My daughter settled in very well, seemed to thrive on the second set of toys and enjoyed being spoilt by the surrogate granny (childminder's mother) who popped in regularly with treats for her. I was delighted - there are so many horror stories about childminders in this area - women who do the work to cash in on the cross border workers such as myself, and not because they like children. There is one in the village who openly smokes round her mindees, or leaves her teenagers in charge for hours on end. Another takes her mindees for long, very long walks - miles - from the moment they can toddle they are out of the pram and dragged along. Her goal being that once home they will sleep the rest of the day and leave her in peace.
Mine appeared to be very good. I felt lucky. Then in June, I let her know that from January I would be looking after my daughters for six months on my own, before finding a place in a crèche for when I go back to work. Paying her for looking after two children would be more than my salary. I figured I was doing her a favour by giving her six months' warning, as opposed to the obligatory one month. My intention was to keep my daughter with the minder until the end of December, and we had also agreed she would spend the night with the minder the night before my C Section, to allow my husband to be present for what is usually early morning surgery. That's how much I trusted her just two months ago.
And suddenly it all started to go wrong. She became sloppy. I would arrive in the afternoon to find the house in semi darkness and the children playing in silence, as her husband was taking a nap on the sofa in the play area. I would hear that my daughter had been shouted at for making too much noise while her husband was on the (cordless) phone. I'm not demanding at all, but I don't want her using a pacifier when she is not trying to sleep - it's my one request. But every time I arrived early she was sucking away on her pacifier which hadbeen given to her to shut her up. She's chatty you see. Don't know where she gets that from.
Then came the snide remarks about my parenting. I was putting her in unsuitable clothes, I let her get away with too much, I never say no, I don't know anything about nutrition etc etc etc. All unfair remarks, at least one a day. Then the remarks were turned against my daughter. She's so naughty, she's so noisy, she's sly, she's fat, she's a bully, she's clingy, she eats too much, she eats too little. Yeah, she's also a baby. I started to get upset, and would rant every day when my husband got home. But my daughter seemed to be happy, I had no other childcare option and by this time I was signed off sick with sciatica. The two hours I had sole charge in the early evening was hard enough. I couldn't cope with no help during the day.
Until the week before last, the straw broke the camel's back. At a BBQ with friends their teenage kids were teasing each other. My daughter dropped
Alarm bells went off, and I felt cold. Shuddery, clammy cold. We got the kid to test with other replacement words - no reaction. Tried again with the same word, claque. And my daughter was frightened. There is nowhere other than at the childminder's she would have (a) heard the word and (b) understood what it meant, or, at the very least, understood she didn't want one.
We had one week before the childminders's holiday and our house move. I used the time to fast forward the move organisation, and picked my daughter up earlier and earlier each afternoon. I was unable to relax during the day, unsure of what was happening, but without any proof. On the Thursday my daughter came home hungry. Her food was untouched. Running down the fridge before the move I had put some ravioli in a tupperware for her lunch, along with the usual fruit, yoghurt, green beans and piece of cheese. Apparently she hadn't liked the ravioli, so as a punishment had been sent to bed for the afternoon hungry.
Firstly, I don't use food as a punishment. Girls as they get older can develop complex relationships with food - I need her to see her food as something to be enjoyed. I don't force her to eat things she doesn't like, and don't do the you won't get any pudding if you don't eat your peas routine. Within reason.
Secondly, there is no way I would send a baby to bed hungry. There is no way I would allow a child in my care to eat nothing from 8am until she leaves at 5pm. Nothing.
At the door the childminder had said, she wouldn't eat her ravioli, she was punished. She didn't say what the punishment was. I bit my tonigue and added it to my mental list. When I got home and realised her lunch box was full I sent her a text message to ask why nothing had been eaten. I was told that she hadn't wanted anything. Knowing my daughter as well as I do, I know this was a lie.
And that was it. I spent the evening with my husband going through our experiences with this woman - comparing notes so to speak. I spoke to people who know her, and dug out little things which should have set alarm bells off earlier - she was always thirsty when she got in, on Facebook pictures the childminder put online she was never smiling. All sorts of little things which, as a one off, could be explained away.
And I have spent the last ten days, since we made the decision that she should never ever go back there - however much pain I am in, however hard it is to manage, feeling sick to my stomach with guilt at having let her stay there too long. I know, logically, she'll probably already have forgotten all about it. She's a great kid, a lot of fun, and seems fine. I don't think she has been hurt in any way - she may have been threatened with slaps, but I have no evidence of her ever being slapped. But when I told her that there would be no more Tata, that Tata was finished, she certainly didn't complain.
I am looking through plan Bs now. Nothing full time - I have to pay the childminder for a couple of months notice. But for one or two days a week I will try and find a place in a crèche. It will be good for her, fun to meet other children, and will take her mind of the upheaval of the coming months.
I don't know how long it will be before I stop beating myself up about having left it so long though. Maternal guilt sucks. When you feel you are doing your best for your child, and you then realise you have made a mistake there is so much mileage for self torture. It sucks. And all you can do is learn from it, and move on.
And I realise this is only the beginning. As they get bigger, their problems get bigger. Masses of scope for guilt of all kinds.