Patricia Klekamp has had plenty of opportunities to work with children. She’s the executive director for Lutheran High School, after all, with 18 years of experience as an educator and school administrator.
Being single and without kids of her own, she used to wind down from her 12-hour days at the school with quiet evenings alone or with friends.
But that all changed last April. Now, when she finishes working with other people’s kids during the day, she cares for other people’s kids at night.
She’s not moonlighting. She’s just going home, where her niece’s children, ages 2 and 3, now live.
It all started when her niece called in a panic from Fort Hood. She was shipping out to Iraq in a few days; her husband was on notice that he would be sent a week or two later. And their childcare arrangements had just fallen through. Who would take care of Ali and A.J.?
“My niece called and said, ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do,’” Klekamp says. “They knew I have a ton of commitment to my school, and it wouldn’t be easy for me. But when her husband’s folks couldn’t take them, I was the next in line. So I told her to bring them here, and we’ll work it out.”
The children’s first few nights without mom and dad weren’t easy, with both crying repeatedly for their parents. Klekamp probably wasn’t in much better shape. At 46, she suddenly found herself dealing with dirty diapers, an entirely new schedule and a much busier washing machine.
“There aren’t nearly as many evening commitments now,” she says. And her social life? “There’s not much there,” is her understated response.
But in the four months since that fateful call, both kids and great-aunt have settled into their new housing arrangements.
“We’ve pretty much got it down now,” she says. “Having a consistent routine is a big part of it, so things don’t feel out of balance. And they’re really very good-natured kids. I’m amazed, with all the changes they’ve been through, how well adjusted they are.”
As far as Klekamp’s ability to adjust, she says she couldn’t do it without help from family and friends.
“I don’t have any family here,” she says, “but I’ve called my mom a couple of times, asking ‘Did I do this?’ And I also call my neighbor, who’s been a very, very good friend. She raised kids of her own, so I ask her lots of questions, and she gives me advice.”
The biggest thing she has learned from the experience, she says, is how tough parenting is.
“I love kids, and if I were married I’d definitely have children,” she says. “But I would not want the role of single parent. There’s so much responsibility that goes with it, I can’t imagine doing it full term. And I know why God has people have them when they’re younger. I sure don’t have the energy I’d like to have.”
While her new responsibilities are certainly demanding, she says the toughest part is not knowing what’s happening with her niece.
“She’s in a maintenance unit with the 4th Infantry Division, and they move every two weeks,” she says. “She never knows where she’s going next. I’ve talked to her a total of four times since she left.”
Like her niece, Klekamp has no idea how long she’ll have her new duties.
It’s completely open-ended right now, so I don’t think about that,” she says.
Instead, she thinks about why she’s doing it.
“Family is the first motivation,” she says. “It’s your family, and you love them, and they don’t have a choice. So you just do what you have to do.
“And since I’ve never been in the military, at least this is one little thing I can do,” she says. “I can’t imagine being in 115 degrees right now, not having access to the things we take for granted here. It’s pretty powerful, seeing the sacrifice, what people go through in order to protect our freedom. It makes my job seem much easier.”