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Working Mom: For the Sake of the Children
by Jennifer "Emiko" Kuida
Rafu Column March 1, 2006

Maiya at home, 12 months
As a new mom, I’m a little embarrassed to admit this, but I was never really into children and babies. Some women know when they are girls and teenagers that they want to grow up, get married and have kids. Not me. As a young Japanese American girl growing up in the suburbs, and as a budding feminist in the 80s taking Women’s Studies classes in college, I envisioned my life as a single, independent woman making my way in the business world, busting through that glass ceiling.

Many years later, I ditched the corporate law firm that I was working at, married the man of my community dreams, and began working in the non-profit arts world at Great Leap. It wasn’t until my nephew Kieth was born 5 years ago that I began to feel my biological clock ticking, and shortly after when baby fever hit.

When my husband Tony and I decided to have a child relatively late in life, he suggested that one of us stay home for the first two years. I thought, huh? But I have my career and commitments to my volunteer work in the Japanese American community. Could I do it? Then I started getting used to the idea of staying home, pondering on the Japanese phrase, kodomo no tame ni, meaning “for the sake of the children.”

So I started working on a transition plan for Great Leap, and scaling back on my extracurricular activities. And, exactly 13 months ago today, I gave birth to Maiya Grace. At the age of 40, I really loved being a stay-at-home mom, making homemade organic baby food, taking Maiya to swim class at the YMCA twice a week, meeting other mamas and babies in my neighborhood, attempting baby sign language, and embracing a natural family parenting approach. It was an easy adjustment for me.

So it was quite a surprise to friends, family and even myself when I accepted a job in November as Administrative Director for the Child Development program at the Little Tokyo Service Center, a Community Development Corporation (LTSC).

It’s really the perfect situation for my family. I am fortunate to be able to work 3 days a week, with Maiya enrolled at the Grace Iino Child Care Center, which is one of the sites that LTSC operates.

The Grace Iino Child Care Center provides day care for children up to 3 years old. The Center follows a Primary Caregiving approach for its infants and toddlers. This philosophy seeks to give individualized care to infants, creating a strong bond between babies and their caregivers. Babies stay in small groups, with the same caregivers throughout their three years at the Center.

Since I began in this position, I have been struck by what a wonderful service that LTSC’s Child Development program provides to Little Tokyo, and the surrounding downtown community. I have been a friend of LTSC for almost 15 years, but I never knew how comprehensive its programs for low-income children and families was, and how everything works together, from the social services side, to the community development side of LTSC.

Our child development program provide child care and family services to over 250 children each day, 250 days a year, including subcontracts with two additional preschool sites in Koreatown. We are one of the larger programs at LTSC, with close to 50 people staffed in our programs.

Along with the Grace Iino Child Care Center, we also run the Angelina Preschool in Echo Park for 3-5 year olds, which is a State Preschool and Head Start full-day program offering preschool at no cost for low-income families. Through the Head Start program we offer a wide array of social, health, economic, educational, and other support for the families, including a Male Involvement class for daddies to bond with their children.

We also have a Family Literacy program funded by First 5 LA, which provides families with literacy programs 5 days a week, including on-site parent education classes, ESL classes, and computer classes taught by the DISKovery Center. In addition to having access to the Angelina Preschool, there is a component where parents engage in interactive activities with their children in reading, writing and language practice at home and by volunteering at d the preschool.

Finally, we contract with a culturally diverse network of 18 Family Child Care providers who run small home-based child care centers out of their homes or apartments near downtown, including Casa Heiwa and Angelina Apartments (both low-income properties developed and managed by LTSC).

For me, moving into the child care field and joining the staff at LTSC after Maiya’s birth has been a natural move. I am learning new skills as I work with complex financial spreadsheets and administer our various contracts and programs. As a community activist, I am working among people who care about J-town and are continuing the effort to build the Little Tokyo Recreation Center. As a new parent, I am learning about child development from the teachers and caregivers who dedicate their lives for the love of the children, kodomo no tame ni.

Maiya and I have been able to continue our breastfeeding relationship as the Grace Iino Center is on-site—just on the other end of the office. I nurse her before I start work, twice a day during my breaks, and after work before we head home. I can even peek at her through the atrium windows if I want to see her during the day, and getting over there is a short 30-second walk.

And the best part is that I get to see the enthusiasm of immigrant women as they practice speaking in English, and learn ways to engage in their children’s education. I see the smiles on the faces of hard-working mommies and daddies when they reunite with their babies at the end of the day. I see caregivers smile peacefully as a child is falling asleep in their arms. I see infants learning to stand, teeter and walk, as I watch my own child beginning to take her first steps.

So while children weren’t on my life’s radar screen until a few years ago, it is an integral part of my daily life now. I’m happy at how well I’ve been able to integrate my passion for my daughter with my work and community life, kodomo no tame ni.

Jennifer "Emiko" Kuida is the Administrative Director of Child Development at LTSC, a Community Development Corporation. For more info about LTSC’s programs or to support this important work, see http://www.ltsc.org. Opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo. © 2006

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Originally published in The Rafu Shimpo, March 1, 2006
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Updated: 3/2/06