I’ve been working from the time I turned thirteen years old. At first I mostly did babysitting for people in the neighborhood. I kept busy from Friday night to Sunday evening during the school year watching children from infants to one who was my age whose parents did not trust her to be alone. When I turned fifteen I worked at a medical clinic as a summer replacement for the front office personnel. I must have stunned people because I still looked like I was about ten years old but I earned the respect of my bosses because I did the job well. I worked from nine to five for eighty eight dollars a month. It wasn’t much, especially after deducting Social Security payments, but who else was going to hire someone so young?
I eventually found work with Holiday Inn making reservations and renting cars. That was an interesting experience because I talked with people from all over the United States. Among my customers there were even a few well known people. On one occasion I got a call from Jerry Lee Lewis, the rock and roll singer and piano player. I knew who he was but I was supposed to be highly professional so I just stuck to the process of finding the hotel and room that he wanted. Ultimately he became aggravated because I had not swooned over the idea of talking with such a noted celebrity. He asked me if I even realized who he was. When I acknowledged that I indeed realized his identity he wondered if I was excited over being able to help him. I played along and Insisted that I was absolutely thrilled to be talking with him and that it had been the highlight of my day.
I enjoyed that job. The pay was good and we got bonuses for renting cars and meeting certain goals. At the end of the summer my boss even encouraged me to consider making a career of working for Holiday Inn. I was pleased that she liked my work but determined to get a college education and a different kind of career.
Before I ultimately earned my degree and became a teacher I did a series of different jobs to earn some extra cash. One of them was an afternoon gig at an on site daycare center at the apartment where I lived. It seemed to be a rather easy work since I didn’t even have to drive there and the director promised to provide me with dinner each evening. I liked children so I jumped at the opportunity to work there.
It was not long before I began to have second thoughts about the place. It was very unclean and the children were virtually neglected unless I was there. The director lived in an apartment attached to the center with her family. Her own children often joined whatever group I was watching and bullied the other little ones. When I corrected them my boss would chide me and tell me that it was not my responsibility to manage them.
The meals that she served the children were filled with starches and sugars. There was rarely a vegetable or fruit to be found. Often the food was cold and on more than one occasion I found bugs crawling on the serving trays. Of course I quit eating there but I worried about the little ones who were supposed to be in my care who sat innocently consuming dinners that I found to be disgusting. When I mentioned my concerns the director insisted that she was following health department guidelines in meeting the children’s nutritional needs.
The toys for the children were mostly broken remnants from her own children’s toy boxes. I never once saw them being cleaned nor did I have the materials for taking care of that myself. Eventually I purchased some soaps and disinfectants to use for that purpose but they quickly disappeared so I became more and more distraught over conditions. That’s when I was transferred to the baby room which reeked of urine. I found infants lying in sopping wet diapers on soiled sheets. I was disgusted by the slovenly conditions so sometimes I took items home at night and washed them myself just to make things more sanitary. I even sanitized baby bottles and nipples that often looked as though they had not been properly sterilized.
I suppose that I finally hit the wall when one of the children stayed day and night in the nursery for over a week. When I enquired as to why the little girl’s mom had not come to pick her up I was commanded to mind my own business. The director told me that it was neither her responsibility nor mine to question why the mother was gone so long. Somehow even though I was a very young adult I knew that the situation was far from being appropriate. I began to worry and literally lose sleep over the horrific conditions and wonder if I was somehow complicit by my silence.
I had a yearly medical exam with my doctor about that time and I confided my concerns to him. He counseled me to quit lest something tragic happen while I was working there. Additionally he gave me a number to call to report everything that I had seen. It was with great relief that I turned in my resignation the following day but my heart was till broken when I thought of the children staying there. I called the health department and provided a vivid description of what I had seen. Even as I spoke I felt as though the person at the other end of the line was not taking me seriously and I was right. Things continued as usual at the center and nothing was ever done to improve conditions. I cried for those children but there was little more that I might do.
Every other job I had from that moment forward was wonderful but I still think of how strange that whole situation was. I hated that I had not been able to make meaningful change for those children. I still wonder if it would have been better for me to stay so that at least sometime someone actually cared about those little ones. I marveled at how cruel the world can sometimes be when people do not have the money for higher quality care. Psychologically it was a truly horrible job, the worst I would ever have.
I suppose that the only positive that came from that work was that it taught me to really care about all of the children that I would later encounter. I realized that many of them were coming from backgrounds that made their lives difficult. I became a voice for them and I learned how to keep advocating until something was done. Never again would I take indifference for an answer. Out of the horror of that day care came my determination to advocate for those who have no voice.