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I’ve made peace with the fact that my kids will attend public school.  At least, I tell myself this, because it will happen.  We bought a house in a top-rated school district  to ensure it will happen.  But having lived in this area for 11 years now, my eyes have been opened to the variety of private schools that exist.  I’ve worked for two of them, and perhaps drunk the Kool-Aid.  Kids learn differently.  Public school doesn’t work for everyone.  There are choices, and private school isn’t all about blazers, galas, and lacrosse.  Maybe I have edu-crushes on the Friends schools because I want my kids to have the types of hand-on education I didn’t in my cookie-cutter public schooling?  A vicarious Quaker education?

Anyhow, preschool is a paid experience (at least until Pennsylvania finally enacts universal Pre-K), so I get to dip my toes into the worlds of admissions, applications, open houses, and choosing the “best” school.  My kids attend the two-year-old program at the JCC.  Is it enough?  Is this the mommy wars/competitive parenting poisoning what is overblown in importance for kids of educated middle-class parents anyway?  (There is research out there that if a kid comes from a home where he is read to and stimulated, no one preschool is “better” than another.  I wish I could find the link to that article…)  Or maybe my standards are impossibly high from having been immersed in preschool for 5 years, years which shaped my parenting and educational philosophies.  Much as I want my kids to do Quaker and Waldorf and nature preschool stuff (but not Montessori; don’t get me started), I also want to choose a place that, frankly, has the hours and tuition and location that makes our lives easier.  I have no interest in choosing a school that will require impossible logistics.  That’s the childcare portion of it again.  Beyond financial limitations, we can’t choose a place simply because they have a classroom I fall in love with, or an ideal curriculum, a gorgeous playground, or teachers who are kindred spirits.

Bottom line: I think it doesn’t matter in the long run where they go to school when they’re 2, 3, or 4, as long as it’s not those dumps in North Philly where I did early intervention.  But the other half of the equation is that I want them to be at a place I love.  A place I feel really good about.  And it’s kind of eating me up inside that all my “expert insider” preschool knowledge came down to the fact that the school day at the JCC goes until 3:30pm and Mr. Apron can pick them up then.  Frankly, that’s what made our final decision.  That, and we thought we’d use the JCC’s fitness center.  That’s happened…exactly zero times since September.

So what do we do? Switch them next year to the other program?  Uproot them from something that works, and from a place they do in fact enjoy going to school to play the lottery on a different program? Sacrifice our logistical sanity trying to work out the transportation, tuition, and childcare challenges for a school I feel good about?  Find an anonymous benefactor to subsidize private school education and a nanny/chauffeur to handle the logistics?  We’re lucky we have choices in preschools for our kids.  Once it all gets whittled down to our limitations, though, it feels a lot less like actual choice, and more a matter of playing Tetris with our kids’ education.

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The kids invented some game during lunch-time today that seemed like a cross between no-tackle football and a very competitive version of keep away.  They somehow split into two teams, and were able to keep track of who was on each time while they shuffled a soccer ball back and forth in the gym.  They were also able to avoid the many kids playing basketball as well as the few stragglers still eating their lunches at the cafeteria tables at one end of the gym.  There wasn’t any scoring; no bounced touch-downs in the back hallway of the cafe-gym-atorium.  It only got a little questionable when one kid had a dead-lock on the soccer ball, and others were gently pummeling him while the entire mass encroached upon the metal bleachers.  Boys and girls played together, 6th and 7th graders organized teams independently while their less socially adept classmates hung out at the periphery, still trying to master the art of sharing a basketball.  Aside from the scuffles near sharp metal objects and my own fears of being mock-tackled or hit in the head with a flying ball, it was a pretty mesmerizing experience. 

My mentor teacher when I taught preschool was forever rolling her eyes when parents would mention signing their 3-4 year old kids up for t-ball, pee-wee soccer, or competitive knot-tying.  They should be allowed free-play; they should be allowed to develop their problem-solving skills and “rules” of play without coaches and referees and disciplined drills.  Structured play has its place, and competitive sports plays an assuredly important part in the middle school extracurricular activities.  But it’s nice to see this hodge-podge group of kids – some stars on the basketball team, some who usually don’t touch a ball – invent their own game, give it their own rules, and engage in some self-sustaining preschool-inspired free play.

*Disclaimer: If you run a daycare, work in a daycare, send your kids to daycare, or if Daycare is your middle name, please understand I am only culling together my own observations.  I have experienced the full gamut of quality child care, and this is in no way meant to disparage the good ones out there, nor the need for high-quality child care, which supports the working families in our country.  

How to make a daycare center

Find a building, any building, or a space in a building.  It can be an abandoned school, a mechanic’s garage, a storefront, a church basement, or the 2nd floor of a strip mall.  Splash paint on this building.

Think of a creative name to put forth your mission – Creative Minds, Future Footsteps, Minds Matter, Little Shepherds, Little Ones of the Future, Precious Babies, Kiddie Karriage, Kiddie Korner, Terrific Tots, Wonderfully Made, or Shake, Rattle, & Roll.  (These are actual examples.)  Now call a sign maker, and ask for your daycare’s name to be emblazoned on your storefront. Under no circumstances should you ask for a proof or – heaven forbid! – go into the store to make sure the spelling is right.  Having the name of your center spelled correctly would only make people feel insecure when they can’t spell the center’s name.  If you have extra money, have multiple signs made – for the doors, the marquee (if it’s an old movie theatre), the awning (if it’s an old laundromat), the windows, or walls inside.  Don’t worry about consistency in spelling.  Again, if you get 3 different spellings of “shepherd”, one of them is bound to be correct.  For marketing purposes, you can also write on any of your signs the attributes parents are bound to be attracted to in child care, such as “trips”  “computers” “French classes” and “open at 4am”.  

Buy lots of materials.  Make sure you buy the kit from the school supply catalog that will label the centers – science, math, art, reading housekeeping, blocks, writing – and paste these liberally to the walls, regardless or whether or not you have those actual centers at your daycare.  Repeat with the ABCs and numbers.  Make sure you have borders for the bulletin boards.  Bulletin board design is a very important way to show what creative teachers you have.  Another way to show creativity is by buying art kits.  Kids will learn exactly where to place the pre-cut, pre-glued dog’s nose on his face, and all the projects will turn out exactly the same.  

Also, buy lots of tables and chairs.  These do not have to be precisely fit to the size/age of the kids you’re serving, because kids grow into things, don’t they? And besides, small children are meant to spend long hours seated at tables doing worksheets, which reminds me –

Buy lots of workbooks to copy worksheets out of.  Don’t bother buying reference books for teachers to learn developmentally appropriate practices.  They’ll just figure it out as they go along.

Make sure you have 1 thin rug from a school supply catalog for circle time.  At this point, if you’re worried about running out of money for actual toys, fill empty bins with broken Happy Meal toys, torn books from the “Free” bin at the library, and your kids’ old Barbies and Beanie Babies.  

Staffing is not really an issue to get worked up about.  Young, inexperienced teachers will learn from older, burnt-out teachers.  Overweight teachers with Daycare Butt © will use their loud voices to command presence in the room.  Make sure each teacher is working toward a CDA so you don’t lose your license.  If teachers are really green and can’t handle their rooms of children, just put more new teachers into the room to help.  Don’t bother making one the “lead” and others the “associates” – that kind of hierarchy just makes people angle for bigger paychecks, and might give certain teachers a sense of superiority.  And you can always just move them around in the middle of the school year if they’re not a good fit.  

Lastly, use whatever money you have left to put up walls to make separate classrooms, depending on how many rooms you can legally create.  If you have just a few dollars, buy some cubicle partitions – the walls work great for displaying kids’ art projects using push-pins.  If you have more money or know a handy-man, you can put up a half-wall.  This makes sure the daycare noises of loud teachers, crying children, and the clean-up song will be able to travel from room to room, unabated.  Teachers will also be able to communicate freely over the wall about their upcoming court dates, custody battles, and new tattoos.  If you’re lucky, your building will already be divided into rooms, or if you want to spend the big bucks, go for real walls. Otherwise, you have many options.

And with that, throw up one more sign that says “Now enrolling, subsidized excepted” and open your doors to the oncoming masses.

I have to work up close and personal with kids.  The kids I work with are rather small, even by my standards of height.  I view my world from a solidly 5’0″ tall vantage, and these kids are shorter yet.  And when they’re sitting down?  Forget it.  This is a job to do when one has young knees and has not yet developed vertigo. 

I have to get in their faces for many reasons.  The ones I work on articulation with need to see my face.  Not to sound boastful or anything, but my face has cues they need to see.  Little kids struggling to acknowledge that our language has final consonants need to see my lips come together at the end of “cup” or they’ll be asking for a “kuh” forever.  Another reason is that kids understand better.  And kids who understand just fine, listen better.  “He won’t listen,” I hear people tell me.  Well, if you’re yelling at him from across the room, he may not even know you’re shouting at him, let alone detect the message you’re hollering.  If there was one “technique”, strategy, or trick I could offer to many of the teachers I work with, one simple action they could do to increase interactions with their students, it would be to Get up.  Go over to him.  Talk to his face.  On his level.  And to stop asking him why he hit the kid.  Kids can’t answer “why” questions at that age anyway, but they might be more likely not to hit again, if you get up from your chair and go tell him to stop hitting.  I’m not asking you to give him a discourse on “friendly hands” or use a “problem-solving suitcase” or even change your words from “share” to “let’s take turns”.  But  please.  Get up off your ass and give the child the privilege of your immediate presence.  Adults don’t often have conversations standing more than 3 feet away from each other; why do we expect kids to listen to us when we’re halfway across the gym?

This lack of face-time I have observed has led me to name another phenomenon I have seen in daycares, head starts, church basements and the like: Daycare Butt.  A close cousin to Dispatch Butt, which 911 operators and EMS dispatchers get from a steady diet of inactivity and fast food, Daycare Butt evolves from perching an adult-sized body on a child-size chair, stationing oneself at a viewpoint from which one can see most of the children, so one does not have to move, and, accordingly, not moving.  All day long.  And you thought you had to be fit, flexible, and fleet of foot to work with small children!

However, all is not hunky-dorey when I’m face-to-face with a small child.  While I am increasing the likelihood they will be able to listen better, follow directions better, and imitate my speech sounds better, I accordingly increasing the likelihood of other, less than desirable possibilities.  There is risk of a drive-by hair brushing, using the hairbrush that’s been in the dress-up area for 16 years, and has brushed the hair of 275 children and countless dolls.  With lice.  There is the risk of the subsequent beauty parlour treatment,  which may or may not include curlers, a broken blow drier, a curling iron, and a shower cap.  With lice.  There is the risk of other numerous dress up crowns, tiaras, construction hats, hair nets, and headbands.  With lice. 

If you are down at a child’s level, working face-to-face with a child, you will get sneezed on.  Coughed on.  Spit on.  In the face.  Not just on your arm, in your vicinity, in your general direction — in the face.  And you will feel that puff of air germs come your way, and you will go home and check your last paystub for your sick leave, because you will be needing it.  You will blow noses.   You will touch sleeves that were used as tissues.  And used tissues that were curteously put back into the tissue box.  And you will use your sick leave.

Mealtime contains endless hazards.  Food that was previously in a child’s mouth will be in your mouth, on your glasses, your cheese, your chin, your hair, and most definitely your clothing.  Today, I am wearing oranges, guacamole, peaches, pasta, sauce from meatballs, green beans, and milk.  I am only responsible for contributing the oranges and guac.  Positioning can help to avoid some larger issues.  Angling oneself away from the spill-prone child, and having lightning reflexes can help one avoid having an entire quart of milk dumped on one’s lap and shoes.  Usually.  Ask me how I know.

Then there are the wardrobe malfunctions.  I’ve become very instinctive when I sense a glasses-grab or a hair-pull on the horizon.  And I’ve even learned a maneuver which can help to free those items from a child’s deathgrip.  I don’t wear earrings, and I’d be afraid to. Kids seem fascinated by my watch, grabbing and pulling at it without regard to the arm it is attached to.  When they start wrangling my arm, I’ve taken to chiding, “That’s my body!”  

And there are still other dangers.  Errant art supplies have left me covered in marker (Why do they even make non-washable markers for kids?  Does anyone know this?), pen (usually my own), pencil, paint (same question), play-doh, shaving cream, glue, and sand, dirt, and dust from the “messy table”.   And as the well meaning adults are cleaning off the tables from the children’s latest artistic endeavour, bleach from the diluted cleaning solution will find its way to my favorite shirt before the table has completely dried, leaving festive dots or streaks.  This will all happen.  All this and more.

I’m finally understanding why people who work with small children in non-healthcare settings feel they’re entitled to wear scrubs.  It has nothing to do with their desire to dress up in unicorns, pastels, and polyester fabric.  It has a lot to do with the elastic waistbands and loose-fitting tops.  It must have at least something to do with the disgusting, germy messes that end up on my clothing after a day’s work.  But I can’t do it yet.  I can’t give up.  I can’t go to scrubs. 

The tipping point will come, and I’ll either be driven to wear a biohazard suit, or to work with a population who knows how to cover their coughs, and blow their noses on a tissue.  Wouldn’t that be refreshing?

Sharing is difficult for little kids.  If pressed to explain, adults can’t really explain it either.  When they yell at children to “share!” the subtext seems to be, “Stop having problems that I have to intervene with”.  Sharing seems to mean, “using the same materials with little conflict,” but I prefer the term “taking turns” when it comes to a favored toy, or something which 2 children cannot use simultaneously.  When teachers yell at kids to “share” a book, they can look at it together.  With a ball, they can play catch.  With a computer or a favorite truck, or a prized dolly, this is trickier.  In these cases, “take turns” is much more appropriate. 

With typical children you can help them learn to delay gratification AND ask for a turn.  My choice of phrase is, “When you’re done with it, can I have a turn?”  Unfortunately, most kids I work with cannot handle the length of that sentence nor the conditional nature of the meaning.  In that case, we simplify it to “My turn” or “Can I have a turn?” and then help the kid to do something else while he’s waiting.

My colleague has been working on “sharing” with a little boy who thinks all toys belong to him, all the time.  He hasn’t quite progressed to even “my turn” yet, but he definitely has been listening to his teacher’s pleas to “share”.  This week, my coworker observed him wrenching a toy quite forcefully from another child, screaming, “SHARE!”

He’s on his way.

On most Mondays, I’m supposed to see about 16 children.  The kids are at the center from 8:30a till 2:30p, so I need to see 16 kids in 6 hours, including my gracious 30 minute lunch, so that’s actually 5 hours 30 minutes, an average of 20.6 minutes per child.  Most children are supposed to receive 30 minutes of therapy, and some get 45 minutes.  How is this possible?  Well, it’s not new math, my friends; it’s grouping and getting creative.  Grouping, in a traditional sense, looks like 3-4 kids sitting around a table in a little closet doing flash cards or a board game working on telling stories or the /f/ sound.  In inclusion therapy, I’m “pushed in” to the classroom, doing therapy during circle time, center time, and outdoor play.  While it’s nice I don’t have to pull a child out of something as cool as making pancakes, or as important (to me, anyway) as storytime, it can be challenging to feel like I’m doing therapy sometimes.  Which is where creativity comes into play. 

Hey, Josie and Anna are both at the sand table.  Josie is working on social interaction with peers, and Anna needs to work on having two-way conversations with human beeings.  Instant group.  Another time, I sit down with Juan to play a board game, casually yet effectively emphasizing words he misarticulates, when A.J. wanders over, wanting to play.  Then Martina spies what looks like a rousing game of Chutes & Ladders.  Never mind that Martina is not on my caseload.  I justify having her as a mature speech “model” for the boys, and I work with Juan on his /s/ blends (spider, snowman, sleepy) while I gently drill A.J. on his /k/ sound.  Instant group.  Yet these are the easy ones.  There’s circle, outdoor play, and breakfast to contend with, not to mention “small group” (a curricular institution I have yet to fully grasp the concept or purpose of).  Sometimes, when I’m supposed to see 5 children in 2 hours (24 min/child), and one of them is supposed to receive 45 minutes of therapy, and they all have the nerve to show up that day, I sandwich myself between two of them at breakfast.  I dole out Cheerios for Anita as she smacks her bowl to ask for more, while talking with Charlie about what he did last weekend or where he wants to play today.  At circle time, I am able to “support” Parker by seating him on my lap so he’ll attend to the story, while modelling gestures, signs, and choral responses (so Gina can follow along, and to increase her participation, while encouraging Dominic say some of the words the teacher leaves out) to “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt” while the teacher reads.  And somewhere along the way, if I didn’t sit at circle with Parker for 30 minutes, I’ll add onto it later by cuing him to ask for help putting his coat on; for Dominic, I’ll sit down with him during free play and do a puzzle; and for Gina, I’ll sit in the kitchen while she doctors up a baby doll.  Each kid can’t get 30 minutes of my undivided attention, nor can I work directly on therapy goals each day.  Many times, it just looks like crowd control, or herding kittens, just trying to get everyone to go along with the classroom routine.  And that’s usually okay. 

Today, however, instead of my usual 16, I had 6 kids out!  Some of the medically fragile kids are out with regularity, and some kids, due to their diagnoses, take longer to recover from ear infections, but my Monday group is strong.  Not only that, when I checked the absentee list on my way to the classroom at 8:32am, only one name was on it — a child who is not on my caseload.  Yet when I arrived downstairs, I was informed that two were absent from one room, and two more from another class.  And in the afternoon, as I dashed in from my manic lunch/note-writing marathon, I found only 4 kids on my caseload, down from 7.  So I got ahead for later in the week by seeing 2 Thursday kids, but, more important, I felt good about the therapy I was doing today. 

I spent a focused lunch period working on imitation with a 3-year-old boy with autism.  He whose IEP said he was not imitating anything and had no words back in October was imitating myriad syllables for me today: ba, bee, bye, bo, boo, pa, pee, pie, po, poo, ma, me, my, mo, moo.  And on and on.  Each time I got to a ba, pa, ma, ha, da, or ka word, I’d linger on the ahhhhhhh long enough for his mouth to be open, and I’d slip some pureed bananas inside.  Working on eating at school (a goal) and imitation of speech sound (another goal) during focused practice.  Damn, it felt good.  Then, seeing how attentive the kid was to me, his “girlfriend”, one of the teachers threw 2 syllables together so the kid said my name.  And as lunch finished, I signed and said “all done”.  And so did he. 

The two little girls, Josie and Anna, really were at the sandbox together today .  According to the teacher, they’ve suddenly discovered each other, which is a real boon to me.  I was able to sit near them and observe as they made “pancakes” together.  I cued Josie to ask Anna for some sand, and she did.  I was able to convince Anna, the stubborn one who only wants things her way, to trail after her friend Josie to do puzzles together, even though she at first flatly refused.  They finished, then took my suggestion to trade puzzles, and finally to go find new puzzles.  As one left the table briefly, the other wondered aloud, “Where’s Anna?”  It was all I could have asked for. 

Finally, with a boy who takes most of lunchtime to process that we’re having lunch (seriously — lately he’s been starting to eat during the last 5 minutes of lunch), I got some fabulous imitating and requesting for stickers.  He sat next to me, and 25 times said “Shickuh” or “sickuh” when I asked him what he wanted.  This from a kid who usually mechanically pats his chest — a sign which is supposed to mean “me” or “mine” — to mean anything from “I want more” to “My turn” to “You took my toy” to “I want to play in the block area” to “It’s time to get coats on to go home.”  Somehow he was just cued in today, had taken up residence on the planet.  He liked my goods (stickers, of course), he had a plan (to cover the perimeter of his paper with circle dot stickers), and all he needed to do was ask.  Sometimes it’s so simple. 

Days like this, when I only have to see 11 children, when I feel like I’m using my education, when I’m seeing children make change and progress, are days when I feel like I’m doing good therapy.  Not all days can be like this.  Many more are insane because teachers are out and kids are in, because lunch is late or the fire drill lasts too long, or because I’m grouchy and so are the kids.  Yet days like today, where I feel like a real speech therapist, will hopefully get me through the other days where I feel like a coat zipper, a shoe tie-er, a nose wiper, and a seat belt.  You know, days like tomorrow.

All was going well at 8:07 this morning.  Three children had called out sick, and all expected staff had called in for work.  By 8:45, it was apparent we were just keeping up appearances.  One assistant teacher fairly swooned at the front desk as I was describing how to make chocolate ganache (not my fault — I swear), and had gone home for the day by 8:45am.  Another lead teacher had shown up with a back brace on, and wasn’t to do any lifting, bending, etc.   You know, the stuff you do with small children.  And the secretary/adminstrative wonderwoman is out on vacation this week.  All of which leads to minor insanity all day long.  At 2:30pm, it came to a head.  The social worker, who, bless her heart, had been answering phones all day, was in an IEP meeting, as was the program director.  The occupational therapist was out today recovering from her Memorial Day party.  And I was the only one in the office. at 2:30pm, precisely the time school ends and the building is supposed to empty of all small children.  The children are kept safe from their parents via a locked door, which can be opened by buzzer only by someone in the office.  And, for 42 parents (average) to be coming within the alleged space of 7.5 minutes, you’d think they’d coincide their arrivals with each other’s departures, and HOLD THE FUCKING DOOR.  But no.  So the phone rings for them to be let in, and I”m given the task of door buzzer-inner.  Forty-two times.  Sometimes more.  Because they can’t figure out the door.  They often buzz, then stand around lazily, expecting, I don’t know, the door to automatically open?  So the door buzzes, and they reach, alas!  Too late.  Or we have the ones who have one hand on the buzzer, one hand on the door, ready for door buzzer relay racing.  They often pull before I buzz, and by the time they pull again, it’s too late.  Like when you’re at the passenger side of the car, and you lift the handle/push the button at precisely the time the driver unlocks the car, and you automatically cancel each other out.  So you do it again.  And again.  A door handle jinx dance.  Love it. 

As if door duty weren’t bad enough while I’m trying to feverishly scribble out 12 informative and data-rich notes on children (today was a “light” day), I also had to answer the phones  Or pretend to.  I would wait many rings, then, as I saw the social worker darting in to answer the phone, I”d make the effort that said, “Oh, I was just about to get that one!  But you go ahead.”  Because, you see, I hate answering the phone.  With a passion.  Will do anything to avoid it.  Let the voicemail pick up during business hours.  Take walks away from the office so I’m no nearer the phones than anyone else.  Write my notes in the break room.  Play deaf.  Fake laryngitis.  My philosophy is this — I do not have information for people calling.  I do not know about registration, the wait list, scheduling an IEP, when the secretary will be back, how to submit an application, what the air conditioning system has been up to, if the lunches/bus/children/temp staffers came on time.  I have none of this.  Yes, I can take messages, but so can the voicemail.  And the voicemail doesn’t have horrific penmanship which can be traced back to me for verification of spelling, phone numbers, or content.  Voicemail isn’t lost on an orange Post-it on someone’s desk.  And frankly, I don’t want the information, because that means I’ll be held responsible for disseminating it, expected to answer the phone, and culpable if I screwed something up.  I don’t want the responsibility of knowing the alarm code, because that means I’ll get asked to open or close or talk to the alarm people. 

I do, however, have a key.  I’m never the only one in the building, and not even the first to arrive.  So you’d think there’d always be someone to buzz me in.  Techincally, there is.  But, as you remember, I’m too-often the only one in the office buzzing people in.  That would mean someone else had to run to a phone and let me in.  And then I’d have to talk into the buzzer and identify myself.  That’s too much like talking on the phone, which I’ve established is something I’d rather not do.  Let me slip in stealthily. Let me curse the parents who play the buzzer dance.  Just don’t make me answer that phone.

Children get hurt; this is a fact of life, of preschool, and of buildings with less-than-ideal (though up to code) facilities.  For example, the play “yard” was not big enough for the number of children at the center (hovering around 55 now), so they tore out the shrubberies around the perimeter to give an extra square foot all around, thus making the area legal for whatever number of children could potentially be in there at one time (18, I think).  However, they never replanted anything, put down turf, impervious or otherwise.  So when it’s muddy, we’re up to code, but forced back to the original, space. 

But up to code.  And when many children are forced into a small area, accidents happen.  When electrical boxes are placed at eye level of a 4 year old, and not adequately covered, children run into them.  When this happens, incident reports are filed.  The report reads something like this:

Juan was running in the yard.  He turned his head and hit the electrical box which was at his eye level. 

Then there’s a section for corrective action.  This is supposed to help us learn what we can do better, but not paint us in a bad or negligent light.  So, we’re not allowed to write, “Will cover with high-density padding.” if that’s not actually going to happen.  Nor can we write, “Will be more careful next time,” implying we were not careful this time.  We’re supposed to write, “Will continue to exercise caution when children play in this area” or some band-aid such as, “Will continue to place playground equipment in such a way as to obstruct access to the electrical box”.  Will continue.  Which makes us not negligent.  Yet it happened anyway. 

A few weeks ago, I was in a classroom working with a child.  Another child came over to our area.  She tripped over my extended big-person feet and fell face-first into the carpet, biting her lip.  Would you like to know what my corrective action was?  “Will remove objects from her path” which was corrected by the program director to read, “Will continue to…”  Of course.  Because otherwise it makes us seem like we’re placing stumbling blocks, filets of fish, beds of nails, puddles of Jello, uneven curbs, Crisco, hidden driveways, Jersey barriers, Civil War mortar shells, or dead cats in front of children with physical disabilities.  This particular child has Cerebral Palsy and could and does fall even with a wide open runway of bathtub daisies and gripper pads, wearing YakTrax, Crampons, or golf cleats.  If typical children without paralyzed bits and balance issues regularly run into doorknobs and split their chins on glass coffee tables (does the whole world have that distinctive chin scar, or am I exaggerating?), what chance do developmentally delayed kids have?

Which is why our incident reports do not fit.  They’re designed for us to take corrective action to prevent recurrences, but they don’t fit in situations where the common factor — instead of being electrial boxes or poles in the middle of the play yard — is the child.  They fit “stupidities” as my tenth grade chemistry used to tell us, but do not fit true accidents”. 

Yesterday, I was seated at my desk, writing my unending end-of-day notes on the 16 (!) children I managed to give a small portion of my day.  My desk is one of those 1950s style painted metal desks you see in cop movies and shows like Law & Order.  Well, as I finished my last note, wrist lying limp in agony, I threw down my sweaty pen, and turned to go raid the chocolate tin in the main office, thus slamming my knee into the corner of my desk with the full force of someone who has just finished writing 16 notes and needs chocolate to make it through the rest of the work day. 

“GAAAH!”  I did not stifle my scream.

“Are you okay?” asked the coworker in the main office, who was probably guarding the chocolate tin.  You’re supposed to eek out a meager, “Yeah” and move on with life in the grown-up world, so that no one has to follow up or be concerned.  Which they’re not really anyway.  I broke rank. 

“Noooo!”  I moaned, clutching, writhing, stifling, sucking in my teeth the way you do when you can’t scream with the true force of agony. 

It hurt.  I do have perpetually bruised knees, mostly from shoving myself under child-size tables, scooting into child-size table legs, and generally crawling around a child-size world as an admittedly not so large adult.  However, one question remains:

What does that incident report look like? 

“While rotating out of chair, I fucked up my knee on the motherfucking corner of this Titanic desk that’s older than I am.”

“While taking a break from my overwhelming caseload duties, I slammed my kneecap directly into the corner of the metal desk, screaming in agony.”

“My knee got bitch-slapped by my desk.”

What I’d really have trouble with is the corrective action.

“Will continue to exercise due caution around objects of a certain hardness, i.e., metal office desks.”

“Will continue to search for new jobs which have more forgiving office furniture.”

“Will continue to wrap corners of desk in high-density foam padding and/or bubble wrap.”

“Will continue to wear knee pads and/or snow suit to prevent all future contact between patellar surfaces and any/all desks.”

Feel free to contribute your own corrective action ideas.  Don’t forget to CYA with the magic, forgiving “Will continue” or you may inadvertantly be perceived as negligent, and may receive your very own corrective action.