost more. As luck would have it, the taxi and the senior-ride driver showed up at the same time.
“I’m through with you people!” she told the driver. And she climbed in the cab.
As she ate her lunch, Susan fretted over how she’d stay on her fixed-income budget with taxi fares to pay for. Trips to the doctor’s office, her weekly volunteer job at the senior center, an occasional dinner with friends – she’d be out over a $100 a month. But at $9 per trip, the senior-ride service wasn’t cheap either.
In the midst of all her worrying, the phone rang. It was her old driver, the guy who used to work for the senior-ride service. Susan could hardly believe what he said next.
The man had started his own shuttle service. Would she like to have him as her driver?
Now it was my turn to lose it.
The entrepreneur had saved the phone numbers of everyone he used to transport. “Can you pick me up at 8:30 in the morning?” she asked.
It was God, she said. Had to be.
And I believe she’s right. When God hears our prayers, no matter how very small or seemingly insignificant, somehow there will be an answer. Susan had done all she could. She wasn’t sitting at home wringing her hands. I think sometimes that’s when miracles happen: When God meets us half-way.
Susan’s new ride will cost the same as the senior-service. Only now my friend – a very independent woman –will no longer have to worry about getting where she wants to go. She’s in good hands. FFG
I want to talk about a topic often considered taboo. And maybe a bit macabre: Those dreaded mini-chronologies written about someone who’s passed on, known as obituaries. I recently read that legacy.com, a website that publishes obituaries and public comments about the deceased, has become quite popular of late. I’ve commented on the site myself.
But someone has to write all that stuff. Namely, you.
Especially as our parents age, we might want to determine what kind of obituary they would want, where they’d like it published, and what they think is important about their lives. If they’re climbing that proverbial hill, but not quite over it, it’s not too early to make few mental notes.
Heck, I’m even coming up with songs I want on my funeral play-list. Why would I want to pass away without letting someone know that I don’t want any bloody Pachelbel, or Elvis Presley singing Softly, As I Leave You.
When my dad passed away in 2014, I sat down with my mother at her dining table. Elbows leaning on her good, white lace table cloth, we went over what she’d written for his obituary. Continue reading
I seriously doubt that Detroit English teacher Tiffani Eaton-Davis will be diving back into the trenches anytime soon. If ever.
Her broom-swatting attempts at breaking up a wild classroom fist fight at Pershing High School on April 14, 2014 got her fired.
Captured on a student’s cell phone, the footage shows two boys plowing into desks, and one kid pounding the other in the face. Eventually, a classmate intervenes, separating the two.
According to a story published in the Detroit Free Press online, Eaton-Davis sued Michigan’s Education Achievement Authority in federal court over civil rights violations, alleging that white teachers at the school had physically broken up fights without being disciplined. “The EAA is a controversial reform school district that Gov. Rick Snyder opened in 2012 in an effort to turn around the bottom 5% of Michigan schools. All 15 of its schools used to be part of Detroit Public Schools.”
In addition, Eaton-Davis said the district failed to warn her of the “unusually high amount of violence and fighting” at the school. While they offered her a job at any EAA school, the lady didn’t bite.
She recently won a $390,000 settlement from EAA.
“This is about the destruction of her dream and her career,” said her lawyer, Jim Rasor.
The settlement, however, while possibly fair, is just is a symptom of much bigger problems. Continue reading