The popular Hebrew slang term “ata chai b’seret” means “you are being unrealistic” or “you are delusional.” However, the phrase literally means, “you are living in a movie.” This week, I really felt like I was living in a movie, the 2003 Eddie Murphy comedy, Daddy Day Care, to be specific.
Don’t feel bad if you never saw that flick, it certainly wasn’t one of Murphy’s better films. The plot revolves around two men (Murphy and Jeff Garlin, best known for playing Larry David’s agent on HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm) who get laid off from their jobs and become stay-at-home dads. This inspires them to open their own day-care center which they call Daddy Day Care.
As for me, I had a “Daddy Day Care” moment this week — which is odd because I don’t have any kids.
Allow me to explain. This Tuesday was “Good Deeds Day” in Israel, a national day for volunteering and doing good deeds for others. Good Deeds Day originated in Israel 2007 and has now spread to 93 countries across the world.
WIZO (Women’s International Zionist Organization), my employer, encouraged its staff members to roll up their sleeves and pitch in on Good Deeds Day at various WIZO projects around Israel. Some of my coworkers were sent to various WIZO schools and youth villages, where they did everything from painting classrooms to repotting plants. Others were assigned to a WIZO parent’s (senior) home where they fixed up the library and helped out in the kitchen.
The rest of us were assigned to WIZO day care centers. I ended up at a lovely one in Rechovot.
When we arrived, the director gave us a tour of the facility. She explained that in total there are 79 children in the center, ranging from babies from 6 months to 4 years of age. The children arrive as early as 7 in the morning and stay till 4pm.
Then the fun began. We were led to the “big” kids group, a large room with over 20 children and around 4 staff members (which included full-time staff and volunteers (there were also girls doing their national service by helping the staff at the center, in addition in the baby group there was a young lady from France volunteering for the school year at the day care center as part of a special program).
So here is what I learned:
- The Puppet Master — At first I walked around the big kids room (I say “big” but most of them were around 3-years-old) and tried to find my place. But then everything changed when I sat down on the carpeted floor. Suddenly a bunch of kids, both boys and girls gathered around me. I reached out and grabbed a hand puppet from the pile on the floor and put it on my hand. “Shalom!” I said via the puppet. The kids laughed and giggled. I switched puppets. The kids loved it. I gave them puppets to put on their hands. More kids came over. This continued for a while. I couldn’t believe how popular I was. I realized that when I was standing they couldn’t really relate to me because I was like a giant to them, but once I sat down on the floor and was at their eye level everything changed. Also, even though the teachers introduced me as Yonatan, the kids couldn’t remember (or absorb) my name and many of them started calling me “abba” (daddy), which was very strange. On the other hand, the teachers explained to me that it is rare for them to have a man in the day care center who is not an “abba,” so I let it slide (hence the “daddy day care” feeling).
- King of the Sandbox — After a while all the children were led out to the playground. One of the staff members asked me to watch over the sandbox and gave me a tiny plastic chair to sit on. I sat down and the kids in the sandbox began happily digging in the sand. After a while I stood up to stretch my legs and little Yonatan, an adorable blonde boy who took a liking to me told me “shev!” (sit). I ignored his command but he pointed to the small chair and repeated it again and again “shev…shev…” so I sat down and he returned to his digging. Another child presented me some sand in a container shaped like a triangle and said “pizza!” I quickly understood that these children had a limited vocabulary at this age, but they were very creative. Of course, I also had to tell the kids not to throw sand on each other, not to fight with each other (this was a common theme of the day, separating fighting kids after one took a toy from another) and help them when they were struggling.
- The Bubble Man — When I finally got one of the staff to take over for me at the sandbox I took a turn at the arts and crafts table where the kids were sticking stickers on paper (and on themselves too). However, the most excitement came when the head of the day care center brought out the bubble blowing containers and I blew bubbles for the kids. They got very excited as I blew the bubbles and they popped them. Then I gave each of them a chance to blow bubbles.
- Busted – After bubble time, I played ball with the kids (there was one child who enjoyed throwing all the balls and toys onto the roof of the center). There were certain kids that kept coming back to me again and again. At one point there were some kids climbing on a table that was set up outside. I got them to sit on the table (which I thought was better than standing on it) and I tested them if they could count to 10 in Hebrew — and they could. The group including a blonde girl with a ponytail, another girl with curly red hair and a pair of Ethopian twin girls in braids. We were having a great time until one of the teachers came over and told the kids, “We don’t sit on tables.” My bad.
- Don’t be “alarmed”! — Of all the days that Good Deeds could fall on, it happened to be a day that the Home Front Command was doing an exercise. At 11 a.m. there was a siren. The teachers told the kids a few minutes beforehand, but it didn’t really register until the siren went off. The teachers calmly ushered the children inside the mamad (shelter) inside the center (which also doubles as another playroom. It was interesting to see ALL the kids and staff in one room at the same time. The big kids were okay, but some of the smaller kids from other groups began to cry (and when one child cries, others follow). Still, the expert staff began singing and the children joined in and were very happy. After a few minutes the head of the center announced that we all got into the shelter within two minutes which was very good. It was a relief for everyone when we went back to our respecitve rooms.
- Yummy! Soon after outdoor playtime, at around noon, the kids came inside to eat in small groups. My division’s Chairperson Tricia also sat down to eat with the kids. I was impressed by how well the kids ate (and Tricia reported that the food was good too).
- Nap Time – After lunch the children went to go lay down in the corner and in a very short while they were all asleep. I was told they take a nap every day for about an hour and a half. Imagine, these children come at 7 a.m. so by 12:30 they are really tired.
- They work hard for the money — During nap time one of the staff members asked if I was from the WIZO headquarters and I replied that I was. Then she asked if I could do anything about raising their salaries. Sadly, I didn’t have an answer to that. If there was one thing I came away with from Good Deeds Day, it is that the staff at the WIZO day care centers work very hard (I don’t know how they do it, it’s very tiring work) and their salary is low. Yet, they love their job and most of all they love the children they take care of.
- Happy kids — One of the main takeaways, besides learning for myself how tiring it is to work at a day care center, is that I saw that the children there are really happy. I also learned that all these adorable cute kids want is love and attention. It explains why they clung to me, always looking for me in the playground, always wanting to sit near me, even though I was a “stranger” who came into their lives for the first (and likely the only) time that morning.
- Kids don’t care — I also realized that kids at this age don’t care if you are a boy or a girl, a man or a woman, if you are tall or short, what religion or race you are — it really doesn’t matter to them. You’re are simply a person who is there to play with them. As adults we lose that childlike quality. We should try to get it back.
I learned so much from my Good Deeds Day at the day care center, and I have a newfound appreciation for all those who work in childcare.
I just don’t think I’ll be opening my own Daddy Day Care any time soon (but if I do I’ll stick with puppets, not learn to play the guitar).