Imagine Mary Poppins — right down to an adorable accent. Only, instead of bribing the little ones with a spoonful of sugar, this childcare development specialist’s method is Cheerios.
She’s known as “the baby whisperer.”
Nicoleen de Klerk started babysitting in high school. In 1999, she hopped a plane from South Africa to New York City, where she was a live-in nanny to a family with four children in Brooklyn, N.Y.
For the next three years, she baked cookies over the Christmas holiday, scheduled appointments and cleaned. She dealt with slammed doors and teenage moments, but she always kept her composure. And then she moved to Sarasota and fell into “baby land” at First United Methodist Early Care Center, where she’s been head over heels for the little ones for the past six years.
“You fall in love with a baby,” de Klerk says. “That first smile when they wake up, they get into your heart — all of them. The best feeling on this Earth is when they wake up and they give you a smile, or they crawl in your lap and slobber all over you. Love in abundance is being given to you without any questions or tags connected to it.”
Although older children will tell you what hurts and when they’re hungry, de Klerk says that with babies, it’s more of an educated guessing game.
“These little ones don’t come with a manual,” de Klerk says. “You have to go through your options quickly. If you don’t figure it out, they start crying louder and louder.”
With the start of the new school year, two of her little ones moved to another room. One baby she thought would have no problem leaving her room started wailing in the next room.
“I went next door and picked him up for just a minute,” de Klerk says. “Then I gave him to a coworker, went into my room and cried my eyes out. After six years, I should be used to it, but he broke my heart. This morning, the mom came in and asked, ‘Can he move back in your room?’”
TRICKS OF THE TRADE
• “Breast milk cures pink eye.”
• “Cornstarch cures diaper rashes.”
• “Those who don’t want to eat veggies — get Gerber and mix it with Cheerios. They’ll pick it up like magic. Little boys even learn to go potty with Cheerios.”