This is me, last night, celebrating the ten-year anniversary of starting my job.

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Seems impossible it is ten years until I note the four faces dancing around me in excitement. (There was cake for celebrating thus the dancing)

It seems very possible it has been ten years when I note new wrinkles and gray hairs…and the advancing age of these kids.

They wanted to hear the story of how I came to take care of them. I was happy to oblige. Maybe you’d like to hear it too. Sit back, I’m doing the long version.

I had just left my teaching job.  It was not a happy leaving.  In fact after 15 years at my church’s nursery school, it was painful…and badly handled.  I was ready for a change I thought and change I did, to a position as assistant manager of a Swedish restaurant nearby.  It was owned by preschool parents and it seemed it would be the perfect second career.  It didn’t take long for me to realize this was not where I wanted to hang my hat.  I have such respect for people who can thrive in the chaos of  the restaurant business but six months in I knew it was time to leave.

My niece and her husband were living with me and all three of us were looking for jobs.  Misery loves company.  They happened to see an ad in the Chicago Trib for a company called TeacherCare.  They helped families find former teachers to take care of their children.  It was an online application process which, without the help of said niece and nephew-in-law, I would have been lost.  The day after sending it in I got a call asking me to come out for an interview.  When I got there they acted like I was the best thing since sliced bread.  I was just what they were looking for.  (Really?)  The woman went out and pulled about ten files.  “Look at these and see if any of them interest you”.  (Interest me, really?)  I chose three, knowing I could come back for more.  By the time I drove home (30 min), my current employer had received my information, left a message  and wanted to talk to me that evening by phone.  We talked for 40 minutes or so.  I learned they had one daughter, lived downtown, would probably move to the suburbs in a year and hope to have another baby in that time frame.  We sent up and appointment in two days, for me to go meet her and her husband and their daughter.

My employer says she knew when we talked by phone I was the one.  I did feel an immediate sense of comfort upon meeting them.  Their 14-month-old daughter entertained me by turning somersaults as we talked.  She was constant movement and big grins.  At one point her Dad asked me, “how do you handle discipline?”  Without thinking, my irreverent sense of humor got the best of me and I replied, “I find duct tape works well!”  I was completely aghast  at what had come out of my mouth during a job interview.  I quickly said, “oh my, I don’t know you well enough to joke around like that”.  They were both laughing.  Maybe that sealed the deal.  My joking and their laughing because in ten years I have to note there has been a lot of laughing.

In ten years they/we have gone from one child to four children.  From living downtown (just across from the Lincoln Park  Zoo which we visited most days) to moving to the suburbs.  From babies in diapers to no more diapers!!  From preschool playdates to travel soccer times two of them.  From chaos  inside the house to the chaos of getting everyone to where they need to be.  From housebound to mini-van bound.

We’ve gone from my first trip to St. Maarten to my sixth.  The first time I didn’t know them or their extended family that well.  I.was. so.very.homesick.  Now I enjoy and feel so welcomed by the extended family AND my niece is invited to come along to help.  No.longer.homesick.

There has been drama.  An ambulance ride with one who was having severe breathing problems, driving another to the ER for stitches in her chin and discovering  yet another has severe allergies to nuts, eggs and fish.  (There were three ambulance rides with that discovery but this time I didn’t ride, I stayed with the other kids). There have been moments I’m not proud of.  And days when somehow I managed to say just the right thing to the child that was hurt, scared or just sad.  There have been days that quitting seemed like an option.  (But that passed by the next morning)

But I love them all…and their parents. I have learned during piano recitals that the fights we have over practicing are worth every beautiful note that comes from them while performing.  I’ve learned what hills to die on and sometimes, what things to let go. I’ve learned, on the days that don’t go so well, the kids still greet me with hugs the next morning.  I’m so thankful for the laughter.

Ten years later…who would have guessed!

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