by Mary Lyle
You are leaving your new baby into the arms of someone else while you go to work. What characteristics, knowledge, and values must that person have for you to trust that you are leaving your bundle of joy in good hands?
Jenarae Bond, a 22 –year-old senior at Western Washington University, has been providing childcare working in the YMCA Infant Care Center for two years. The YMCA that Bond works at is located in downtown Bellingham in an old Victorian style building.
Upon entering the infant room I am greeted by Bond, a petite woman only 5 feet 2 inches tall wearing rolled up jeans and a YMCA hooded sweatshirt with bare feet.
“The babies crawl around on the floor and we want the floor to be as clean as possible,” says Bond. “So you have to take off your shoes.”
The infant room has two parallel walls made up of glass windows. One wall looks out to downtown State St, a busy street with constant passer byers, while the opposite wall looks into the front desk of the YMCA center. The room is crammed with baby gear: six cribs, two high chairs, two rocking chairs, two jumparoos, and two baby hammock swings. Pumpkins and leaves made from cutout colored construction paper stick to the windows and hang from the ceiling.
“Aven is the only girl we currently have in the Infant Center,” Bond says holding a blonde baby in lavender clothes. “So she has lots of boyfriends today.” The baby tugs on Bond’s long brown hair before she sets the baby on the floor with the rest of the babies. As two babies sleep in cribs, Bond herds five babies playing in the middle of the room. They play in a pool filled with big rubber balls, crawl, cuddle each other, and examine little toys scattered around the floor.
With seven babies in the room, there is one other caregiver working with Bond for the required ratio of one caregiver to every four babies in the infant room.
The age of babies in the infant room ranges from newborn to one year old. The other age groups at the YMCA daycare are in different rooms, toddlers being 1-2 and a half years, preschool 3-4 years, and pre-k 4-5 years old.
“Jeremy’s one year birthday is in a month, and then he’ll be moved to the toddler room,” Bond says holding up a clean baby from the changing table. “He’s been one of my favorites; I’m going to miss him so much.”
Almost every 10-15 minutes, Bond is changing one of the baby’s diapers. By rule, every two hours a baby has to have its diaper changed, even if it does not actually need to be changed. “A lot of the moms are environmentalists,” says Bond. “Cloth diapers instead of disposables are pretty popular here.”
Bond said the YMCA specifically provides organic baby food, “which is why a lot of moms choose the Y because they want their babies to have all natural diets.“ Moving a baby into a highchair, she pulls a jar of dark green baby food from the refrigerator with the baby’s name on it. “This baby just switched to jar food (from formula) a couple days ago,” says Bond.
The baby is eating vegetable baby food, which babies are normally started on. If the babies are started on fruit, they will “prefer the sweetness of it,” and not eat the vegetables. Bond spoon-feeds the baby until it’s finished, wiping his mouth and setting him back onto the floor.
Scooping up another baby who is crying on the floor, Bond says to him “Awe, calm down fussy. Your mom should be here any minute to feed you.” Minutes later, a mom walks in wearing a khaki business suit and a diaper bag. Bond and the mom talk about how her baby has been for the day. “I noticed he has a little rash on his chin,” Bond says to the mom. “I think it’s from the kiwi he had. They’re acidic and sometimes trigger rashes.”
The mom examines her baby’s chin and thanks Bond for her insight. She sits in a rocking chair and covers herself and the baby with a breast-feeding blanket and rocks back and forth.
“A lot of the moms only feed their babies breast milk,” says Bond. “A few (mothers) won’t use breast pumps either and only feed (their babies) directly from themselves.” When the baby is crying because it’s hungry, Bond has to call the mother to come in to feed it, or mothers come in on their lunch break.
Bond says it makes her job harder when mothers don’t provide bottles of breast milk or formula for their baby. “If the baby is crying because they’re hungry, I have no way of calming the baby down until the mother gets here to feed them,” Bond said.
Bond says that babies mainly have “their own agenda and are unpredictable”, but can “easily adapt to repetitive things.” Some mothers at the center have requested that Bond not put their baby to sleep in a hammock chair.
If the mother doesn’t use one at home, the baby will “get used to sleeping in the swinging hammock and have a harder time falling asleep without it,” says Bond.
Two women leaving the gym peek into the infant room’s windows and coo at how cute the babies are. Bond takes the baby’s hand and waves at the women through the window, and the baby smiles and laughs. “Personalities really come through at a young age,” says Bond. “Even starting at three months you can get a good idea of the baby’s personality.”
Bond sits on the floor with the babies left playing, constantly rotating which baby she is holding and bouncing them on her lap. She says babies personalities can range from fussy, affectionate, shy, outgoing, and can be just about any other type of personality that older children can have. One baby falls over from hanging onto the side of the pool of balls and starts to cry. Another baby beside it stares intensely at the crying baby.
“A lot of times when one baby laughs or cries, the other ones do too,” she says. “It’s kind of like a chain reaction.” Bond picks up the crying baby and it immediately snaps back into a happy baby.
Bond said working in the infant center is “theraputic in a way.” She loves that interacting with babies at work reminds her of “the simple things in life.” Being around several babies at once for hours at a time has given her what she says is a “well-rounded” outlook on the importance of being a good parent. “A parent and a good parent are completely different,” said Bond.
Most of the parents she has met at the YMCA she considers to be good parents. Having this job hasn’t made her any more or less excited to have children of her own. It has just made her realize “the kind of parenting skills” she will use someday and “the values that go with it.”
The YMCA is a nonprofit Christian organization whose mission is to “put Christian principles into practice through programs that build a healthy spirit, mind, and body,” says Bond. Not just any ordinary college student can get a job as an infant caregiver at the YMCA.
Bond has had years of professional hands-on experience and knowledge in childcare. She has worked at an elementary school for Bond’s stepmother, who is also the principal. Working at the school is where Bond says she found her “strong connection and passion for working with children.”
She has almost obtained her degree in teaching, with plans to be an elementary school teacher with “an emphasis on Montessori teaching.” Bond has her Certification in Bloodbourne Pathogens, Infant CPR, and Adult First Aide. She has spent a whole summer as a camp counselor for the YMCA Day Camp for children of various ages, and been a nanny for children since she was 17 years old.
To say the least, Bond is not your average college student babysitter.