Being the youngest in the family has its benefits. Older sisters and brothers have to feel their way around in the dark as they pick their way through life whereas the youngest has the advantage of following the trail of breadcrumbs left behind. For many of the trials and tribulations that life throws your way, you’ve already watched an older sibling make a stab at it, watched them achieve and fail. You’ve seen where the cracks are on the pavement and you know when to jump. It’s almost like you get a practice run at things. It can often make life a lot easier for you than the first or second born who only had episodes of MacGyver as a frame of reference.
I’ve taken advantage of this position many times in my life and decisions in recent times have been no different. So when it came to choosing child care for our daughter, we didn’t have to look far for guidance.
My older sister has two little darlings of her own and a year ago she went back to work full time after taking a number of years off to care for them both. The world of child care is new to our family. My mother stayed at home to raise us and for us playschool had only ever been a fun couple of hours a week while she did the shopping or visited a friend. When that is all you know, how do you come to terms with handing your tiny children over into the care of others in the first place let alone deciding who those strangers might be or what environment that it might take place?
Initially, after much deliberation, painstaking research and a few trial runs, my sister and her husband chose to hire a child-minder. The process was a difficult one involving many interviews, references and Garda vetting. She eventually settled on a no-nonsense woman from the country who didn’t appear to take her position lightly.
For a year, she reliably arrived every morning to mind the children in their own home. On freezing snowy mornings, when the rest of the country poked their noses nervously outside their doors, my sister breathed a sigh of relief. Her two little angels were still snuggled up in their beds, their very own Mary Poppins downstairs squeezing them orange juice for their breakfast and preparing fun activities for the day. The children grew to love her and she became part of the family, someone my sister thought she simply could not live without.
Unlike Mary Poppins however, she, without warning, handed in her notice at the end of Spring. A more attractive position had been offered to her in Dublin. It was an offer, she said, that she couldn’t refuse.
Overnight their little family was thrown into turmoil, their world’s turned upside down and the upheaval for the children nothing short of distressing. They had no choice but to begin the whole process again and this time it was against the clock with both her and her husband back full time at work. Interviewing candidates, ruling people in and out, checking references.- nobody seemed good enough now. Their trust had been broken. After a long and fruitless search, they finally came to the conclusion that placing themselves at the mercy of a child-minder again was far too great a risk. The threat of it happening again far outweighed the benefits and so with heavy hearts they abandoned their search for Nanny McPhee and chose the best playschool they could find in the area.
And so with the experiences once again of my sister firmly under our belt, we’ve made the decision to send our little girl to the same playschool as her little cousins. We have not interviewed one potential minder. We stand with ammunition at the ready for the torrent of sickness that is about to hit our household and pray that immunity finds us quickly. Calpol and Vitamin C line the medicine cabinet. Children really are the greatest carriers of germs and bugs. Having witnessed first-hand the temperatures, the messy nappies and vomiting during the first few weeks of my niece and nephew’s attendance at crèche we are aware of what is ahead of us over the coming weeks.
Even without the borrowed hindsight, hiring a complete stranger to come into our home and mind our child filled us with fear. How could we be sure, with a small baby who couldn’t speak for themselves, that their intentions were always good? Who would they invite into our home when we weren’t around? We didn’t and couldn’t know. You could never be sure and that wasn’t good enough for us. The same applies to crèches around the country as the recent revelations in the RTE documentary have shown. However, at least there are regulations and standards in place that crèches should adhere to. In the absence of the government ensuring that these crèches adhere to them, it’s down to us the parents. The reports and the inspections should be available for parents to see and we should seek to view them on a regular basis!
I am sure there are many families out there who have nothing but positive experiences of child minders in the home, who could swear it was Mary Poppins who flew in their window one day disguised as Mary Doyle from two streets down. Maybe if I’d looked hard enough I would have found our Mary Poppins too. But I just couldn’t take the chance that I’d find big bad wolf instead.