This Mother’s Day, put your kids away
Nathalie Pepito is the picture of a cool babysitter, more Mariah Carey than Mary Poppins.
She wears a sparkly DKNY shirt and no shoes. During naptime, one of the few times the television is turned on at Kids Cabin daycare, children lie on her back or cozy up beside her on yoga mats to watch Toy Story.
As the kids watch TV, Pepito and her employee, Moment Johnson, watch them. The kids have big, clear eyes and ruffles of hair. They make demands on their instructors with quiet resolve and learned grace, as though reciting a top-secret alphabet.
The place is as quiet as a library.
"It’s about setting boundaries," said Pepito, now camped in a small red chair. "Children feel safe when they know what’s going to happen. Even if they don’t have a great home life, we like to think that they’ll at least be cared for here."
Pepito is a mother of two. She has a 17-year-old son at Park City High School and a 14-year-old daughter at Treasure Mountain International School Park City.
She ran a daycare business from her Park City home for several years and opened Kids Cabin, which sits outside Silver Mountain Sports Club, in January. "My kids were relieved," she laughed.
Some of the daycare kids stay all day and other come for just a few hours, while their parents run on the treadmill, lift weights and take yoga classes.
Pepito doesn’t break a sweat. Not during playtime. Not during snacks. Not during arts and crafts. What makes most parents’ ears burn with rage comes out as a pleasant rosiness in Pepito’s cheeks. She runs Kids Cabin with a big sister’s sense of control and a mother’s soft touch.
"In the morning they come in and have free time," she said. "In the afternoon we do snacks and water. Then we color and do arts and crafts."
Kids Cabin is a state-licensed hourly daycare facility. That means that Pepito and her other employees, including Johnson, are certified in CPR and first aid. They are also experts in Q-Tip painting, smearing glitter, playing with ponies, baby dolls, building blocks and pretending to eat food that isn’t there.
"Kids love to cook for you," said Johnson, a child in her lap.
Kids Cabin cares for children ranging from in age from infants to seven-years-old.
Some of the kids have been with Pepito since they were just a few months old.
The mixed demographic lets kids learn from kids, Pepito said.
And she would know. Pepito grew up in a daycare that just happened to be her house. Pepito’s mom, Silvana, ran a daycare business from their family home in Dallas. "I was the one who wanted play with the kids," Pepito said. "They were like little brothers and sisters to me."
Pepito is still a surrogate sibling of sorts, except now she runs her own show. She advises parents to make sure a babysitter is licensed with the state before leaving children in their care. According to state law, daycares should have one certified caregiver for every eight children.
The ratio at Kids Cabin is usually more adult-heavy than the law requires. On Monday afternoon, there were five kids for every adult.
Pepito said it’s important for parents to visit a facility for an interview before leaving kids for long stretches of time.
A pre-drop off interview gives parents peace of mind and helps children adjust to being away from mom and dad. Parents should start their kids on no more than an hour of daycare at a time and increase gradually the amount of time spent in facility care. "It’s rough on the child to all of a sudden be without a parent," Pepito said.
Parents can reduce daycare anxiety by packing a bag of goodies for children during outings. Pepito recommends packing four favorite toys or books. The sense of the familiar can help toddlers relax in a new environment. "Make [daycare] a routine," she said.
Parents should also make sure a facility is clean. "You can tell by the smell," Pepito said.
To maintain a clean and safe environment, Pepito recommends kids play with toys on countertops rather than the floor when possible. They should be asked to clean up one activity before moving onto the next.
Keep toys and trinkets in small boxes and keep toys with small parts out of the reach of children, Pepito said. Put baby-friendly toys in cubbies near the floor and toys with small pieces on higher shelves.
Stick to simple activities such as coloring and painting for arts and crafts.
Q-Tips are a good alternative to paint brushes and fingertips because they are thrown out after being used.
Some kids come to daycare to get socialized. Besides constant supervision, Johnson said one of the advantages of daycare is the abundance of new toys, activities and playmates. "Do new stuff, stuff kids don’t normally get to do," she said.
The key to taking care of a child, Pepito said, is structure. Babysitters and parents who establish boundaries early on avoid screaming cry-fights down the road.
Johnson said if kids get unruly, stop what you’re doing in favor of a different activity. Switching tasks can change a child’s temperament.
"Don’t make it a choice," Johnson said.
Parents don’t need to counter poor behavior with a tantrum of their own. "If kids start throwing a tantrum, let them throw it," Pepito said. "Don’t acknowledge bad behavior."
If a child gets out of control, Pepito assigns a time out that corresponds with the child’s age. A three-year-old gets three minutes, a five-year-old five minutes.
"We’re fixers here," Pepito said. "Sometimes the kids cry when they have to leave."
The Kids Cabin Located inside Silver Mountain Spa, Kimball Junction 1526 Ute Blvd Park City, UT 84098 Phone (435) 647-0022
Silver Mountain Sports Club members pay $5/hr plus $2/hr for each additional child.
Local drop-ins pay $10/hr plus $3/hr for each additional child
Non-locals pay $15/hr plus $3/hr for each additional child
Reservations are required and can be made no more than two days in advance.
Becca Gerber, a first-term member of the Park City Council who is seen as bringing a younger person’s perspective to the Marsac Building, will seek reelection this year.