I submit to you this photo taken on Saturday night.
In case you aren't certain whether our home decor includes a glowing orange cube, let me assure you that it does not (well, besides this one), and therefore what the above-pictured glowing cube proves is that we went out on Saturday night, to places not only featuring fancy glowy furniture on which to rest our cocktail glasses and fishnetted legs (or rather my fishnetted legs; Simon's fishnet days are behind him now (I think)), but to places also hosting, alternately, a live jazz trio and plate after plate of delicious sushi.
Because we like to keep it classy, we of course dined on a Groupon, but regardless, we were feeling flush and kept prefacing the evening's decisions (whether or not to get the assorted sashimi; whether or not to spring for the foofy girly drink) with the phrase, "Well...we are celebrating...," which is funny because it wasn't actually true--we weren't celebrating, not really--it just felt like it because we were out! Free! Alone!
The occasion was that Daycare Lady hosted a Parents' Night Out, for which she volunteered to watch everyone's children from either 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. or, brace yourselves, watch them overnight, and for the small fee of nothing more than our agreeing to attend a home-cooked breakfast there with our kids the next morning.
Now, I don't know about you, but if I'm hosting brunch on Sunday morning, I'm more likely to spend Saturday night sweeping cat hair under the rug and freaking out about the menu than entertaining (and cooking dinner for, and putting to bed) half a dozen children in diapers, none of whom actually belong to me. And doing it for FREE.
You guys, she rented a helium tank so the kids would have balloons to play with. Her house is full of books and toys and all their best friends, and she rented a helium tank.
For about the last six months Wombat's been in daycare, I've felt caught in a bit of a gift-giving tennis match with Daycare Lady. Not to put too fine a cultural marker on it, but it's not unlike a comedy exchange in which a Japanese man bows to a non-Japanese man, who bows back, which makes the Japanese man bow again, and so the non-Japanese man bows again, and on and on until Tati yells "Cut!" or whatever they yell in cinéma français.
She has given Wombat Cars p.j. for Christmas, an alphabet puzzle for his birthday, a T-shirt from her vacation to Hawaii, a handful of Japanese DVDs and CDs, a box of gourmet chocolates for us as thank you for our Christmas gift to her (an Elizabeth Mitchell album), and a Pokemon clip for Wombat (just him) that goes on his shoe. And that's not to mention the Mother's Day craft and Valentine's Day craft and of course the gift that keeps on giving: week after week of feeding my son three meals a day and wiping his butt and teaching him things like taking turns and cleaning up and how to execute a proper judo throw, and of course those terrifying knife skills. A couple of months ago she sent out an email saying she was going to start supplying disposable diapers for the kids to go home in (she uses cloth while they're there, then switches them out for those of us who use disposables at home), and she also said she'd be buying all the formula for the babies from then on (only organic top-of-the-line). We also learned yesterday that because she doesn't like that the cloth diapers come back from the diaper service smelling like bleach and other random chemicals, she always washes them again at home before allowing them to touch the sensitive tushies of her charges.
Do you find this as disquieting as I do? As a non-religious person, I'm supposed to feel uncomfortable when in the presence of an actual saint, yes? Something akin to a vampire shrinking away from a crucifix?
I mean, DAMN, WOMAN.
As we dropped off Wombat Saturday evening, bag packed with an extra blanket and his favorite monkey and the pajamas Daycare Lady gave him for Christmas, we exchanged giddy laughter with the other departing parents, who also couldn't believe their good luck. I couldn't count how many times everyone thanked her the next morning over breakfast--eggs with guac, bacon, sausage, whole wheat waffles, strawberries, MIMOSAS--and I can't properly express what it meant to then stay after breakfast long enough that we found ourselves flipping through her old photo albums and eating the pizza she ordered for lunch before finally realizing it was 1 p.m. and we had been there for four and a half hours.
When Simon and I first heard about this date night, we had a hard time deciding how to spend it, and when we ran out of time trying to find the perfect thing, we just sort of ended up going out for sushi at the place we always go to celebrate, whether the start of a full-time job, the end of a freelance job, perhaps a fat tax return.
As it turns out, we were also celebrating last Saturday night, even though we didn't realize it at first, and not even as I toasted Daycare Lady with our first cup of hot sake. We drank to her then because she let us escape our kid for a night, but now that I've written it all out I see that the real thing worth celebrating is what she does for him--for us--every weekday. She doesn't just take care of his physical needs, she's also helping him learn and grow and get to know the world and himself, even if that means putting him in time out for blowing a raspberry (his first pun?) into the fruit salad during cooking class. We pay her to do these things, yes, but considering the whole picture, it's obvious a check could never come close to covering what she does, what she is. Besides, it's one thing to give someone money for services rendered, or present her a bag of lemons as a thank you for a Pokemon shoe charm, but how do you repay someone for loving your child? Is his reciprocation enough? Is ours?
As we were pulled ourselves away yesterday afternoon--hugs, goodbyes, see-you-tomorrows--she slipped Wombat an orange still cold from the refrigerator. The kid loves oranges, breathes oranges, asks for an orange first thing in the morning, and never seems to have enough, and when I shared this fact with Daycare Lady, she looked at me and smiled and said, simply, "I know."
That's the gift.
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