A friend once told me Valentine's Day is her favorite holiday. I asked her why.
"Valentine's Day is the best holiday because you get to celebrate it with exactly whom you want to," she said.
Good point. Valentine's Day may not have the exciting centerpiece of a tree or a turkey, but it's pretty low-pressure as far as holidays go: no long lists of people to shop for or big dinners to make, and like my pal said, you get to pick who you spend it with.
Last weekend, my daughter busily cut hearts out of a pile of construction paper, to make Valentines for her friends at school. Being reminded of the simple pleasure of giving Valentines inspired me to think about who else--besides the people I share a home with--means a lot to me.
That's simple. Our babysitter, Hilda.
When I got my position at Parents last year, I needed to quickly figure out who was going to care for my three kids and handle all the demands of a baby while also shuffling big kids to activities and nudging them to do their homework. I called upon every acquaintance I had for recommendations. As my start date drew nearer, my smartphone burned in my hand—finding childcare was the most stressful part of the job puzzle. There were nice daycare programs with pickup times that I'd never make, cheerful college girls who needed afternoons off for school, and polite ladies who smiled and sat on my couch with their hands folded on their laps and didn't interact with my children.
Then my good friend Jennifer told me about Hilda, a lovely woman who had babysat her kids. Hilda's only a couple of years older than I am, but started her family much earlier. With three practically grown children, she has infinite patience and wisdom, things that I'm still working on. Hilda came by my house days before I began my job, and after just a few minutes in her warm, calm, capable presence, I felt relief wash over me. We'd found The One.
People—insensitive people--sometimes say to parents who rely on nannies, babysitters, and daycare, "I could never leave my child with a stranger." Of course, there are tragic and all-too-real stories of abuse by nannies and at daycare centers (just as there are sad instances of child abuse at the hands of family members, too). I fully understand that it takes a tremendous amount of trust to leave your kids in the hands of another every day, and when it comes to adequate childcare options, our country falls far short.
With so much to genuinely be negative about, we hear so little about good childcare providers, though, and how families' lives may be enriched by them. Now that Hilda's a part of our family, it's hard to imagine life without her. My children love Hilda. Of course they spend more time with her than extended family members, who don't live close by, so Hilda knows them in ways that others just can't. There's nowhere that says she has to proactively plan playdates for them (but she does), or humor my youngest with toddler Zumba classes at the library (ditto), or run out to indulge my boy's craving for the deli sandwich he likes (check). Yet she does all these things and more, and is thoughtful enough to occasionally share little details about their day with me. (She's messaged me pictures from the playground, for example—I love getting a surprise text at work seeing my toddler happy and having fun.) When she can, Hilda also tidies and catches us up on laundry--things she does not have to do, but lift an enormous weight off our weekends. And at Christmas, I was so touched when Hilda not only gave my children gifts, but had obviously put such thought into each one, that I cried.
As a mom, it means the world to me to have someone who has our family's back. Last year when I took a sick day and spent the afternoon knocked out and useless in bed, Hilda was there, tending to my toddler and running to the store. If I hadn't been employed, and hadn't needed a full-time babysitter, I would have been sick and taking care of my toddler alone, with a fridge low on food. When you're a mom without a mom, or a mother whose family isn't nearby or maybe just not available to help, and your husband's already stretched so thin, too, having someone care for you is a comfort that's difficult to put into words. I'm grateful to know this kind woman, and I imagine and hope Hilda will always be in our life, even after our little ones are big people and on their own.
So this Valentine's Day, I'll make sure to bring something special to Hilda. Is there such a person in your life—grandparent, babysitter, neighbor, friend—who loves and cares for your children as much as you do? I'd love to hear about your "other" special Valentine, too.
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Valentine's Day Heart Pop-up Card