Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Neglect Doesn't Always Mean Dirt

I worked at a daycare in college. It was a small daycare and I had the 3-5 year olds in one room. Also I had two staff kids who came in after school and they were not so well behaved. But that's another story.

Anyway, there was this cute little boy in my room and we'll call him Matthew. Physically, he was adorable. Blond hair, big eyes, and a mischievous smile. He had older brothers who were in school and did not go to day care. His family was pretty well-off. We'll get back to Matthew in a minute.

We had this other family at the day care. The little boy, who we'll call John, was in the toddlers room. He had a big sister and I think one other sibling who also did not attend day care, just like Matthew's siblings. The mom was single and John was at day care a LOT. Sometimes the mom paid the toddler's teacher to take John and the other 2 home with her after work and keep them. These kids were like flea bitten mutts. No, seriously. They were covered in flea bites all the time. They were dirty. They did not smell good. They were sticky. Their hair needed to be washed and cut.

Becky, the toddler's teacher, had the kids overnight a few times. When she did, they came in shining. She bathed them, washed their hair and clothes, applied medicine, perfume/cologne, hair gel and lots of love. The kids would be just BEAMING when they walked in. And of course we all oohed and aahed over them and how wonderful they looked.

The director of the daycare caught on eventually that the mom had started using the overnight daycare (there was one b/c of a major employer in the town required overnight workers) right after she picked them up from our daycare. So for 2 days they went to ours, overnight, back to ours and back to overnight....without ever going home. And it wasn't because mom was working. I think anyone would agree with me that these kids were neglected.

But you know what? I thought Matthew was neglected too. See, he had a backpack he carried to daycare each day. Each afternoon, I would load up whatever "work" he had done in daycare that day. You know, coloring pages, crafts, etc. The next day, those papers would still be there. It got so bad I finally had to ask the mom to please clean out his backpack. He had stuff from at least 6 months in there. No one had ever looked at the jack-o-lantern he made. No one had ever hung his Christmas ornament on the tree.

Matthew was all boy. He got dirty fast. He came to daycare all cute and clean and by the end of the day he was kind of like pig pen. When he was in the toddler's class, Becky used to wash him up and comb his hair and have in clean clothes at the end of each day, per the mother's request. When he moved back to the big kids' room, we told the mother that wasn't going to be happening anymore. I did have him wash his face and hands and change his own clothes before she came. I knocked most of the sand out of his hair and combed it.

Still, when mom got there every single day Matthew would get all excited and run to his mom. "Mommy!!!" flashing that 100 watt smile. Mom, in her high heels and professional clothing, would put her hand out to stop him and step back. She would then pat him on the back. There was going to be no hugging here, let me tell you. You could see the disgust on her face. Her kid was dirty. And her clothes had to be dry cleaned. Honestly, I don't know WHAT was going through her head. Oh how my heart longed for a Mommy to come in and scoop that little guy up and hug him.

They went out to eat every night. That was one reason she needed him clean.

Matthew would be about 22 today. I have no idea if he thought he was neglected or not. His clothes were washed, he got baths, he was fed, he had a nice home and lots of toys. Probably had huge birthday parties each year too. But, in my opinion, there was some neglect there. I'm sure he turned out fine.

I used to have students who came to school all clean and shiny. But it wasn't mom taking care of them. It was their grandma or aunt. I even had a student who lived with her grandma while her twin baby siblings lived with the mom. Each day the mom would get off work and pick up the babies and take them home, leaving her there. Oh my heart.

My point is, there is physical neglect and there is emotional neglect. Sometimes there is both.

I've got more to say about it tomorrow. Or maybe later today. We'll see how things go!


  1. You had me laughing at the cartoon you posted earlier, and now you have me in tears! Breaks my heart to hear these stories of need. Thanks for posting:)

  2. I worked at a daycare too many years ago before I was married. Honestly, that is why I am a homeschool Mom today. It was a NICE place that I worked for.... in a great part of town. I don't remember anyone coming in dirty, but I did feel sad for some of them. Some kids showed up promptly at 6am and didn't get picked up until 6pm. SOmetimes they would leave them there alll day when they weren't even working. The thing that I rememebr most, though, is feeling like I knew some of their kids better than they did. Like I knew their likes and dislikes; I got to spend time with them and I knew their hearts. I decided then and there that would never be me. I LOVE being with my kids all day every day. And I cringe every time I hear a mother say that she can't wait to get rid of her kids to daycare or school. I wish they would stop seeing their kids as another obligation and start seeing them as a blessing... :-)


I don't get to talk to a lot of actual grown-ups during the day, so your comments make me really happy! :)