Special requests

Scripps Howard News Service

Every day by 8 a.m. a teacher or child-care provider can receive many special requests. That's the face of child care.

The requests run the gamut of the human enterprise of rearing children and tending families. Sometimes parents will inform the teacher that someone close to the child is ill. In a single morning it is not out of the ordinary to find out that someone has cancer, has died or is facing a nightmare surgery.

Children whose parents report a suffering household member do child care a service because children always behave strangely when there is something wrong at home. A few brief words are enough.

Sometimes families ask us for prayers for an ill or suffering relative, and our teachers make a mental note to pray for the reported ill because that's our special mission at our school.

Sometimes a family arrives and requests that a child be placed on a special diet. This can be temporary or permanent, but the request must be answered immediately. Requests for food substitutions or nutrition watches such as prompting a fussy or reluctant child to eat are routine.

Sometimes a child is working out a problem, a fear or a new routine. He needs a little understanding, some space to make mistakes and work out his anger. Sometimes he needs more discipline and more reminders that behavior counts.

The requests that belong to the art of child care are human requests that come from genuine need. These needs serve the child and his family.

Requests that don't belong to child care are requests that satisfy a false need, a lapse on the part of someone who just didn't do his job, someone who wants to rely on everyone else to make up the difference.

"Fenwick fell out of the car last night and was hurt and he can't play." Here comes Fenwick in a body cast.

"Malcolm was up all night because he was watching scary movies, and all he wants to do is scream." Malcolm is clinging to his mother, carrying a zip-close bag filled with tissues.

"Fordyce has head lice. Can you wash her hair?" Need I say more?

Some requests for extra time and energy are preposterous, and teachers and caregivers are well within their rights to send a child home who is so far off the normal range that care would be a one-on-one.

My favorite will always be the casual parent who asks, "Would you teach my child something special today?" Like what _ nuclear physics? "It will only take five minutes."

It takes five weeks to teach a preschool class their phone numbers, and even that is unsuccessful unless Mom and Dad help.

Most special requests are handled as they are remembered through the day.

But think about it: Thirty child-care requests in an hour. Thirty pickup changes, food memos, illness reports and other special considerations would make an ordinary person run for his life.

But requests are part of child care, and the most important thing is to write them down, get the attention of someone who will be able to understand the request and carry it out, and call in midmorning to remind teachers that you really care.

(Judy Lyden operates a pre-school in Evansville, Ind. Write to her c/o The Evansville Courier, P.O. Box 268, Evansville, IN 47702, or e-mail her at jlyden(at)evansville.net.)