When my son was two and his big sister was in kindergarten, I saw a window of opportunity to go do child-free errands, if I could just find a place to park him for two or three hours.
Enter my neighbor Peggy. She didn’t have a childcare license, which limits the caregiver to six children at a time. She only charged two dollars an hour. She was so nice she couldn’t say no to anyone. I’d show up at lunchtime, and my son would be sitting at the kitchen table with a gaggle of kids, all of them eating bowls of macaroni with ketchup on top.
“They like it better than spaghetti sauce,” Peggy said. “Ketchup is sweeter.”
I watched the kids shovel their red and white lunches into their mouths. My son was happy to go with me and not finish his plate of pasta.
Ben, the adult child that lived there, helped to supervise the kids. Peggy’s husband was self-employed and around a lot. Still, she was watching way more than six kids. Could she really handle all of them? My son was still in diapers.
I used Peggy once a week.. I had the freedom to run into stores where kids weren’t welcome, to grab a bag of groceries without kids wanting stuff that was bad for them. If I got done early, I’d even take the dogs out for a short walk before I went to get my second-born child and then on to kindergarten, which let out at 3:00.
Then it happened, the worst possible thing that a mother could think of. Peggy lost a child. Somehow one of the little ones had escaped her unfenced back yard and was walking down the street on the sidewalk. She was two years old.
I heard about it through the neighborhood gossip mill.
“Did you hear about that unlicensed daycare woman?” they said.
“A two-year-old was walking on the sidewalk next to the street!” said another.
“Think of what couldn’t happened!”
It didn’t happen. A woman driving down the street saw the child and stopped. She scooped up the girl and went door to door, looking for the owner of the toddler. When she rang the right doorbell, Peggy was mortified. She hadn’t even missed the little girl.
It gave all of us moms a scare. As nice as Peggy was, she couldn’t handle that many children. The laws were in place for a reason. Six kids at a time.
My son never went back to Peggy’s house. I gave up my carefree-childless-shopping Fridays and dragged my son along, where I could keep an eye on him.
Who watches a child better than his/her/their own mother?