The yard looked so starkly clean I thought, as I passed the house on my walk. I hardly ever walked down this street but had wandered from my usual route this morning, just following my nose.
Twenty-eight years ago the yard had been a swarming tangle of plants and shrubs—hanging, potted, earthbound, intermingling, practically hiding the modest little house behind it. There used to be a small wooden sign dangling from the mail box that said, “Mrs. Boyette’s.” It had been a home day care back then, at the front edge of the feminist movement, when divorce was rampant and moms were just starting to enter the workforce. The first time I dropped off my reluctant three-year-old, the swarming tangle of kids inside and in the back yard seemed to replicate the prodigious plant life outside.
There were kids at the kitchen table shoving peanut butter sandwiches into smeary little mouths, kids in the living room doing what kids do, kids in the backyard doing what kids do. The little house was bursting with them and I wondered what the legal limit was. Mrs. Boyette evidently didn’t mind profusion. But if she could keep all those plants healthy and growing, I guess she could handle this abundance of children.
She was a plump, friendly-eyed, frowsy-haired lady of ample bosom and loose nerves, fixing snacks for one gaggle while keeping the eyes in the back of her head on the others. Probably there was a pubescent assistant outside overseeing the outdoor play. A thirteen-year-old practicing her mommy skills. Surely I asked about those things when inquiring about availability. But I didn’t have a lot of choice in the matter. I needed summer day care for my little guy; his church pre-school was closed until fall. There weren’t a lot of options back then.
Whenever I came to pick him up after leaving my demanding part-time job for the day I’d look for him in this living scene from a “Where’s Waldo” page, my eyes searching like a heat-seeking missile until I found him, usually mixed in with a jumble of topsy-turvy kids. Then the recognition, the big smile and the “M-o-m-m-mee!”–and home sweet home we went. Just the two of us. Dad, big brother and sisters all gone on to other lives. He’d pull out his little collection of matchbox cars and lay on the floor guiding them around each other, while I went about the house, doing what moms do.
That little daycare house looks so naked now without it’s jungle of plants. The sun hits it too hard. I’m probably older now than Mrs. Boyette was then. And that sweet little three-year-old is thirty-one, a time zone away and carving a place for himself in the world, just like he carved a place for himself inside that bustling little day care.