Soon after the birth of my first grandchild,Tayler, my daughter Katie searched for childcare for her newborn baby as she was about to return to her job. She searched and interviewed several people and places and seemed to find something lacking in every person and place. This was a brand new mom looking for someone to take care of her brand new baby.
On the day she found the right person, Kathy Vermitsky, Katie phoned and excitedly asked if I would come right away to meet Kathy, who ran an in-home daycare.
“She’s perfect! You’re going to love her! She reminds me of you!” Katie gushed. While I took that as flattery, I reminded Katie that this was her decision and not ours.
“I’m already going to sign up with her–I just want you to meet her and she wants to meet you.” And so I did. That very day was the serendipity of God’s blessed plan.
Kathy and her family were very active in our church. She was a Eucharistic minister, her husband John helped run the St. Vincent DePaul society, her son was the altar server at Katie’s wedding, and Kathy’s uncle was the founding pastor of our parish, St. Jude’s.
When I met Kathy I did find her to be much like me, plain spoken and forthright. I liked that. We both had little tolerance for conversational tap dance. At this first meeting it was obvious that she ran a “tight ship.”
Granddaughter Tayler began daycare with Kathy the following week. Over the next 15 years Kathy and I also built a friendship that was based on more than the fact that she was the daycare provider for my grandchildren. She and I shared a mutual philosophy on child rearing: “love ’em and feed ’em and leave ’em alone, but give them structure and rules.”
When my infant grandson suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury, and required therapy and early intervention, I took a leave from my job. My daughter Chris found herself a single mom with a baby with special needs . . . so I stepped in so she could continue to work.
As I began to get my grandson’s therapies in place, Kathy insisted she take him in her care.“You need to go back to your job, and this is my job.”
Kathy took his therapist visits into her home and worked them into her daily routine with the other children in her care. While most children aged out of Kathy’s daycare, she kept my grandson in her care for the next 13 years, arranging with his school bus to pick up and drop off at her home. She was essential in his progress and development.
Kathy mothered and nurtured every child who came into her care, even if she didn’t have immediate affection for the parent. When it was time to leave daycare and attend school, every child was fully prepared for kindergarten. They could read, write and recite the alphabet, print their name and recite their address and phone number. They were accustomed to structure and routine mixed with play and down time and afternoon hugs after nap time. The children had a singular love and respect for Kathy that was unique . . . different from their own Mommy, but not very different.
Kathy celebrated with us: birthday parties, christenings, communions, proms and graduations. She simply meshed in. Upon her arrival the kids would excitedly chant, “Kathy’s here, Kathy’s here!” Soon they would jockey for turns to sit on her lap or nestle under her arm. Although these events were supposed to be her day off, she would simply wave it off. “It’s fine,” she’d say and take another kid to her lap.
Kathy was a Mom’s Mom. She ran a tight ship from the comfort and security of a home where toy boxes and miniature toy kitchens lined the walls of her living room. Her back yard was peppered with trikes, bikes and wagons. Every child who passed through her loving and capable arms understood what was expected and what was accepted.
She not only mothered the children in her care, she mothered the Moms. It was more than her job. It was her vocation. When one of the young Moms would complain about some disagreement with Kathy, I reminded them, “She takes care of your children while you go to work. Do you know someone who can do it better?” And that would be the end of it. Kathy made our life easier.
Kathy’s sudden death, three years ago this September, left a sudden vacuum that can never be filled. When she died, it was the first death and loss of a loved one that my older grandchildren actually grieved. At her funeral mass, the church of St. Jude was packed with folks she touched in her years of service to the young people she shepherded.
They are the legacy of Kathy’s unconditional love and extraordinary mothering.
Joanne Costantino is a Philly girl and “cafteteria Catholic” laywoman living in the wild suburbs of South Jersey, where she still pines for city life. She graduated from college in 2008, two weeks shy of the birth of her 4th grandchild. The “accidental matriarch” of a life she didn’t sign up for, chronicles that life at http://www.weneedmoresundaydinners.blogspot.com.