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Other people’s kids

It seems I’ve hit a new stage as a work-from-home parent, one where my kids are old enough not to be around the house during the day so other parents see me as an ideal target to hit up for emergency child care. It also seems like this is the sort of information that gets shared around – once you’ve said yes to one parent who’s been called in to work unexpectedly or who’s had a job interview scheduled at a strange time, everyone comes knocking.

Which isn’t all bad. After all, my own kids are getting older, and while still they’re lots of fun in their own ways, they’re not babies anymore. And, I admit, some days I miss having a baby around, so long as it doesn’t mean that I have to be up in the middle of the night. It’s actually kind of nice, occasionally, to have a little person around, to bottle-feed and burp a baby, or to chase a toddler around the house. It’s also often a good reminder of just how different children can be, how the routines and expectations I’ve developed as a parent to my own kids may not translate so readily to the needs of other people’s kids.

For example, the little girl I was watching today is both a diabetic and a celiac. I’ve never had to deal with either condition, so I had to have a crash course in tracking blood sugar levels, testing blood, administering insulin, and determining which foods wouldn’t kill the poor kid. It all made for a very different parenting experience, one that required me to be much more vigilant than I ever was with my own kids. Whereas I never hesitated to let them play on their own while I was preparing for supper or cleaning up around the house, I always felt the necessity to keep this little girl (and her phone monitor) under close watch.

This dynamic also probably contributed to another big difference between her and my own kids – their comfort with independence. When my kids were her age, about three-years old, they were constantly trying to run off on their own. I had to insist on holding their hand when we crossed streets – a source of much fighting and resistance. I had to keep an eagle eye out to be sure that they wouldn’t take off after some shiny distraction when we were out in public.

The little girl I was watching today couldn’t have been more different. She wanted to hold my hand every moment we were out of the house, whether getting play dough at the store or visiting the library. When I had to let go of her hand to pay for things or open doors, she never let herself go out of arm’s reach. It was a strange (and oddly sweet) change of pace.

Then there were the more superficial things as well. At the toy store, shopping for play dough, she went straight for the sparkly stuff (which my kids would never have touched). She completely ignored the Lego and the Playmobile aisles (where I’ve spent so many patient hours), preferring to root through the stuffed animals and the giant sushi plush toys. It was a whole new side of the toy store I’d never really noticed before.

And like I said, the benefit of all this to me as a parent (besides getting my baby fix), is that it helps put my own kids in perspective. It makes me remember that they’re not just specimens of some basically uniform class called “children”, but unique beings with unique needs from me as a parent. It reminds me that, more often than not, being a successful parent means tailoring my approach to the specific persons that my children are.