Adelynn Horst, 1 1/2, sat content on Laura Billman’s lap. Quiet and snuggled up against her chest, still groggy after just waking up from her mid-afternoon nap as she watched the other kids play farm.
“I always wanted to be a teacher, I would come home and play — ”
“Look, a cow!” Shouted 2-year-old Owen Mejdrich, running up to Billman and proudly displaying the toy cow before returning back to the floor and running it through the farm doors.
Billman just smiles and nods, attempting to pick up from where she left off in conversation with little avail.
But she’s used to the interruptions. Used to the noise. Used to being a child care provider.
For nearly 30 years — hitting that milestone officially in 2013 — Billman’s focus has been working with children. A fan of playing school and teaching since a young age, she started as an aide in 1983 and worked her way up to director. She was certified by the state of Minnesota as a preschool teacher and assisted in opening a few centers. Eventually, she made the decision to open up her own home in Merrifield to child care in 2004.
“My daughter (Lyla) was born in 2001 and I decided to do home care so I could spend more time with her,” said Billman as Lyla, now 10, comes and kneels next to her mom, drawing the three other children to do the same as though it’s story time again for the day. “She (Lyla) likes the kids and likes to help play with them and she has chores every week, washing and sorting toys.”
“It’s great to have her help out.”
The same warm smile that illuminates her mom’s face when talking about the children she cares for now creeps across Lyla’s face in agreement.
Licensed to care for a total of 14 kids with a helper, Billman rounds up the four that are in her care that Tuesday afternoon — Adelynn, Shayleigh Sanders, 4, and brothers Noah, 5, and Owen, 2, — for outdoor playtime, a typical afternoon activity for Billman and the kids after a variety of daily activities.
“We have a calendar with different themes for each day, week and month,” said Billman as she adjusts Noah’s wrong-footed shoes. “This week we are doing farm, so we have activities that surround that.
“And then everyday we learn the alphabet and how to spell names —”
Prompting “S-H-A-Y-L-E-I-G-H,” from the 4-year-old.
“And Shayleigh was her name-o,” finished Billman. “We do that every morning during circle time.”
Caring for kids as young as 2-months-old up until the age of 12, Billman said she has had kids that she cared for when they were three or four come back with their own children.
“Well it makes me feel old,” Billman said jokingly. “But I’m glad they felt I was capable enough to take care of their children.”
And if that’s not humbling enough, Billman was selected through parent evaluations and finally by a unanimous decision from three anonymous judges as the 2011 Outstanding Crow Wing County Child Care Provider of the Year.
“I have been nominated twice before, but never won,” said Billman, who was relieved they weren’t holding the annual banquet this year and saving her from making a public thank-you speech. “And apparently I was the first winner to have all three judges pick the same person.”
But as Billman pushes Adelynn on the swing next to Lyla and Owen, it’s apparent that the awards mean nothing.
“Five more minutes, Mom,” yells Noah to his mom who is there to pick him up and bring him home, not ready for the day at Billman’s day care to end. Just like Billman’s not ready for her career as a child care provider to end either.
“I will do this for as long as I can and as long as there are children who want to keep coming.”
Billman reminds parents that they can nominate their child care provider for Outstanding Crow Wing County Child Care Provider of the Year by contacting Diane Anderson, Crow Wing County day care licensor.