I dropped my girls off at daycare the other day and watched two-year-old Toddler Grouch take of her boots and put them in the basket at the bottom of the closet. She unzipped her coat and laid it on the floor before grabbing a hanger off of the bar purposely positioned at half the usual height. She folded her coat’s arms around the ends of the hanger, hung up her coat and shut the closet door while I chatted away with Ms. J.
Ms. J. and I talked about how the kids were doing lately, not superficial talk, but talk about how they were actually doing, the minute-by-minute of every nap and night, the what and how often and by what method, nutrition was being obtained, the color and shape and frequency of each bowel movement, the how well are they listening, the where are they at with each motor skill, the she did that! and the oh-no-she-didn’t! We smiled and nodded while we expounded upon how silly and exuberant and fun Infant Grouch was lately, whether it be her side-to-side head-shakey dance or her fearless rampaging through the crinkling polyester tunnels, or the yelling at the top of her lungs when the other kids cheered, always wanting to be part of the group. I laughed at something Ms. J. said and called Infant Grouch a little goofball.
Ms. J. hugged Infant Grouch to her chest and cupped her hand gently around the back of my baby’s head while leaning her own forehead in and looked into my daughter’s eyes as she said to her, “You’re my little goofball”. For a split-second my heart stuttered.
She called MY little goofball HER little goofball.
And I realized, she is hers, too. Ms. J spends almost every weekday of every week teaching her, holding her, caring for her. Loving her. She and Ms. L. are mothering my children, and on many days, for more hours than I am.
We can call it daycare, or childcare, or preschool, but if they’re doing a good job, they’re mothering, right? Wiping noses, bandaging skinned knees, diapering, cleaning up after. Teaching skills and character: ABC’s and 123’s, no thanks and yes please. Hugging, touching, smiling. Watching, reinforcing, encouraging, enlightening, guiding, reprimanding, uplifting, forgiving. Loving.
Us mamas aren’t the only ones mothering our kids.
When my kid leaves daycare she’ll have teachers that will see them for a fraction of the time that their daycare providers do, and I can only hope will love them a fraction of the amount. Because those relationships are important. I have no interest in a teacher or a coach or a mentor who isn’t mothering my child, at least part of the time.
Note that I did not say coddle, because that isn’t the same. Mothering is not friendship, and mothering means love with limits and setting the bar high, and helping achieve goals. Mothering means doing what can be done to mold a person into someone who is as self-sufficient as possible, as kind as possible, as well-rounded as possible. Mothering means doing these things with a gentle tone, or at least a gentle heart, with you-can-do-its and try-agains and safety nets, not forceful sneers, dismissive shrugs, or there’s-nothing-more-I-can-dos.
We mamas take a lot of pride in our roles, and a mother’s work could very well be one of the most important jobs in the world, but we can not forget to acknowledge, appreciate, and respect those other lovelies out there who are also mothering our little ones. Most of us don’t do it alone. I sure as hell didn’t teach Toddler Grouch how to put that coat away.
So with Mother’s Day near, I say thank you, fellow mamas. Thank you to the Ms. J’s and Ms. L’s, and the other childcare providers, the teachers, coaches, mentors, grandmas, aunts, cousins and friends. A very extra special heart-huggy thank you to those mamas who aren’t mamas by birth, but are mamas by heart. Thank you for helping mother my babies.