We have a lovely group of children this year, ranging from one and a half to nine and a half years old, with more school age kids in the mix this year, as their public schooling is fully remote, their families need child care, and the children need a place to be themselves with other children and away from home.

While we’ve had a solid return to being together since we reopened in July, and welcomed the last of our old friends back in September, we are aware we are living in historic times. While doing things we never imagined doing, like wearing masks all day, being outside for all our meals and much of the day, and keeping some distance, even outside when we are eating and unmasked, we are mostly happy.

The children in our care come from families able to pay the private tuition that allows us to purchase air purifiers, fancy lunch and breakfast boxes, to install a warm water faucet on the back of the house, and outlets on the porch and side yard, to invest in lighting and other equipment to make the outdoors as livable as possible as long as possible into the cooler and darker days.

We’ve got families who can purchase serious outdoor gear, from waterproof insulated boots, to heavy duty snow and rain gear, and teachers who are committed to working in new ways so we can continue to remain open as long as possible through the pandemic.

We are also mostly white, with a few brown skinned members of our community, mostly middle and upper middle class, mostly two parent families, many with some family nearby for support, with relatively stable homes, most with stable jobs, many who can work from home.

In spite of all the ways our children and community are privileged and protected, there is still a whole lot for all of us to process, from the pandemic, to the movement for racial justice, to the political difficulties our country and world are immersed in, all within our adult concerns, and many on the minds of our young children.

Besides the larger world dynamics in which we are living, each individual and family and our small community are living through the changes and challenges of our lives. We have had many new babies arrive in the last two years. Pregnancy and child birth are changes that are taken in by children and families in all kinds of ways. In our community, we have families who have lost babies at birth, and others who have struggled with fertility, and so the legacy of those losses must be present even as we celebrate the arrival of new babies in our community.

Other families have health issues that bring higher risks with the pandemic. Many of us are missing connections with our family and friends and co-workers and the routines of regular life which have been altered so dramatically since March. Some of us know people who have gotten the virus, and even some who have died.

The children are aware of all of this, in their ways.

One day a three said to her friends and me, as we were walking to the park, Maria, I don’t want to die. The other children said they did not want to die, either. The three suggested that perhaps all the friends who did not want to die could hold hands and die together.

While young children often contemplate death and it’s meaning, I can’t help wondering if the Corona virus and the way it has impacted us all, has brought this concern closer to home for our youngest.

Today a nine told of her mother getting a Covid test because of having a runny nose. Many in our community have been tested and taken their children to be tested for similar symptoms, which in the past would have been inconsequential. The same child shared later that she had a friend who had tested positive, along with her mother. When I asked how they were quarantining, this raised many questions for the child. How would her friend quarantine in her room if she was only nine? How would her friend’s family keep separate, if two of them had the virus, and two didn’t? How would this child’s family cope if someone in her family had the virus?

The child thought of details, like how to use the bathroom, how to access the kitchen and the television if the bedrooms were upstairs and the living areas were downstairs, how to sleep if the bedrooms were all on the same floor.

While younger children aren’t as likely to consider things in such detail, they are aware of how careful we are all being to keep one another safe.

Today a young three was spitting on a mirror in the day care. I asked him to stop and had him clean it up with a paper towel, after I sprayed it with disinfectant. Shortly after a young four softly let me know she had also spit in the house, though it had been in the kitchen. I thanked her for telling me, and let her know it was best not to spit in the house, but that spitting once alone in the kitchen wasn’t likely to be too dangerous.

When children forget to wear their masks, they catch themselves and one another. Last week a five came to day care. When it was time to come into the yard, he held his hand over his mouth and exclaimed, Oh, no!!

It turned out he had forgotten to wear his mask from the car to the gate, and had left it in the car. We found him a spare in his pack, he put it on, and went about his business. Still, the intensity with which the children feel their responsibility for wearing masks was palpable.

Other times the children notice when an unmasked child is inching too close to another at meal times, and remind them to move away.

Recently, after watching a visual demonstration of the spread of the virus in indoor environments, which highlighted the risks of talking for long periods of time, of singing, of shouting or talking loudly, of laughing. I was suddenly hyper-aware of how often the children were laughing hysterically, or shouting at the tables during meal times. I asked the kids often to speak in regular voices, to laugh a bit more softly. Then one day at the park, when the children were using loud voices, one of them told Izzy Maria doesn’t like them to talk loudly, and Izzy told me. I was reminded again of how much and how easily our anxiety travels, and have been careful since to check my own worries, while also enforcing reasonable boundaries.

Part of being outdoors more, of playing with sticks, of running and playing active games for much of the day, of having a large group of preschool and kindergarten children in the mix, has been play fighting and working on the ideas of good guys and bad guys.

Sometimes a child loses track of things, and shifts from play fighting and chasing to grabbing another child’s clothes, to knocking someone down, to pushing or shoving, to whacking someone intentionally or unintentionally with a shovel or rake. Sometimes one child ends up to be the sole “bad guy” in the game with all the other children running from that child. Other times a child is left out because they aren’t allowed or invited to play a role that works for them. Sometimes a younger child struggles to play with a group of older ones, and sometimes a group of older ones excludes or wishes a younger one would not play.

All of these ways of playing are patterns I’ve seen in the 32 years I’ve been caring for young children in group settings. Sometimes, as has happened this year, these dynamics/games have resulted in children getting hurt, misunderstood, left out, stygmatized, confused, afraid, and unsure.

As I was sorting out the most recent games of good guys and bad guys, chasing, pulling, stygmatizing, and mulling it over this weekend, after a productive group meeting with the children at the park on Friday and conversations with our staff, I was reflecting on how much tension and change our children are experiencing.

No wonder, I thought, that these children are practicing play fighting in a time of so much uncertainty. No wonder the tension around them and inside them and the space in the out of doors to play physically has lead to an interest in physical interactions like chasing, wrestling, and even some aggression.

As we talked on Friday with the children, it felt important to clarify some of the common patterns children wrestle with as they sort out play fighting and real fighting. We reminded ourselves not to pull on one another’s clothing or bodies, to tell one another when something one of us is doing doesn’t feel good, to get help from others, and eventually caregivers, if the first attempt with the one the child is struggling with isn’t effective.

We talked about saying stop! or I don’t like that! We talked about not running if one doesn’t want to be chased, about listening to one another when a game gets too physical or scary.

We also talked about good guys and bad guys and how we might feel about taking on those roles, about the fact that people are not good or bad, but sometimes do things they shouldn’t and sometimes do things they should.

One child talked about doing the wrong thing at home and how his mother corrected him and we all recalled times we had done something we shouldn’t have and talked about how our parents are helping us to learn to do the right thing.

We talked about how if a person plays a bad guy sometimes, they are not a bad guy, and might choose not to play a bad guy another time. We talked about how a child who pretends to be scary or bad isn’t is also loving and gentle and caring in real life.

One child told us about a time a thief took his mother’s wallet and the police didn’t catch the thief. We imagined how this might have felt scary to the child and the mommy. While the child assured us his mommy had gotten a new wallet, we could tell he still felt frightened and confused by his experience.

All this is to say, we are caring for young children in extraordinary times. Its a wonder we aren’t having more challenges with behavior and strong emotions.

I credit part of that to the loveliness of the personalities in the group and in the larger community, as well as to things like being outdoors, being allowed to play together and to take initiative, to find power in healthy ways, like making choices, building and making things, using tools, helping, and looking after one another. Rest time and healthy meals and beautiful materials and important conversations also help.

Please let us all remember the preciousness of each of our little ones. That we have the privileges of knowing one another well and over many years, of being together in as natural a way as possible, in spite of Corona Virus Times, is a tremendous gift. We must treat our children gently, love them and support them, and learn from them as they grow and live within the world that is all around them, full of turbulence and trouble, and also the beauty, kindness, and wonder.

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This evening I’m feeling sensitive. It’s begun to get dark earlier. This morning in the sun, I was warm on the porch in my long sleeve t and skirt. When I went out for a walk to the bank, it was cooler than I thought. Later in the day, I left for Davis Square with a new fleece, and removed it half way there. I feel the seasons shifting moment by moment, week by week.

My daughter is in Ohio, living the college life. On a bike ride from Oberlin to Lake Erie with new friends, she found herself surrounded by Trump signs, some fifty to a yard. Meanwhile, on campus, the students and staff discuss race and white supremacy with an urgency that heightens experiences like making new friends and playing sports.

Her room here remains in disarray, sheets and blankets tangled on the bed, art supplies strewn across the rug. I vacuumed it once, and lay her mail on her desk by the window when it comes.

We text and have talked a couple of times. Little by little, I’m seeing images of her new life there, and building images of my new life here.

Eleven years after her father moved out, and the kids began living with him half time, the summer my daughter barely lived at home, a new beau moved in. After years of being the one to care for the house, with help from three different partners who lived elsewhere, and my kids, I’ve got a partner to share home, meals, finances, care for the house, daily living, and an image of the future. The good and bad of living full time with a partner again has reached my doors.

More than I expected when JT moved in as the Corona Virus struck, I sometimes find sharing home overwhelming. More than in other times, it’s a full time thing. We are both home all the time! JT works from home and I work downstairs in the day care. He brings me lattes after lunch, first iced, and this week, for the first time, hot. We make and share dinner, watch television, talk about books and family and friends, have the kids for dinner every week or two, first my daughter and son and his partner, then when my daughter left, my son and his spouse and her sister, soon the son and daughter in law again, as her sister returns to Florida next week.

Every so often we socialize with other people, sometimes with friends of his in person or online, sometimes the with Somerville Worship Group over Zoom, sometimes with the housemates in Ashfield for brief interactions as they arrive and we leave, as there are no more shared weekends in the country. A couple of times we’ve seen my sister and my mom, and a couple of times we’ve talked to his sister over Zoom. Otherwise, much of our time together is just us two, here in the now empty nest, figuring out how to be a couple in Corona Virus Times.

We take walks and talk. We sort out chores and expenses and have begun to put money in a shared money market to cover the ongoing expenses of maintaining the home, our home.

We are learning to be together and apart, to be angry and regroup, to maintain our individuality and to build up common ground, to find shared interests, to go on some small adventures, and to settle in at home, sometimes in our own spaces and sometimes right up close.

Sometimes it feels quite natural. Other times, I realize how much change we’ve been through in a short time. We met just over a year ago. JT moved in March, when quarantining began. Six months into our relationship, it was share one space or figure out the boundaries of going back and forth between my place with my daughter back from boarding school and his housemates going out to work and to be with a partner. By May he gave up his lease. In June my daughter moved to Western Mass, then in July to her dad’s, only to return to my house the week before she left in August.

Six weeks have passed since I helped my daughter set up her single room in Ohio and headed home, stopping on the way there and back to visit my mom, to stare out from her front porch to the field across the road, to look up at the bright stars and moon in the country dark sky, to soak in the sights and smells and sounds and sense of my childhood home.

Since the day care reopened in July, I’ve spent most of my days outdoors, much of it on the day care porch and in the yard, places I’ve spent a lot less time in the past. It’s as if I’ve moved out a bit, too, figuring out how to care for children in the out of doors, how to keep a tiny yard interesting enough for ten little people and two adults each day, how to bring things in and take them out again according to the weather, how to share space again after nearly four months of near solitude during the day care shutdown from mid-March to early July.

As the weather cools down, there is more to figure out. The anticipation of more loss of connection is with me as I imagine outdoor socializing will become more difficult. The yard and porch will become less hospitable, and sharing space indoors without fans and open windows feels uncertain. Shared holidays and other fall and winter traditions feel iffy.

I thought today of the missed chance to see my daughter before Thanksgiving, as she has no breaks and traveling to see her on a plane isn’t wise or feasible given my work obligations. I wonder when I’ll see my oldest child again, living his life in Brooklyn, in a new place with friends, working from home, applying to grad school. Will he come home for the holidays? Will I be ready to make a trip to NY any time soon? Will we be ready to visit our favorite museums? Will I meet his friends?

What I find is that I’m tired. My back has been giving me trouble. My days are long. I’m working five days and parts of many evenings and weekends and still finding it hard to keep up. After work I want to lie down and rest. Weekends I need to do all the catching up, the laundry, the shopping and errands, the time with my kids and sweetheart, the trips to Western Mass, and soon one to Maine, the knitting together of a shared life, the re-visioning of home with no children living here, the alone time I get so little of during the week, the socializing when we can, sometimes on my own, sometimes with JT.

We are all working this out as we go, how to live a good life in Corona Virus Times, to find joy and meaning, to understand and be part of the larger world, even when it’s hard.

Today I feel sad. Maybe it’s Trump and all those around him with Corona Virus. Maybe it’s the adjustment to new ways of living. Maybe it’s missing my daughter, or my son, or wanting living with my beau to be more seamless. Maybe its my back, or work, and the conflicts that peppered the week between parents and among the children. We are living in a soup of tension.

The young ones have begun remote school. Three kindergartners are with us on Fridays. This week I asked them how kindergarten was going so far. Great! said one. The kids are getting to know me!

Then she shifted, and let us know she hadn’t made a friend yet. The other two said they had. I wondered how they had made friends on the Zoom screen. Turns out they hadn’t. One met his friend when they crossed paths at school, picking up their kindergarten backpacks and supplies. The other had met up with a classmate at a park. This is the world we are living in, with five year olds learning how to do what is most important to many of them about school, make a friend, while dealing with the realities of Zoom school. No wonder they were cranky with each other, with the older sibling and the younger friend. No wonder the parents tension is spilling over onto the sidewalk out front.

All of this takes energy and an endless reserve of optimism in the face of gloom and doom. Finally this week, after weeks of being too worn out to drum, I returned to the Stone of Hope. Drumming was wonderful, as usual. My back pain subsided while we drummed and talked and sang. Before we left, our teacher reminded us to ground ourselves in gratitude, to be stewards of what we are given, in order to move from that place into the hard work of joining the larger world, of facing suffering and pain.

I am grateful for a whole lot, for a partner who loves and cares for me, for three fine children with whom I am building adult relationships, for work I love, for dedicated, smart, and loving caregivers, and wonderful children to share my days, for family and friends who sustain me from nearby and far away, for my shared homes in the city and the country, for good medical care to help me sort out pain I’ve been living with too long, for financial security in insecure times, for sunshine and warm breezes and big and little people who love the out of doors and remind me how to revel in it, for books and movies and shows and music to carry me away, for good food and three square meals a day, and for clothes that make me happy and keep me comfortable all year round, and for a faith community that has become another home, even if for now, the home is partly over the internet and partly in person in a park.

Wish me the best in staying grounded in gratitude, in learning to be a good steward and good partner, in finding ways to remain connected to my children, friends, and family in Corona Virus Times, and in keeping all the emotions close enough to understand them, and fluid enough I don’t get stuck in the fear and worry that surrounds us all these days.

I wish all of you the best as well. While I know there aren’t as many readers here as there were at one time, and that I write much less than I once did, I’ve found solace here a long, long time, and hope what I write can sometimes resonate when a reader needs a shared connection or a story or a window into another life. Bonne Soiree!

This evening I’m on the front porch, watching the sun go down. My baby is out “making the most of her last day at home,” with a friend, doing their thing. That has been her summer, “making the most of her last summer before college,” out and about with a friend or two or more, doing her thing.

Mine has been here at home, with trips to Western Mass to break up the city living. I’ve been reopening the day care in “Corona Virus Times,” the term the young ones use to describe the altered universe we’ve entered. Like my daughter, we’ve been making the most of our summer, living outside as much as we can, picking berries and tomatoes as they ripen, just today tasting the fennel gone to seed and the mint gone to flowers.

The Subaru is beside me, down below the porch in the gravel drive, loaded with a new roof rack and the old Yakima carrier, stuffed to the gills with my daughter’s belongings. If she returns early from Ohio, there will be shenanigans to get the gear back home, never mind the gal.

She’s a comfort kid, surrounding herself with beloved objects, wrapped always in style. The car is full of thrift store and Depop finds, things she’s collected at antique marts, yard sales, gathered from friends and family and the ever giving curb. Some came from my closet, from our home, some from her dad’s. She’s packed lots of artful choices, postcards from Museums around the world, treasures from childhood through young adulthood, as well as a few purely functional things, the electric kettle, kleenex, ibuprofen, and thermometer one needs for college in Corona Virus Times.

Across town my middle kid is newly married, justice of the peace affair last weekend, 8 person dinner celebration on the back porch Wednesday evening, big wedding and reception planned, postponed, and hoped to happen down the road, when family from far away can join.

The oldest has just moved to Brooklyn. At last he is one of the young adults in Hiptown, after two years on the Upper East Side and one in Harlem. He’s making his home with frisbee friends, working remotely for the foreseeable future, living his version of Corona Virus Times.

My guy is upstairs, having a quiet evening after a full day.

This is my time to feel my feelings, which I learn daily from day care kids, is not negotiable. There’s no need to push them aside or pretend they are something else.

It’s a lot for a mom to take in, the marriage of one kid one weekend, taking the youngest to college far from home the next. Only two weekends ago we finally celebrated her high school graduation. Finding her way through four schools in four towns over 14 years, my kid got herself ready for college, at Oberlin. We are all proud.

My baby’s 19. She’s ready. I’m ready. She’s one of the lucky ones who has the option to live in a dorm and take in person classes, even if there are plenty of ways the experience will be weird.

Still, last night I couldn’t sleep. As I lay awake past midnight, I remembered my first year at Cornell, at 17, missing home at first, home for Fall Break, welcoming my family for Parents’ weekend, settling in, then taking a job in another state for summer. My gal won’t be home until Thanksgiving, assuming things go as planned. We have no idea where things will go from there.

This morning when I woke early, I remembered taking my first born to college at 17, his younger sister and brother along for the ride and to help with moving in, my gal at 11 looking out the window and crying in the back of the minivan as we left her brother there. We returned for Parents Weekend to see where our guy lived and breathed while we were apart, took some lovely photos, and headed home, all in one day.

My Facebook background marks that day, the beginning of the shift to adulthood for my kids. Three kids all under my roof shifted to two that fall, then one two years later when the middle kid left for Emerson, then mostly over the last three years as my gal has been in boarding school, home only on some weekends and vacations, and not living her much since school got out. Soon there will be none at all.

A mama grows up, too. I’ve been a single mom eleven years. My baby was eight, her brothers 12 and 14, when we started living apart part time, when their dad and I split up. I don’t know if the shifting back and forth from dad’s to mom’s, then from boarding school to dad’s to mom’s, ever got easier, though I did get used to it. Now I think I’m ready for my gal to be in her single room at Oberlin, to have just one place each semester to lay her head, to store her clothes and display her treasures, to keep house. I think she’s ready, too. I’ll miss her, but we’re ready.

My oldest felt a lot of relief in that transition to making his own space. He still does well making his own life and routine. My daughter will, too, while the middle kid is making a wonderful home with his spouse, and now her younger sister.

I haven’t thought much beyond dropping my gal off in Ohio and heading home. We’ll be on the road in the am, probably early, since the car is mostly packed, maybe later, if my gal’s last day in Boston goes late into the night. We’ll drive together, listen to music on the unreliable Bluetooth, enjoy our Mama and Me playlist for one more long drive, stop at my mom’s for the night, and continue on to Ohio the following morning.

There will be testing and quarantining. There won’t be help unloading the overstuffed car into the empty room. There will be no gathering for the President’s send off and dinner, like there was when my first went off to college. Instead, I’ll help my gal move into her room after she gets tested. Then she’ll begin her quarantine, and I’ll get back on the road to my mom’s, where I’ll spend the evening, then head home again on Monday.

I expect I’ll need the long drive home to put myself together. I cry well to music on the open road, feel my feelings in important ways behind the wheel. I don’t know what my daughter will be feeling. Lots of things, I imagine, though I don’t expect I’ll hear much about them. 19 turns out to be a very independent age for my gal.

Wish us luck in Corona Virus Times. May her room be artful. May her outfits be fabulous. May she love Oberlin and make close friends. May she remember home. May she return in happiness at Thanksgiving, even if just for dinner, as she has warned. May I learn to be a mama of an even quieter house, to love my children consistently and well, from near or far. May I also spread my wings. May I be open to what comes.

The sun has set. The moon has shifted. The bats have moved on. The crickets are settling and singing. None of us are alone. Few of us stay still.

Turns out day care at WFDC in “Corona Virus Times” is pretty great. This is our fourth week of care, and so far, we’ve heard things from the kids who have come back like: Week one: I missed you SO MUCH!, Week Two: It’s only day two of our two weeks back and it’s already Perfect!, Week Three: It’s almost like Covid-19 doesn’t exist!

All this comes with masks, daily health screenings, extra hand washing, hand sanitizer, saying good-bye and hello to families at the gate, sitting further apart at meals, giving our friends space, and learning to interact with some care when we encounter folks outside our group in the community.

It also comes with being outside all morning and much of the afternoon, eating all our meals and snacks in the yard, a doll house and building toys and puzzles and painting easels outside, a lot of ripe mulberries, raspberries, and now cherry tomatoes to eat from the garden, mixed ages, and visits with old friends who haven’t been here for a long time, an extra room inside for older kids during rest time, a new swing and trapeze, trucks in the sand box, bubbles and art kits and yumboxes and breakfast boxes and “travel cups” for each kid, well-packed backpacks and water bottles from home that stay in the yard during the day and travel to the park with us, mask bags for storing masks when we are eating, resting, or playing in water, hardly any transitions or clean up, so much fresh air and time in nature with the plants, birds, bugs, butterflies, squirrels, chipmunks, worms, and other folks in the neighborhood parks we frequent.

As kids have been returning this summer and it’s become clear that many schools will not be in person full time this fall, we’ve also been talking with families about care for their school age children, some who have been with us as home schoolers, some who have been with us as after school friends, some who hoped to be when they went off to kindergarten, and some who have been with us this summer and whose parents can imagine our program being a good place for them to spend some time when they are not in school this coming year.

Kids and families wonder what things will look like over time. Izzy and I have been wondering, too. We love being outdoors and packing meals ahead. We’ve enjoyed the mix of ages and look forward to welcoming a new three year old this week. For years I’ve imagined a Forest Kindergarten type program. Before that I imagined an alternative to school for school age kids. Combining those two dreams feels promising this year.

A week or so ago my former family day care colleague and good friend Macky sent me an article from the New York Times https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/17/nyregion/coronavirus-nyc-schools-reopening-outdoors.html exploring the idea of outdoor schools or indoor schools with open windows to take up the challenge of how to have school during the pandemic. During the Spanish Flu Epidemic many such programs were created and kids and teachers stayed healthy. Kids wore warm woolen clothing and kept warm in cozy sacks on cots. The images weren’t exactly what I imagine, as we don’t intend to run a program with kids in rows learning to read and write and do math with us. But the idea of staying healthy by being outdoors and allowing fresh air to circulate inside even when it’s cold feels intriguing.

Before reopening, my friend Sue Randall and I imagined leaving our windows open when it gets cold and we need to be inside part of the day, and having everyone dress warmly, as well as being outside as much as we could. That feels possible, though in the coldest winter months we might find it too much.

We will have fans, and open doors and windows as much as we can, spend much of our days outside year round, spread out at meals and other times, have five inside rooms, a covered porch, a fenced yard, and local parks for our ten kids (maybe fewer some days, to give Izzy and I a less than exhausting schedule). We’ve been using masks and all our kids three and up are able to manage them, and our twos are learning. We wash hands a lot, and use hand sanitizer before and after park time. We clean the bathroom regularly and leave the fans on continuously. We sanitize surfaces and have individual breakfast and lunch boxes and cups we sanitize in the dishwasher after each use. It feels like we are going to be able to do this as safely as anyone can.

What would it look like to have a group of kids from an older toddler through age nine? How would the children spend their days? Recently someone asked me how we keep children of such a wide age range busy.

That is not our problem! The kids are as busy and as happy as can be. We offer materials that suit a wide range of ages, and kids make up games, read and listen to and tell stories, draw, write, think about fairness and caring, look after one another and our space, have interesting questions and observations and conversations with one another and with Izzy and me, find ways to be cozy, engaged, and active when they need to be. There are so many materials we don’t even have out, should a child be interested in using them, including a ton of legos and other building materials, circuit sets, books and tapes and music for kids of all ages, art materials, games and puzzles, science and math materials.

At WFDC and at the Sudbury Valley School where my kids attended and I worked, kids of all ages shape their days. I trust kids would do that here if we had more older kids in the mix throughout the days and weeks. It would be nice if we had more than one older child at a time, though we’ve had home schooled children for years who were out of the age range of the younger kids by a few to several years who knew what they were getting into and were quite happy.

I’m holding out hope that we can make it work. Cambridge and Somerville will announce their plans for public school in the coming weeks. We will learn over time what changes might occur in the infection rates in our area, and we’ll adapt like the rest of our community. I’m excited about the possibility of providing safe and welcoming space to our kids of all ages who want to be here, and whose families feel this is an option that works for them. I won’t be teaching lessons. I will be having conversations, helping kids find materials and space to do what they want to do, serving healthy meals and snacks, spending as much time as we can outdoors, and learning along with children and families how to maintain connection and community, and to learn and grow into our best selves during “Coronavirus Times”, as our young folks like to say.

It feels hard to express my own outrage right now when so much is happening in the larger world around inequality, racial justice, and police brutality. Perhaps my outrage is in some way related, as I feel the voicelessness of family child as I sort through the new regulations offered by the EEC (Department of Early Education and Care) and guidelines created by the CDC.

Here is the e-mail I shared with families today, as I try to find a way forward.

Hello folks,

I have spent the last two days immersed in the new regulations and in trying to learn more about what will be involved in the reopening of WFDC.  Today I’m feeling angry. Yesterday I attended nearly four hours of meetings, a webinar hosted by the NAFCC (National Association of Family Child Care) and the CDC, and a Board Meeting of the EEC (Department of Early Education and Care). What I learned from the officials was quite discouraging on many levels. What I read in the chat boxes from providers confirmed how voiceless we have been in all the places where decisions are being made about how family child care fits into and will operate during this pandemic. This is not new. Most providers are low income. Many are people of color. Many are immigrants. Few have college training. We are not well organized as a group locally, regionally, or nationally to make our voices heard. 

Many years ago Macky and I worked with other providers in Boston trying to organize a voice at the legislative level, working on standards for family child care in MA, which never came into being, serving on the Board of BAEYC (Boston Association for the Education of Young Children), attending meetings all around the Boston area, being active in our local Somerville Cambridge FCC Support Group, providing trainings to other providers. Eventually, all of this came to an end for me. Much of it ended due to changes in politics, to changes in structures, to the dissipation of energy of worn out participants, to movements towards standardizing programs and top down ways of organizing and providing training for providers. 

Today I feel voiceless in speaking up when the new regulations say we may not leave the premises of our programs. Many family child care providers don’t have access to yards, and most of us in urban areas who have yards use them only as back up spaces because they are too small, because we have been prohibited from having equipment for swinging and climbing by standards we can’t meet in urban settings, because we want to be out in our communities, and because we want our children to run free.

I feel voiceless as I work and rework my budgets trying to imagine how to run a program after a months long mandated closure with inconsistent or  low enrollment, when the new regs allow family child care to have only eight children and two caregivers whereas centers and camps may have ten children and two adults with preschool and school age programs. 

I feel voiceless when I imagine wearing a mask all day in my own home, asking young children to wear masks, when I imagine sharing meals and playing and rebuilding relationships while six feet apart from one another, when I imagine greeting and screening families from six feet away in full protective gear, while also caring for a group of children. I feel voiceless when I imagine the additional paperwork and documentation and cleaning and sanitizing and expenses that will be required to earn a living and care for children in this new world. 

I feel invisible when the Commissioner of the EEC tells us that we will be supported financially through  times she predicts with fair certainty will be financially very difficult, and when the plans she presents show only providers caring for children receiving subsidies will be supported financially at this time.

I feel invisible when I try to imagine how I will maintain a program with adequate staffing when the regulations for family child care certifications are being revisited and not yet known, when we all know how hard it has been to find folks to work in family child care and get them certified in a timely fashion, when I know it will be difficult to run  a financially viable program with two caregivers and eight children or to care for six children on my own given all the additional work required during the pandemic. 

I feel invisible when I know that many of the conditions under which I will be required to operate, from wearing masks to staying on the premises, to removing most of the materials our children love (dress ups, dolls, play dough, sand and water tables, maybe wooden blocks) to attempting to socially distance in a group of young children, are conditions under which many parents will not want their children to return to our care.

Family child care programs do not have endowments or fundraising committees. Most of us don’t have much personal savings or a solid plan for retirement. We pay our own health insurance if we have it and we pay a lot. We don’t have cleaning or kitchen  or administrative staff to make any of this happen. We are on our own. 

I hate being asked to do things I don’t believe in for children. I hate the idea of taking our program apart and getting rid of materials we love and upon which the children depend for healthy regulation, growth, and development. I hate being restricted to our yard. I hate the idea of physically distancing from children in our care, of asking them to physically distance from one another. I hate the idea of wearing masks all day and of asking children to wear them in order to play together. I hate that none of us providers were invited to the table, and that restrictions are being imposed upon us that are not being imposed on others, such as being restricted to our homes. No one else in the world is being restricted to their homes. Why are we? It feels like house arrest.

I don’t think this is separate from what is happening in the larger world. I think if more family child care providers were white and privileged, we would not be trampled in this way. We would be given the opportunity to come up with plans that made the lives of children and families and caregivers central to moving forward. if we had been at the table, we would have been talking about how to meet the needs of children, about the  importance of physical touch and proximity and group play, about the necessity of sensory materials for regulation and play and creativity, about the need for time outdoors, in nature, in the community, in active play, about the importance of interaction between caregivers and families not only for health screening, but for communication about our lives and the lives of our children. We would have made the plan in an image that was realistic, financially viable, loving, and kind.

I’m writing this to you, so you know that I am angry, and that it is hard for me to move forward with more detailed visions at this moment. Without children to care for or clear guidance about how FCC will be expected to implement the new regulations in our homes, I can’t move forward with plans for re-opening.

I am asking that parents organize a meeting on Zoom in the next two weeks to discuss your thoughts about returning. I will be in Ashfield for the next two weeks, starting Saturday, where I don’t have internet access other than with my phone on a limited data plan. When I get back I’d like to organize a family meeting early in the week of June  22nd. 

If, at that meeting, I get a sense that we have enough families committed to returning this summer and this fall, I will move forward with plans for reopening. If not, I will call it quits and begin the work of finding another way to sustain my family through this time.

If we agree that there are enough families willing to commit to WFDC this summer and this fall, I will begin the work of reopening and creating new contracts for committed families to sign.  Once I have the commitments to fill at least four full time slots or the part time equivalent for summer and at least six for fall, I will begin to put together a plan and to prepare the space and caregivers to move forward. I have been told it takes three to four weeks minimum of work to reopen under the new regulations, so you may expect that to be true for WFDC.

I understand that we are all confused and overwhelmed and that so, so much is unknown. I also know that at some point, I have to make a decision about whether WFDC can reopen and remain viable during the pandemic or if I need to let the staff of WFDC move on to other work and rent the apartment the day care has been occupying.

Please know that my rage is not directed at you. As a parent, I don’t know what I would do if my children were younger, given all the uncertainty in the world and the restrictions FCC will be operating under. I do ask you to think deeply about your own needs and wishes, to listen to you heart, and to be as honest and direct with me as you are able.

Peace and Love,

Maria

I’ve been reading and researching and thinking and talking about this stuff non-stop since we closed our doors in mid-March as the Corona virus began sweeping the nation.

Today I’m ready to begin writing about what comes next for WFDC. The finances are in good order, at least for now. The world is gradually returning to work, school, and day care. The CDC and EEC are sharing information gradually about what we need to do to re-open safely. Programs around the world are sharing images of how they’re welcoming children back to programs with new ways of doing things. It’s time we started to get a picture of our own.

Our staff has met twice in the last month to begin to imagine returning to caring for children in our spaces. Here are some things we’ve talked about and I’m imagining:

  1. Lots of time outside! We’ll be thinking about ways to enhance the backyard space and learning what other outdoor spaces will be available to us. We can imagine individual water play in dish pans, sand box play, helping with the garden by watering and picking things, using natural and washable materials for pretend play, taking walks in the neighborhood and along the Brook, exploring open and wooded spaces, running, jumping, smelling, talking, laughing, singing, telling stories as we walk, interacting with trees, flowers, birds, neighbors and fellow travelers from a safe distance.
  2. Toys and materials: Smaller quantities, washable, natural materials. Things we expect to continue using, washing them after use: Duplos, magnatiles, mobilos, plastic animals and figures, playmobil 123, tempera and water color and finger paint. Cardboard boxes. Individual art boxes for each child with markers, crayons, scissors, and tape. Paper! Sticks, rocks, shovels, buckets, play and real dishes. Painting with water. Balls. Books.
  3. Conversation and story telling:) Singing out doors.
  4. Naps and rests- spread out on mats, inside for kids who need to sleep, maybe outdoors for kids who don’t? Washing bedding regularly, thinking about lovies and how to handle those.
  5. Meals and snacks- picnics, backyard meals, served by teachers only, spread out, using more table space for room between us. Kids might have individual water bottles for outings. Finding meals that require less prep and that are easy to serve outdoors and to clean up.
  6. Cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting: Maybe we’ll get a dishwasher to help reduce hand washing and use of bleach. Seventh Generation that we already use will work for tables, countertops, doorknobs. Daily bathroom cleaning, more regular mopping and vacuuming, maybe by professional cleaners on a weekly, rather than bi-weekly basis.
  7. Keeping track of belongings. Waiting for guidance, but thinking each child could have a large bag from home that could be left on the back porch at drop off and go back and forth with clothes needed for the day, bedding and clothing that needs washing or is coming back from washing.
  8. Hand washing and toileting. In addition to our usual regular hand washing and sanitary toileting procedures, we’ll be washing after meals, as well as before, upon arrival and before departure (maybe at the outside faucet), and we’ll stock up on hand sanitizer for times we leave the house or for parents before signing in and out. We’ll teach the kids and adults to shut the toilet lid before flushing, to wash hands after toileting, and to deposit the towel in the trash, which will be outside the door, so folks who need the door shut can use the paper towel to manage the door knob without touching it.
  9. Arrival and Departure – We’ll hope to do these in the yard. On days that’s not possible, we’ll use the porches. Parents will drop off in the yard or at the door from the porch. They’ll bring their own pen to sign in and out, or use one that we’ll sanitize afterwards. We’ll check for symptoms of illness with the child and in the family, and we may have parents take children’s temperatures before we accept the child. We’ll ask parents to stagger arrivals and departures and to maintain safe physical distance, and to wear masks if that is expected in the larger world. We’ll help kids and parents and staff do these transitions as warmly and lovingly as possible so we all feel safe and calm.
  10. Managing illness in the group: If a child or family member or caregiver is ill we’ll ask the family or caregiver to follow recommended precautions for staying home. We’ll do our best to have back up caregivers available and reduce the number of children in the group if we don’t have adequate staffing available due to illness. If there is a case of Covid-19 in the group during the day, we’ll keep that child or caregiver in a safe place apart from the group until they can leave and avoid using areas they’ve been in until they are thoroughly cleaned. We’ll report as required to appropriate authorities and follow their guidance about how to proceed.
  11. Masks – Teachers will wear masks inside and outside if social distancing isn’t happening. We’re waiting for guidance on how to proceed with children and mask wearing. It seems permission is required. What will we do if some parents really want all kids to wear masks and some parents do not want their child to wear a mask? For those who wear masks, we’ll need a collection for each child, stored safely until used. We’ll find safe ways of storing them for meals and nap, and during active play, and to send home soiled masks.
  12. Communication – We’ll need families to communicate with us about their child’s well-being and any illness or special circumstances in the family. We’ll find ways to check in without dropping off and picking up inside on days we can’t do those things in the yard. We’ll share how things are going in our observations and photos and e-mails to the group and individual families. We might find we need to also include phone check ins if that is a better way of finding our way together. We’ll share updates from EEC and the CDC as we learn more, and we’ll hope you’ll keep sharing about how things are going for your child and family and at home.

There’s lots more. What do we do about rugs, couches, wooden and cardboard blocks that can’t be washed so easily? What will the daily schedule look like? How will we manage the heat if park water features aren’t available? What will we do if our group size is limited to fewer children than our usual ten? How will we manage contracts? What if we have very few children returning at first? Which staff and children will be ready to return at different points and how will we manage scheduling, budgeting, and use of space over time? What happens when it gets too cold to be outside or inside with windows open? Will we keep windows open rather than use AC on hot days, to increase ventilation? How will we find ways to incorporate soft toys, dress ups, and sensory materials that children love if they aren’t as easy to sanitize? Which meals will be simplest to prepare and to serve outside? Which of those will children love? What if we don’t install a dishwasher? How will our afternoons go, with everyone needing private time and quiet, if only some kids are resting on a mat? What will we do with all the materials we’ll remove because they don’t work well in this new world? How will we store and wash and sanitize what we choose to and are allowed to keep? What new materials or outings might we add to our repertoire that will make this time work well?

All of these questions are answerable. I just don’t know the answers yet. Just like I don’t know when we’ll be allowed or ready to open, or what the new regulations and protocols will be.

We do know we’ll find a way to care for children lovingly, to incorporate play and projects, that we’ll focus on relationships as we always have, and spend our fair share of time outdoors. We’ll rest and talk and sing and laugh, and be happy to be together again. Of that, I feel quite sure.

I started this blog, Living and Learning Together, Thinking about how we learn, in the fall of 2008. My son Ben had just left the public schools for Sudbury Valley. I had just stepped away from a leadership position in our alternative public school, after a long range planning process that felt as though it had ended in defeat. My term as a Board Member of the Boston Association of Young Children had just ended. I was discouraged with the emphasis on standardization that was taking over the worlds of early education and care and public schooling.

I was looking around for alternatives, remembering my early interest in Open Classrooms, from my own experience in elementary school through my college and early teaching years where I had spent time in a variety of public and independent schools, some very alternative and some I tried to move in that direction.

I wondered if a place like Sudbury Valley could be created closer to home, so kids from the city could attend more easily, and so kids from a wider range of backgrounds could have the freedom Ben was experiencing in his new school.

I looked around the country and the world for examples of schools to learn from. I attended AERO (Alternative Education Resource Organization) conferences in Albany, New York, and several retreats at Gilchrist in Michigan for early childhood educators from around the country who sought time for reflection and renewal, where I added spiritual learning to my own growth.

I read book after book from the Sudbury Valley Press as well as books on home schooling, un-schooling, alternative education, progressive and democratic schooling, Reggio Emilia, Waldorf, and Montessori learning models, and found myself reading poetry and taking photos and writing my way into a relationship with images and ideas I hadn’t experienced before.

During that time, I posted often, sometimes more than once a day, and slept little, sometimes getting up in the night or early in the morning to write. Along with writing the blog, I began working with homeschoolers in the day care, tried to create a small home school program, or a slightly larger independent alternative school, even looking at real estate in Somerville that would be suitable. Soon I joined a group trying to create a two-way bilingual progressive charter school. When we didn’t get our charter, I spent a year working as a staff member at Sudbury Valley.

When it proved unsustainable to continue staffing at SVS while running WFDC, I chose to return to day care full time, scaling back the homeschooling goals and refocusing on young children and child care.

For the last several years since then, in spite of a six week closure of our program by EEC in 2018, and a year of staffing challenges that followed the closure and the loss of Liana as my day care partner, things have gone quite smoothly.

Now I find myself in a place not too dissimilar from other times in my lifetime, when the world as I had hoped it would be was falling away. I watched Ed Reform and the MCAS take apart the progress towards progressive approaches I had made in the traditional public school where I was working when I left on maternity leave and started the day care after my son was born in 1995. In place of returning to that world, I began creating one I could live in more happily at WFDC.

I watched the dismantling of the alternative public school program my children had attended, and I had supported from 2000 through 2011, when my youngest child left for Sudbury Valley. My kids, then I, immersed ourselves in wilder alternatives, at SVS and in the larger world.

I watched the dismantling of developmental, play based approaches and the institution of standardized, academic learning goals for early childhood programs over the first fifteen years or so I ran the daycare and had decided I could no longer be active in early childhood leadership at the local level. I retreated and moved on to more independent, reflective modes, writing, dreaming, and attending the Gilchrist retreats.

Today, I’m watching the world as we have known it disappear on a larger scale. I wonder how I will play a part in the new world of early education and care as we learn to live with the corona virus and adapt our programs to new ways of providing care.

This week I waited for the Governor to tell us at his Monday briefing how that might look, and was disappointed. I waited for the EEC (Department of Early Education and Care) to give us information about what the new world of child care will look like at today’s Town Hall Webinar. All the Governor and the Commissioner had to say was that we will continue to operate with Emergency Care only through Phase One, and that there will be a phasing in of Child Care and Day Camps in Phase Two.

No further information was given. Again we wait. I’ve got a headache from all the dashed hope and waiting. I’d like to envision the future we’re moving into. It’s not clear, but a picture is forming in my mind, so I’m going to write it here, remembering the many times before when a world I had been envisioning was lost and I had to start again. Starting again is where we are. Maybe writing will help me again to figure out what’s inside my heart and mind, to explore the larger world of ideas, and to create something new out of the two. Wish me luck. Here goes. Step One: Begin.

Yesterday I decided not to start the Smith MSW online program this summer.

This morning I’m having fun making children happy in the present while imagining the time we’ll be together again.

One child’s mom sent a photo of her son smiling while mixing a bowl of granola they made using my recipe.

Another child’s parent said her son would like a draw bridge or a turntable from the train set. We don’t have either, but I’ll bring him a cool bridge and an octagonal switch instead. Luckily, his mom replied, he’s got a great imagination. While she was typing, he was sitting on her fabric cutting board surrounded by stuffed animals, searching for a treasure island.

In my entrance, I’ve got a pile of felt boards and a box of felt pieces, two bags of books, one for an avid reader, which is full of chapter books she and my son talked about over Zoom, another for a family of three, which is a mix of read aloud chapter books and silly picture books to keep them going while the libraries are closed. I’ve got a doll bunk bed requested by a five, and a bag of goodies to finish the delivery I started last week.

I’m using a notebook Liana gave me a couple of years ago with a beloved Matisse image on the cover to keep track of the lending. Liana loved bringing books from the library into the day care each week and choosing a special book for each child for our Moving on Ceremony, finding the just right books she imagined each child would love.

As JT said, when he saw me bustling around getting everything ready, Can we just acknowledge how happy you are right now, connecting with the kids?

It’s true. While the option to start Smith early felt like an honor and a privilege I needed to consider, and maybe a wise move in times of such uncertainty in day care, the kids are my world. I love the toys and books and materials we’ve shared all these years, from the time I worked in day care centers and schools, til the time I opened the day care and raised my own children, and welcomed their friends after school.

I’ve got a house full of stuff for kids, from the basement to the rafters. Today I got permission from Maeve to collect materials from the day care so I could retrieve the bunk bed, the felt boards, and tracks. I searched a shelf of chapter books on the third floor I had organized a few years ago, when I culled my school age collection and kept what I hoped to someday share with my grandchildren. I searched two shelves nearby that held my oldest and middle child’s books from when they shared the room at the top of the stairs, and I took more of their shared books from a shelf in the second floor back room that was my son’s bedroom in high school and young adulthood until he got a place of his own.

One day soon I’ll go through the basement, and pull out the American Girl dolls my daughter has tucked away, and go through the bins of books and toys down there to see what else I might share, or give away, or toss, as I make room for the materials that will have to leave the day care when we reopen.

I’ve got the dolls on the futon beside me as I type, removed from the bunks where Maeve had settled them in for the night under blankets handmade by Alice and me, on cushions made by my friend Ferriss for her daughter, handed down to mine, then by mine down to the day care. I’ll wash the babies and tuck them somewhere until the kids return.

Now I’ve decided against Smith this year, I can focus on the day care and my family, delivering toys and books and smiles, laughing and reading books and singing and talking over Zoom, hosting tree house visits in the yard, talking one on one with kids and parents over Zoom or the phone, getting my accounting in order, arranging Zoom meetings for parents and staff and colleagues, preparing the space and making plans for the day we’ll welcome the kids back, when we hope they’ll be happy to return.

If my sense is right, the home visits, the deliveries, the cards, the Zoom calls, and tree house time will make sure the kids and families and staff stick together, that no one feels forgotten, that we remain safe and caring presences in each other’s lives, so that when we are back together, things will feel right again before too long.

This week I’ve been working hard again, in spite of no children coming to my home for care, unless we count Zoom.

Tomorrow I have to decide if I’ll begin the Smith MSW program online this summer, or continue on with hopes to reopen the day care.

I am not a person as comfortable with risk as I might like. I’m a planner. I keep my margins safe.

None of the options right now are safe. I’m left wondering.

Is it wise to start an MSW program that was meant to be intensive, on campus learning which will now be intensive, distance learning, to risk clinical work in the fall that might also be remote, while eating through my savings?

Is it wise to hold out hope that day care will reopen, that children and staff will return, that we can figure out how to social distance and sanitize, and to care for a group of young children in ways that will feel good and safe, that the finances and logistics of running a program in this new era will be doable?

Can I make it on the government assistance I’ve begun to receive, for the first time in my life, a few weeks of unemployment in April, now the PPP loan, which may or may not be forgiven, given only two of us are back on payroll?

If I go to school, will I be able to collect unemployment under the new Covid-19 program, or will I need to begin living off the savings I had put aside for the years I’d be in school and supporting my daughter, whose fall college decisions are also full of risk?

How should I manage the sharing of my home? Should I ask my tenant to share space, as she now has the entire day care apartment to herself, for the price of just one room? Should I try to clear out and rent the whole apartment? Should I let that decision wait until things with the day care sort themselves out?

This week I’ll begin clearing out the day care, removing materials that are not likely to be useful if and when we re-open, soft dolls, stuffed animals, playdough tools, dress up clothes, scarves, maybe even blocks that can’t be washed, all the children’s favorite indoor things to do.

Even to do that will require a lot of time and careful planning. I’ve texted my tenant about times I might enter when she’ll be out. I’ve got to wash, sort, and store or dispose of piles of materials. Then what?

Yesterday we had a lovely Zoom call with a few of the children and their families. Three teachers took turns reading many books, to which the children attended for a long, long time. We sang a song none of us knew well, made possible by the song book the teacher who slept through the call had prepared for us. We named all our friends from a photo collage that same teacher sent out in an e-mail a few weeks ago. In that way, everyone was there.

I have polled our families and staff two times. As of now, only one child’s family feels hopeful enough to say they will certainly return in September. A few others have said they hope to return in July or August or September. One has decided not to return. The first reality that we won’t be all together again set in when I saw that response to the poll.

Meanwhile, we do Zoom calls twice a week, with hope for connection and uneven success. These calls work for some of us, but not all. We’ve offered individual Zoom calls, distance visits, tree house visits, all of which work for some, not all. We’ve delivered little gifts and mailed cards and postcards. We’ve offered a parent Zoom call, and sent out many e-mails. We’ve shared printed songs and a Spotify playlist, and will share thoughts about activities at home. One of my favorite things has been playing librarian for two of our school age kids, talking about books they love and what I have on hand, and preparing a collection for them to have at home.

Yesterday we had our first staff meeting over Zoom without the children. It felt really, really good to talk and to see each other’s faces. The day before I organized a Zoom call with a group of family child care colleagues. There are a lot of problems to solve. One of our colleagues has chosen to close down now rather to retire in the fall. Another is feeling uncertain about reopening, given her age and the age of her staff and the risks and protocols that feel so unclear. Another expects to reopen in the fall, as her program normally closes for July and half of August and is determined to figure things out as she goes.

With both groups, the colleagues and the WFDC staff, we tried to imagine the experience of the children and families, living through this time, and how hard it must be. We also tried to imagine reopening, and how that might go. In our WFDC group, we have, just among the staff, so much uncertainty, it’s hard to know who would return, and how their return would work in group care.

One teacher has health concerns for herself and a young child who needs her care. Even if she could return in summer, she would need a place for her child, whose camp options will be limited, if non-existent.

Another teacher has been caring for the child of a doctor in the child’s home. They take an Uber twice a day to get there and back, something that makes them nervous. They found out after accepting the position that the child is also in back up group care with the children of other medical professionals. While we agreed that returning to WFDC would likely mean the end of caring for this other child, their current situation is a factor in the mix.

The third teacher is self-isolating now. His partner is the manager of a second hand clothing store, which they expect to open before the day care does. They wonder about her interaction with customers and his work in the day care and how those two factors should be considered. His second job is in a restaurant, working as a back waiter. While he is confident that the restaurant will take precautions if and when they reopen, his job, as he put it, is “scraping the food off everyone’s plates.”

And then there is me. Over the weekend JT and I were in Western Mass, in the woods and on the road, where I could imagine all kinds of scenarios for reopening the day care. One of my fantasies, as we drove home, was of creating little buckets of art materials for each child. When I shared that with my colleagues, they burst out laughing. You are caring for three-year-olds, aren’t you? they reminded me. Yes, I would be.

I also thought of how to run a day care with uncertain or low enrollment. JT imagined I would need to prepare contracts guarding against uncertainty, providing for payment even if a family chose not to come, or if we were required to close down short or long term to react to illness in our community or shifts in the larger world. While that seems like a good idea, I don’t know what contracts mean in this new era. Can I hold a family who loses a job accountable for tuition, rather than paying their other bills? So far, no. Can I live on an uncertain income, which would likely disqualify me from government assistance, for an undetermined period of time? I don’t know. Can I rehire staff in the midst of so much uncertainty? One of my day care colleagues felt she could not, but can I? Do my staff want to return to a job that might not be stable?

I also thought of ways to shift the house, imagining lower enrollment and fluctuating income, and thinking I might need the stability of renting a larger portion of the house to endure an uncertain reopening. JT and I imagined sharing our home upstairs with the day care rather than having housemates in our living space, so that I could rent out the full first floor. With him working from home indefinitely and my daughter likely to be home for some part of the summer and possibly next year, if she doesn’t go to college on a campus, that’s a lot going on in our 1600 square foot space.

When I suggested this to my colleagues, two of the three again laughed out loud. NO, way! they gasped. The two providers who had cared for children in their living space before moving the programs to separate floors, reminded me of how hard sharing space with a day care can be, while the third, who’s program is in her living space, reminded us that’s what she’s been doing.

I also thought, while driving home from the country, that perhaps I would need to work alone until the program is on more solid footing. Again, the providers reminded me how lonely that could be. The importance of collaboration and working together to care for the children came home again as the WFDC staff met over Zoom. Hearing how much they all love and care for the children, talking with them as we sorted through scenarios, sharing ideas for how we each want to keep connected to the children and families and each other through this time, affirmed my strong preference to run a program with caregivers in community.

I’ve spent hours researching online, trying to imagine a way back. Small examples of schools and child care programs reopening, as well as guidance from EEC and the CDC about emergency child care and reopening schools and child care, are helping me create a vision of what we might be doing as we anticipate re-opening.

Masks seem to be expected. While JT, my colleagues, and staff all feel horrified at the idea of working with young children as we all wear masks, we all acknowledge this may be our new, longer term reality. We imagined masks with clear windows so we could see each other’s mouths. We imagined making masks with different facial expressions to communicate when we are experiencing different emotions. We wondered if our teacher voices needed mouths and their expressions to communicate effectively with children. We wondered how children will read facial expressions and movements of the lips as they learn to understand emotions and develop speech. We wondered about the emotional impact of spending days in a group setting wearing masks after months of being at home with unmasked families. There is so, so much to wonder about, and so few answers to our questions.

We also wondered about social distancing. How can we even imagine welcoming back traumatized children and families from a distance? How can we share meals with children in our home setting? Would lunch boxes from home or meals we prepare and serve here be best? Could we spread children out more while we eat? Where do we put the masks during meal time? Today in an article about a restaurant re-opening in Taiwan, I got an idea. They will offer envelopes on the table for patrons to store their masks while eating. Other restaurants, however, will be making plexiglass partitions between tables, will be marking off socially distanced seating with tape, will have paths for customers to pass through the restaurant one-way, rather than coming and going from one entrance. Doing any of this in our day care is a huge stretch, more likely impossible.

We also imagined materials we might use and those that would have to go. While playdough, dolls, stuffed animals, dress ups, blocks, and sensory materials are bedrocks of our program, none are being recommended for various reasons. I had imagined in my fantasy world this weekend that we could have individual containers of playdough for each child. While we might, I’m not so sure. No sensory tables feels hard, too. We love and depend upon water tables to keep us cool in our yard in summer. Children are soothed by playing with water, beans, and sand. Can we keep our sandbox open? Would we need to wash all toys that are shared, even in the sand?

Things we could imagine using would be mostly plastic and washable, duplos, magnatiles, plastic dolls, as well as individual art materials that need washing anyway, like finger paint and tempera paint. Books are safe, according to the guidelines, which is a huge relief. Reading, storytelling, going for walks, jumping, running, laughing, dancing, all seem safe, if we can convince kids not to hold hands, to hug, or to play too close.

We all agreed if and when the children return, we need to be able to hold and comfort and help them. An article I read recommended a pile of large shirts for caregivers and many changes of clothes for children, so we could all change regularly when we had been holding a crying child or the child had rubbed their nose on their sleeve or on us. One article even reminded caregivers to wash their own faces and necks after holding a child in need of comfort. Our staff and my colleagues and I had a good laugh about the piles of shirts and soiled clothing we’d be going through and couldn’t imagine this would even help, as children smear everywhere and touch everything and our work is essentially hands on.

And we wonder, what will all of this do to our sense of safety and security with one another? How will the children learn to trust again that we are adults they are allowed to be close to physically, that they will not make one another sick by playing together?

At the end of our meeting, we agreed that we are in as good a place as anyone to figure this stuff out. We have a dedicated, creative, intelligent, experienced, loving staff who want to do right by our children and families and who are called to do this work. We aren’t in dire financial circumstances and many of our families still have work or hope to return to or find good jobs in spite of widespread economic devastation. My housemate, partner, and family are open to working with us to figure out solutions. We have at least some families with strong hopes of returning and and tojoining us from my retiring colleagues’ program. We expect we could find new children to replace those who won’t return. Already three school age children might like to join us if we are open for the summer.

And yet, the uncertainty and risk remain. As one of our staff asked, Would kids be better off at home with their families or here with us, given all the changes ahead? We don’t know.

By tomorrow I hope to decide if I’m returning to Smith. If I do, I’m not sure how I could also support the day care back into reopening. If I don’t, I’m not sure either. Stay tuned.

I went to bed after reading more of Robert Coles’ biography of Dorothy Day. I had started it awhile back, liked beginning again where I’d left off. In the book Robert Coles shares conversations with Dorothy Day and includes excerpts of her writing, tracing her life from young radical activist through entrance into the Catholic Church and beyond.

I’ve also been reading The World Ending Fire, The Essential Wendell Berry for the last few months. I’d gotten it at Christmas with a gift certificate given to me by a day care family long ago, as a treat for me and my family, and when I began reading it, I felt a strong connection to Wendell Berry, his life and experiences and ideas. As he described his walking in the woods near his home, I returned to the woods I grew up in on my grandparents farms and around my home and to my wish to build that connection to the woods in Ashfield. As Wendell Berry described how working with horses to farm his land enriched his life and the life of the soil, I wondered how my grandfather experienced his relationship to his work horses and his land. I felt lucky to have been raised in the country, to have had access to the farms where my parents were raised, and to have had a shared home in the country surrounded by woods my own children could grow up in, developing a connection to a natural place, even if its been part time.

Reading about Dorothy Day offers me a similar sense of connection to my past, when I was Catholic and both loving and struggling with the Church. Reading how she found continuity between her life as a radical and as a Catholic helped me connect the ways I felt as a Catholic to the ways I feel as a Quaker. I could remember how in my youth I spoke to god in prayer, how I felt the presence of the divine in the sacraments, what it was like to carefully swallow the host, to feel forgiveness through baptism and penance and prayer, how I was drawn to messages of social justice and repelled by the oppression of women and by the wealth and power and privilege within the Church which was so disproportionately shared.. Dorothy Day chose to commit to Catholicism as an adult, fully acknowledging the flaws in the Church while embracing it’s Christ-centered teachings and sacramental rites. As I read this, I wondered if I might have lived longer as a Catholic if I had known her story before I left the Church, if she might have helped me hold the contradictions and explore the possibilities, to continue fighting the injustices within and learning to approach the injustice in the world through a Catholic lens or movement.

That didn’t happen. But I did find my way, after many years of absence from religious or spiritual connection, to the Quaker faith, where I find, as I reflect on Dorothy’s Day’s description of her commitment to Catholicism, similar hope, in joining with others who wish to be together in contemplation, in direct connection to the divine, if not in sacraments, then in openness to messages and guidance as individuals and in gathered groups.

I do miss the sacraments, the host on my tongue, the burning incense, the candles, the architecture of Cathedrals, the movement, the songs and repeated prayers, the seeking of forgiveness through penance and prayer, the sense of holiness in the ritual and spaces and repetition of ancient prayers and rites, the readings from the Bible, the sense of world-wide connection, in spite of the ways that Catholicism was spread through colonialism and missionary zeal.

As I read more of Wendell Berry and follow Dorothy Day through her life chapter by chapter, I hope for guidance in this tough time. I wonder what it would be like to be so connected to the natural world and to the divine that I could rely on them for guidance and feel the wholeness in the world through time.

Meanwhile, much of how I’m coping with the disruption to my own life has been through numbers, through reading and study as I try to get a handle on all the changes big and small. Balancing news and spreadsheets with Dorothy Day and Wendell Berry feels just right. My rational, problem-solving self needs role models and sympathetic thinkers for inspiration and connection when life is changing in ways that are so hard to understand.

I’ve felt so lucky to have had these books on hand, and to have found them just when I needed them, then this morning in my inbox, I found On Being was offering a podcast of Wendell Berry reading his poems interspersed within Krista Tippett’s interview with Ellen Davis, a conservationist and theologian who takes an agrarian approach to reading of the Bible. The synchronicity felt just right, and I enjoyed listening in the afternoon.

Listen if you wish for some contemplation of what it means to be a creature in this world. https://onbeing.org/programs/wendell-berry-ellen-davis-the-art-of-being-creatures/

And here, once again is Wendell Berry’s poem, The Peace of Wild Things, which was with me on Sunday evening when I sat in the presence of the fowl at sunset on the watery edge of the little ponds where they were coming home to roost, shuffling, calling, and talking softly to one another as I watched and listened.

“The Peace of Wild Things”

by Wendell BerryListen

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

© Wendell Berry. This poem is excerpted from The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry and is reprinted with permission of the author and Counterpoint Press.

Contributors

Wendell Berry is a farmer, poet, and environmentalist who has published more than 50 books. He lives in Port Royal, Kentucky.