Uh-oh, Miss Lindsey, Billy spilled his milk again!” A tiny yet undeniable voice whines from behind me as my back is turned for only a moment. As I look over my left shoulder with a raised eyebrow and my soap-lathered hands suspended under warm water, my attention catches the glossy white puddle on the table’s edge quickly dripping to an already saturated spot on the classroom’s gray carpet. Mechanically, I rip a handful of paper towels one by one from the paper towel holder on the wall, and before I can pivot on the ball of my foot, I hear a smack immediately followed by a shriek from the same whinny voice. “Miss Lindsey! Billy hit me!” I breathe in, let out a deep sigh, and look up at the clock. 8:37AM. Thirty-seven minutes into my eight-hour shift. “Oh, Billy,” I whisper as I kneel to the floor, “it’s going to be a long day.”
Moments like these are merely typical for daycare providers and preschool teachers. Typical moments, yes, even routine and redundant perhaps, but they are neither easy nor simple. Every weekday morning, I cross over a seemingly ordinary threshold and into the quick-paced, high-energy world of four-year-olds. And every weekday, from early morning to late afternoon, my patience and tolerance is tested over and over again. I transform from an educated, eloquent speaker to a high-pitched voice consisting of endlessly repeating simple sentences. If you’ve ever heard a child’s toy that makes sounds at the push of a button, and that dear little child keeps pushing the same button relentlessly without allowing the vibrations of sound to form completely, you’d know what I sound like when repeating the same directions to my preschoolers.
The end of the workday approaches, and I see the big hand on my watch move to the last quarter of the hour. But after almost five years of working in a daycare, I am cautious to breathe any sigh of relief in the last fifteen minutes of my shift. For at the moment when your mind becomes preoccupied with visions of adult conversations, that drink with dinner, finishing the final chapter of your favorite book, that’s when the whinny voice shrieks again, “Miss Lindsey! Miss Lindsey!” (At this point in the day you really hate your own name). Tears soak the reddened cheeks that are puffed above the little mouth of the whinny voice, and little Billy, like a shadow, is right behind trying to make his own voice of protest heard. Sweet little Susie with her golden curls tugs at the back of my shirt while I’m attempting to separate Billy from his victim and says to me, “Miss Lindsey, I had an accident.” It’s her third accident today, and she doesn’t have another change of clothes.
But long after I swipe my badge through the time clock and the quiet beep allows me to cross back over the threshold and into my ordinary world, after the adult conversations have faded for the night, after the dinner plates are left dirty in the sink and the wine glass holds only a missed drop, and the last few pages of the book have been read, I reflect back on my day with “my” kids. All sixteen of them. The spilled milk, the hitting and
pinching and kicking and biting, the tattle-telling, the whining, and all the bathroom accidents move to the back of my mind as routine, typical moments of my day. Instead, I focus on the little moments.
The little moments with children are so big, and it is these moments that have become the reasons I wake up every day and devote a significant part of my life to the teaching, growth, and overall well-being of children. It’s the giggles that bubble from their throats when I tickle them. It’s their curiosity when they wait with wide eyes for me to open a box with something simple inside. It’s the sound of their little voices in an imperfect unison when they sing off-key and not quite with the melody. It’s the scribbles and splotches of shapes and colors that cover every inch of white space on a piece of paper; the artwork they give me to display on my refrigerator. It’s the much-too-intelligent things they say; those mature words that make me laugh and keep me on my toes. It’s the warm embraces when they squeeze me goodbye before we leave each other for the day. “Miss Lindsey, will you read to me?” “Miss Lindsey, look at my tower!” “Miss Lindsey, will you color with me?” “Miss Lindsey, I tied my shoe all by myself!” “Miss Lindsey, will you rub my back for nap time?” “Miss Lindsey, look! I did the puzzle!” “Miss Lindsey, can you zip my coat?” “Hey, Miss Lindsey? I love you.” All these simple words and all these little moments are what make all those challenging, chaotic, stressful moments worth it. So maybe at the end of the day my name doesn’t sound so bad. Maybe it even sounds a little sweet. And someday, when I can replace Miss Lindsey with Mommy, it will be another little moment that will be so big to me.
Lindsey Staples, a teacher’s assistant for the UPK program at Heritage House Childcare and Learning Center, earned a B.A. degree in English/Creative Writing from Keuka College in May of 2009.