Well, I encountered a very difficult situation this Friday. Everything had been going wonderfully. Our classrooms were combined into one room, and I had worked with the teacher of the other classroom all morning. We get along well, and it is, of course, much easier to work with someone who knows the schedule of the classroom and who knows the children. We had eight children between our two rooms, and they’d been behaving well (for a crawler, this means they hadn’t fallen off of things, smacked or clawed at other children, or otherwise gotten themselves into trouble). My coworker left at 2:30 each day, and so someone had to come in and take her place, because the ratio of teachers to crawlers is 1 to 5, and we still had 8.
A lady came in that I’d spoken to very briefly. She was from an outside temporary agency that hired out nannies and childcare workers. She’d done my breaks a couple of times before, and so I knew her name and face. Other coworkers had expressed a distaste for working with this lady, but I did my best to put their judgments aside and form my own.
We got along well for a time, because naptime was still going on—the children were to remain in their cribs until 3:30, when we would get them up, change their diapers and give them their afternoon snack. The children had been a bit crazy during nap, partly because there were so many of them in the room, and partly because one of them had to have a breathing treatment at 2:00 that had been rather noisy. 6 out of 8 were awake, but for the most part they were fairly content. All that to say, when this lady came in, we did well for a while because all we had to do was sit there and wait for 3:30 to come, occasionally checking diapers to make sure none of the children got diaper rash while they were waiting to come out of their cribs. We made a bit of small talk, and I thought to myself, “This isn’t bad at all. I think perhaps we will get along great and everything will go smoothly.”
Fast forward to 3:20. A couple of the children had been screaming since 2:45, and one had just started fussing and was being particularly loud. This lady asked if we could get them up early. I told her no, that we had to keep them on the schedule so that they can get used to it. We began to set out the high chairs, and I went behind the counter to heat up their sippy cups, only to discover the little crockpot we normally heat them in had been unplugged. I announced we’d have to heat the cups in the microwave. The lady expressed sympathy with my agitation.
At this point, things were still relatively okay. I’d remembered one of my coworkers telling me that this lady was known for questioning the schedule and asking multiple times if she could stray from it. But that was only once.
Then the diaper changes began. At around 3:25 this lady decided she wanted to pick up one of the children and carry them around. I had a specific order I needed to change diapers in, based on what time I knew they would probably leave. I wanted to make sure that the ones that left first got their snack first so they’d be done by the time their parents arrived. She brought me the child she’d been carrying, and I asked her if she could please bring me a different child.
“Oh, I didn’t know you had a specific order,” she said, and went to place the child on the floor.
“Oh, don’t put her down on the floor, put her back in her crib,” I was quick to say.
“Why?” she asked, giving me a confused look.
“Because,” I tried to explain gently, “she can walk and she may try to climb on the high chairs. It’s a safety hazard.”
“Oh.” She picked the child back up, and turned and flipped on the light switch.
“Oh, we can’t turn the light on right now,” I said. “There are children still sleeping, so we have to keep the light off ‘til they wake up.”
Her eyes bugged out at me in exasperation.
“Oh, for goodness’ sakes.” She carried the child back to her crib and set her down while I turned the light back off and carried on with my diaper changes, too stunned for words.
Several tense diaper changes later, the children were eating their snack. As I cleaned off one of the children, the lady reached over and turned down the music I’d had on for nap. Now, in a room full of screaming children, music calms me, because I can focus on the beauty of the music rather than their screaming. To have someone else come in and mess with that only added to my irritation. Struggling to control my rage, I reached up and ripped the auxiliary cord out of the stereo, shutting off the music completely.
“Oh, good,” the lady said, breathing a sigh of relief.
I know, I know. Music is such a small thing to get upset about. And I would have been much more obliging had she asked me to turn it down. And I know, her turning down the music is a very slight thing. I’m the type of person, though, that is loathe to touch things or mess with things in another person’s classroom, and if I have the overwhelming urge to do so, I ask first. So I guess it’s one of those things that specially irritates me, when people mess with my belongings or my settings and don’t even bother to ask. A pet peeve, I suppose. A fault to be overcome. But needless to say, it didn’t make the situation any better.
I did fairly well dealing with the anger. I couldn’t stop myself from feeling it, but I did my best not to show it. We made conversation, some about the childcare facility and our personal beliefs about it. That was a bit more calming. We have similar views.
As we were cleaning up from snack, I did my best to get ahold of someone at the front desk so I could go use the bathroom—and calm myself a bit. The rage built up within me needed an outlet, and I’m a cryer when I’m angry. She made remarks here and there about different things. Most weren’t irritating, but some really got under my skin and blew on my rage like a strong wind building up a fire. I don’t remember what they were and I’m not going to take pains to remember. But at one point I knew—if I didn’t leave the room soon, I might snap with the next remark that grated at me. I found one of my directors out in the cafeteria and called to her. As she approached the door I slipped outside and shut the door briefly.
“Is there any way you can get her out of here?” I pleaded. “I’m losing my mind.”
She told me I’d have to wait til we were at ratio because there was no one else available to take her place, and so I went to the bathroom and cried a bit to release the anger. It only added to my desperation that as I was crying and trying to splash water on my face, kids were banging on the door to the bathroom.
Still, eyes a bit puffy, I marched back to the classroom and geared up for a battle with myself. As I stepped inside, I noticed there were children crawling around on the carpet while the high chairs were still out and cookie crumbs all over the tile. Ignoring this, I went behind the counter for the broom.
“I talked to the director. She said they usually get the kids up at 3, not 3:30. I told her you wouldn’t let me.” At this point, her remark was just another log in the fire already roaring within me.
“Well, I’ve always been told they wake up at 3:30. That’s what we’ve done since I’ve been here,” I said, as calmly as I could manage.
“No,” she said. “The director said 3.”
I didn’t answer. There was no point. Instead I cleaned off the high chairs, stacked them against the wall, and began to sweep, tossing the dustpan onto the tile.
“Don’t worry,” she said, “I’m watching the kids on the carpet.” I continued to sweep, turning when I heard little palms slapping the tile. One of the children was already on the tile and headed straight for the dustpan.
“Will you get him off the tile?” I demanded.
“Yes, yes, I’ve got him.” She went and picked him up and chuckled. “That’s the second time he’s gone for that dustpan.” I snorted internally.
“Yes, well, that’s why we usually keep them in their cribs until the cleaning’s done,” I said testily.
“I know, I know,” she said, and stood there watching them while I finished up, shaking with rage.
Thankfully, the director remembered my request, and as soon as we were down to five children she called into the room and sent the lady somewhere else. I think the lady sensed the tension between us.
“Gladly I’ll go,” she said with a small laugh, and went to fetch her shoes. I bade her have a good weekend and breathed a sigh of relief when she’d gone.
This was my experience with my human emery board. It is probably the second or third most trying thing I’ve experienced since my conversion. It is amazing how some people are designed to rub you exactly the wrong way and push all of your buttons with stunning accuracy. But without these people, we wouldn’t be able to progress in the spiritual life. In order to practice patience, we have to have someone to be patient with. In order to practice meekness and peaceableness, someone we have to make sacrifices for in order to get along with. I only hope, that knowing what this experience was, I will be better prepared to face it in the future, as well as others like it.
I realize maybe I have strange buttons, strange pet peeves…some of you might read this and think, “Well, I don’t see how she did anything wrong.” And perhaps you’re right. It is difficult coming into a new place and having to mold yourself to their schedule and procedures, especially if you have trouble seeing the motives or reasons behind that schedule and those procedures. It is also hard being the person used to said schedule and procedures and having someone come in and willfully go against them. I’m used to the workers from the temp agency simply being obedient and going along with everything. I’m used to being the one to have to direct, to point out which child is which, where their diapers are, where their cribs are, where they are supposed to be at what time, and to lead the effort to keep everything running smoothly. And usually the staff that come in to help me simply obey. That is what I would do, were I the one in a new childcare facility, were I the one unfamiliar with procedure.
Then again, I thrive on routine and procedure.
And maybe this lady doesn’t.
My theory is that, deep down, she doesn’t agree with the schedule or procedures. And I can understand that, and even respect it. It’s fine if this isn’t the way you’d want your household run. I might not run mine the same way. And my theory is also that she wanted to do things the way she thought they should be done, as much as I would allow her to, or as much as she could get away with. Hence the children on the floor, hence getting them up early to stop their crying, hence turning the light on or turning the music down, as she saw fit.
I can respect all of that. But in an institutional setting, with eight children to care for and only two teachers between them, the procedures and routines are there for a reason, and a simple reason at that: to keep both children and teachers sane. Hence keeping the children in their cribs while we clean up from mealtimes, hence keeping them in their cribs until naptime is officially over, so they learn to content themselves while other children are sleeping (because that’s what will happen in the toddler room), hence specific times and places for meals and specific tasks that must be done at each meal.
A routine for children so small may seem ridiculous or even cruel, but in all honestly, human beings thrive on routine, and especially children. Coming in from the infant room, where their schedules are much more flexible, sure, the routine may be hard at first, but after a week or two they get used to it. They sit in their cribs and play with the toy or the mirror without fussing. They fall asleep on their own and sleep at assigned nap times. They are hungry when it’s time to eat, and in between eating and sleeping, they are happy and content. And for us teachers, who may have to deal with a group of 8 or even 9 between 2 teachers, or 5 for one teacher, this routine is what makes taking care of so many children possible in the first place. And just because there is a routine doesn’t mean there isn’t any love. No, it’s certainly not how I would do things with my own household and my own children. But it makes sense in the context of having to care for so many children at the same time.
All that to say, I have another lesson under my belt and a long way to go still. God humbled me and gave me many graces that day—He kept me from boiling over and having an all-out crying and yelling fit, like I was tempted to, and He helped me to see her for what she is—a fellow soul, bought at the price of Our Lord’s most Precious Blood, and an invaluable help to my own soul by virtue of our conflicting personalities. We need our ‘enemies’ sometimes more than we need our friends, and affliction has much more to teach us than prosperity.
And the ironic twist to this story: Just that morning, I’d read in “Introduction to the Devout Life” a chapter entitled, “Gentleness towards others and Remedies against Anger.” Does God have a sense of humor? Did He give me a pop quiz? I think so. Most certainly.
May God grant me the grace to serve Him more faithfully in any other trials I might come across, and to be humble enough to see every trial and every soul for what they are.
+Deo Gratias! Maria Gratias!+