on welcoming (this piece feels more unfinished than most)

Posted: January 21, 2013 in Uncategorized

I opened a licensed daycare in my home the summer of 1990.  My motivation was simple:  I wanted to be home with my kids.  My husband was a new fresh-out-of-college teacher, which meant he didn’t make quite enough for us to live, even with all my ninja cheapifying tricks.  I had to bring in an income – this wasn’t optional.  Hence the daycare.

Money was tight.  I was scared the daycare might fail.  If I offered a 24/7 schedule of availability, I reasoned, it would open up the possibilities.  Hopefully I could take on enough daycare kids to pay the bills.  I hadn’t yet learned that fear of failure is not a strong reasoning mechanism.  

I put my ad in the paper, and here they came.  Sure, some folks with nice 8 to 5 schedules.  Those were mostly married folks with stable lives and reliable cars.  But then there were the nights and weekends folks.  Single moms with minimum wage jobs and cars wheezing along, threatening to die at any moment.  People with no reliable family to back them up, even on holidays (CHRISTMAS – a mom got mad at me once because I wouldn’t babysit on CHRISTMAS.) 

I thought of those nights and weekends people as the pastor talked.  He was sharing this church’s word for 2013:  WELCOME.  He said that the first welcome is often the most important one. 

It made me think of how I trained myself NOT to be welcoming, in that 24/7 daycare passage of my life.

I learned it because a single mom would come in at 11 PM to pick up her baby, and though I had been up since sunrise, watching kids and running the household, she’d sit down on my couch and talk for another hour, just needing company…unless I put up my most unwelcoming front.

I learned it because a separated mom befriended me and then leaned into our friendship hard, negotiating for a cheaper rate and pushing my guilt buttons.

I learned it because people with no backup system at home would go ahead and take extra social time, leaving their kids with me extra long and without asking me first whether that would be okay. 

I was a person without boundaries, without almost any ability to confront at all, whose mouth was almost physically incapable of saying, “no.” 

People see you coming, when you’re like that.  It’s like it is tattooed on your forehead.  They see you coming, and they work you. 

I learned from it:  not to be welcoming.  I learned how to be “politely abrupt,” discouraging long conversation.  I learned avoiding eye contact and being suddenly terribly busy with the kids, and in that way, passive-aggressively shoving them out the door, without feeling like I was shoving. 

But the “first welcome” had been the important one. The first time I would meet a prospective daycare parent to see if it was a good fit, I told on myself.  Too eager for the business, too eager to give the answer I thought was wanted.  It set a tone for the relationship going forward…pretty much the same tone the girl who is desperate to be loved uses that lets the guy know she will give whatever he wants, just to keep him.  Treat me however you will, you’re better than nothing, and nothing is what I’m afraid I’ll have, if you don’t stick around. 

Within a year, I had burned myself out on 24/7 daycare, and had also discovered that my day people valued me enough to build my reputation.  I was able to cut down to reasonable hours.  I was eventually able to come to the place of even doing a bit of screening, turning away the occasional client who was clearly going to be abusive of the relationship from beginning to end. 

And in this process, I was able to learn that yes, welcoming is about inviting people in…but not begging them to come at any price. 

(I have more and better things to say about this, but it’s past bedtime and my thinker’s done cooperating.  Perhaps another night…)

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Comments
  1. WOW!!! I think this is a remarkably insightful post. It goes hand-in-hand with the notion that we “teach people how to treat us” and it does so without fluff or guilt. It is an important piece of BEing a “grown-up” to see ourselves in the bright and oh so unflattering light of a department store dressing room in the dead of winter trying on a bathing suit. You nailed it here.

  2. karen says:

    Thank you, Currie! I felt so disjointed after this one, like I had not accomplished what I set out to do. I see it differently now. And though it of course needs a ton of editing (like all my one-draft wonders), I find that it’s not without value after all! Thank you for saying so.

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