Soft-spoken Super PowersPublished 7:19am Thursday, May 9, 2013
Karen’s destiny to become a daycare provider was perhaps first foreshadowed when she was about 13. She says, “My best friend and I ran a ‘play school’ in the summer months to make some extra money. We invited neighborhood children over to my house a couple days a week for a few hours and read them stories, played games, and did an art activity with them. I don’t know who had more fun – the kids or us!”
When her son was about one, Karen was enjoying time with him being a “stay at home mom.” A neighbor asked if Karen might be willing to do daycare for her and it began. The idea of having a playmate for her son and making a little extra money appealed to Karen. “That was over 30 years ago and I don’t ever regret the decision I made,” she says.
Taking care of a few children worked well until her daughter was in kindergarten, when she then felt it was time to get a “real” job. Working with children and the desire to be home when her own children were home were important to Karen. A friend suggested becoming licensed and doing daycare for more children and that is exactly what she did.
Although she loved her work, it wasn’t long before Karen realized that having little people at her home from 6:00 A.M. To 6:30 P.M. five days a week, twelve months a year was too much. It was then she came up with the idea of specializing in caring for teachers’ children, thereby being able to enjoy summers with her own children and keeping more manageable daily hours during the school year. This schedule works well as she has weekends, holidays, and summer to enjoy time with her family. She says, “My whole summer is one giant vacation.” Karen also spends some of the school breaks on mini-vacations, remarking that one favorite is during MEA break when she and her mother and daughter explore Minnesota.
If the charge was providing food and shelter for nine (somewhat – scratch that – VERY demanding) little people every day, that alone would be a great challenge for most of us. Getting through an entire day with all the excitement and energy the one, two, three, four and five-year olds have (heavy on the three-year old group right now!) has got to be exhausting, and that’s certainly an understatement. Here’s where the hero part comes in: Karen’s feathers are never ruffled – not even close. She is as calm and collected when the end of the day rolls around as when it began. She smiles and the children come running. They hug her and blow kisses and in their darling little voices happily say “See you tomorrow,” as they are scooped up and swept away by their parents. Throughout the day Karen has done so much more than provide food and shelter. She has read stories, engineered and executed arts and crafts, taken the troop outside (weather permitting!), and taught them important concepts such as sharing, taking turns, colors, the alphabet, and numbers (one day my toddler came home with an activity they had done involving estimation!). In addition to and far beyond these important “preschool” activities, Karen has done something even more crucial. She has showered the children with smiles, hugs, kisses, and love. Karen says, “I just want each child to know that they are special to me and that I enjoy spending time with them. I really want to build their self-confidence because I think it’s very important that each child feels secure and good about themselves.”
Funny moments color Karen’s mind when she thinks of all the kids over the years. She says that the children ask her all the time what they are having for lunch. Her silly answer is “Broccoli and boogers.” She recalls one little girl who replied, “But I don’t like broccoli.” Another time one child asked Karen how old she was. At the time she was 50 and when she said that the young man’s mind did some quick figuring. He said, “Karen, when I’m 50, you know where you’re going to be?” and he pointed upwards to heaven.
Karen is a fan of activities and art. Holidays often provide the cue for a creative activity, be it having green milk and finding a pot of gold on St. Patrick’s Day, a visit from Santa at Christmas time, or an Easter egg hunt in the spring. There are other fun days and themes, too – pajama days, summer fun days (in February!), and activities centered around something they are studying – the letter “P” for example brought on pancakes and gluing popcorn on the letter “P.” There is also plenty of singing and dancing. Karen notes, “I’m the worst singer and can’t carry a tune, but the kids think I’m the best and that’s all that counts!”
Being a daycare mom is a calling for Karen, and thank goodness she answered it. For well over 30 years, there are bundles of children (and parents!) who have been fortunate to have Karen in their lives. She has made a great difference, further reaching than she might ever know. The love she gives her daycare children daily overflows, and the confidence and self-esteem she builds grows with the children.
Karen says she will continue doing daycare as long as she is physically and mentally able, although her plan is to eventually care for a smaller number of children. She says she just loves the kids, at every age and stage. She likens it to being a parent and thinking, “This is the best age” when your child does this or that—until the next stage comes and you think it all over again. She does that, too, appreciating and celebrating all the developmental changes the children experience. “It’s so fun to watch the children learn and grow and to know that I am an important part of their lives.”
This interview and article highlights an extremely special person in our community who gives her all at one of the world’s most challenging jobs, then gets up and does it again the next day (and the next and the next). Thank you to all the other wonderful daycare providers out there…you are amazing, you are incredible, and you are heroes.
By Sue Rinke