Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Secret World of Children

The cheapest childcare I have access to is at my gym. It costs $2 for the first hour and $1 for the second. Unfortunately, the maximum time a child can spend there is two hours. If I had a car, I’d probably take River there every day. Since I don’t, I just take him occasionally on the weekends.

Today I went for the entire two hours. I spent the time doing a combination of walking on the treadmill (9,000 steps!), getting breakfast for myself and Mark at the bagel shop nearby and reading a few pages of a novel.

Many of the exercise machines have personal monitors and one of the channels you can choose from is a live video camera of the childcare room. Early in the period, when River was in the crib, I couldn’t see him. It wasn’t interesting to watch other kids and I flipped channels between music, news and cooking shows.

In the last half hour of my time, I looked again at the live video and saw that River was up. He was lying on his stomach alone in the middle of the floor. I saw his snake-like crawl as he went toward a truck. Then I watched the truck roll away and River follow it.

At one point, while River was going after the truck, a little walking toddler came by and walked off with it, completely oblivious or unconcerned that River was heading towards it and had been playing with it. I saw River watch this boy walk away, then slither slowly in his direction.

The young girls working there sat on one side of the room and didn’t pay much attention. An older boy, in the 6-8 year old range, took an interest in River. As I bit my lip in fear he would accidentally step on River, this boy walked around River, then stood in front of him. He put his hand on his knees and brought his face down to River’s level. I couldn’t see River’s reaction. For all I know, he might have been smiling or laughing. But I tried to imagine wanting to move forward, but finding a giant face in my way.

Even as I was watching it, I knew I shouldn’t be. A quick look to see that he was OK should have been enough. I didn’t need to monitor every move he made, every interaction he had. However, it was clear the employees weren’t paying much attention and I admit I took a certain voyeuristic thrill in seeing what he does when I’m not there.

I watched the video for a good ten minutes and was so absorbed I barely noticed I was exercising. In the beginning, seeing him move about made me smile. Then seeing how small and powerless River was there gave me such a feeling of injustice. I realized this was a microcosm of the real world, that River will have to deal with people who are mean either through inattentiveness or intentionally. I know he has to learn to maneuver these situations. At the same time, I couldn’t help but wish him to enjoy the protective bubble he’s lived in a little while longer.

The photo here is the same childcare center, but a different day and a different staff member.

No comments: