Thanks, Brenda

Daycare is a bitch.

You’ve got to find just the right place to leave your precious child. Can you trust these people? What are they gonna do to my kid when I’m not there? And then you’ve got to pay them. Is it worth going back to work if my check goes to daycare? And will my work schedule line up with their business hours? And what about holidays and sick days and breaks?

The good thing about daycare is that it eventually ends. Junior gets older and reaches the age where he can fend for himself at home alone for a few hours. And then he’s old enough to drive and you never see him again.

At least, that’s what I’ve been told.

It’s different when your child is developmentally disabled. Most daycares don’t advertise “Autistic Children Welcome!” And that bit about junior getting older and fending for himself — forget it.

When Andrew turned 6 we ran out of ways to work out his preschool and our work schedules to our advantage. We needed daycare. We had no clue. The social worker sent us a two-page list of respite providers in our area. I started at the top and started calling.

“I’m sorry, I’m not taking on any new clients.”

“I don’t do that work anymore.”

I got some variation of those two responses over and over until I got near the bottom of page 2 and the Rs.

Rapuano, Brenda.

“Hi, I’m calling about daycare for my six-year-old son. Are you taking on new clients?”

“Yes I am.”

“I should warn you my son is autistic (this was before I learned the proper term is “has autism”).”

“What does that mean?” (This was 1997, before Autism became “hot”).

“Well, he doesn’t speak and doesn’t really play with others. It’s hard to communicate with him. I understand if you’re not interested.”

“No, no. bring him over.”

We scheduled a meeting and it went well and a few days later Andrew became the latest child to attend Brenda’s World. I will never forget the first day I picked Andrew up after work. Brenda was sitting on the floor of her porch looking like she had just survived the invasion of Normandy. My son was wailing away. “Great,” I thought. “I’m going to have to quit my job and stay home with the boy.”

“No, no. It’s fine. The first day is often rough. I’m not giving up,” Brenda said.

And she didn’t. And things got better. And Brenda has been an invaluable part of our son’s life for 17 years. It wasn’t always easy. One year Brenda moved to another part of town. We thought all was well but then some neighbors found out she was operating a daycare out of her home and fears of falling property values led to petitions and a city council meeting to determine if Brenda would be allowed to keep her business running.

Laura put on her best lawyer suit and wrote a speech that began with “Angels walk the earth, let me tell you about one..” and proceeded to tell how Brenda was the only person in St. Charles who would take in our son and, well, I’m told grown men cried (I didn’t go to the meeting; had to watch the boy. And I swore off city council meetings when I stopped being a reporter). At any rate I’m sure glad I wasn’t the realtor who had to follow that.

Brenda got to keep her daycare open.

Time marches on. The kids at Brenda’s World came and went. Andrew came but never went. We watched her own children grow up and move out. We kept waiting for Brenda to kick Andrew out. What daycare keeps a kid into his teen years? His 20s? She never did. She never raised our rates either in 17 years.

Last year Brenda announced that she was retiring. We panicked. The other parents held a meeting and convinced her to keep going, but the writing was on the wall. Two weeks ago it became final. The house was sold, her assistant was moving away, her last day would be August 29.

We panicked. Then we panicked again. Then we panicked some more. What are we going to do now? Most daycares don’t take 23-year-olds. Hell, no daycares take 23-year-olds.

Amazingly, we were able to find someone at Andrew’s day program who will watch him during the awkward times when work/program do not collide. I’m sure he’ll do a good job, but it won’t be the same.

100_2267So thanks, Brenda. You helped us out when you didn’t have to and stuck with us much longer than you needed to and for that we are forever grateful.







3 responses to “Thanks, Brenda

  1. And we call people with developmental disabilities “special.” Brenda is “special.” Sounds like she always was!

  2. Great piece.

  3. The von Trapp family had Maria and the Roy family had Brenda 🙂

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