January 2010

So this morning I wake up missing the blog, missing the invisible audience for my thoughts, missing this way I have had of making sense of my world for the world. Last night my kids and I finished watching Julie and Julia. I got it from Redbox on Wednesday when my daughter was home sick, took us three nights to finish watching it, busy life, but the kids loved it, which made me happy, as I had loved it when I saw it all by myself in the movie theater awhile back, one of my only times in a movie theater alone, if you can believe it, and it was a good choice, as I had been blogging and also becoming fascinated by cooking, and with various voices in the world of art and literature and education, who I would talk to in my mind, as Julie talks to Julia in her mind, and then in the end, Julie comes back to her own life, and to her husband, though she then goes on to write books, and to make a movie of one, the one we were watching.

This past week I have taken a break from the blog, making it private while I sorted through the regulations and the need for written permissions on paper from families whose children’s photos I include, and also my own questions about privacy and how much of it I need or how much of it the day care kids and families need. I am still sorting that stuff out, and so today I am writing invisibly, no one can read it but me, until or if I decide to reopen the blog to the public.

Weird to have a week without writing, without sharing photos, takes a certain energy out of my days. Instead I sometimes read Facebook, where I find it fascinating to see more and more people sharing the details and fascinations of their lives, words and pictures and ideas they put out in the most public of ways, and I wonder what it is about these different forums which attracts or repels or works or doesn’t work for people, what the next year will bring, as I watch my two teenagers gradually moving more and more of their personal lives online and watch more and more of my middle aged adult friends experimenting or getting hooked or obsessed with online communication, social networking, or whatever name I would give this stuff if I knew the proper terms.

Also this week I subscribed to the The Boston Globe, old fashioned paper media missing from our household for too long. I don’t read the news online, haven’t kept up in too long. I have teenagers, and I want to talk with them about the world, find the online worlds we inhabit too far from one another, their school worlds great sources of stories and ideas, my day care world a good starting place, but the larger world seems important to share and discuss and so I hope that having the Boston Globe on the dining room table every Thursday through Sunday morning, when they are here with me, will open up the world and our minds and will connect us through the happenings around the city and the world, through the Events page and the recipes and the home design and the stories and editorials, the front page news and the weather and the feature stories, maybe even sports, who knows?

And we watched network TV in real time after dinner one night this week for the first time in months, having finished The Office on Netflix streaming, and struggled to find another show to watch, we went for Bones on Fox at 8 on Thursday night, go figure. First time in my life maybe watching tv after dinner on a weeknight with my kids, can you imagine, or second, having watched American Idol for the first time last week when my sister visited and wanted to see a student who was competing. My whole childhood was about watching tv after dinner and the shows we and everyone else watched, and that has been no part of my family life now. Weird how life changes all around and then sometimes we stop and notice more than others.

Time for swimming lessons, girl in her suit, me in pjs. Better get on to more of real life learning.

Today is a slowish day again, with kids returning from being ill and some from a poor night’s sleep. When we go outside, though, the sun is shining, and for the first time we are too warm in our winter clothes. I walk with the kids to the park in my crazy get-up, including snow pants and down coat, with my coat unzipped and flapping in the breeze. The snow is at last giving a bit underfoot, though there are no puddles yet. Partway to the park, I look up and see the biggest hawk I have seen in years. It is right overhead, soaring between the tall apartments and the neighborhood of two family houses. I call to the kids to look up, but by the time they do, the hawk has landed atop a very tall evergreen tree, towering just above the houses. We look and look with the kids as I call to the hawk and they join me, Hawk! Hawk! Hawk, come to us! Hawk, please fly!  None of us knows what a hawk says, so we can’t call in hawk talk. Our voices are so loud, I tell the kids Please be a little quieter. I don’t want our neighbors to wonder what is going on outside with all this shouting. Are these your neighbors?, the four wonders. Well, yes, in the bigger sense of things they are, I say. And the hawk calling diminishes slightly. Meanwhile, we are looking up so much my two sees something and gets our attention with his finger pointing, calling Look! It is an airplane trail, bright light streak across the sky, plane clear as day up so high.

As we walk along, we continue to look up, and to search the tree for the hawk, who has nestled into the branches and who is visible slowly to two or three of the older kids, who notice the tinier movements, the beige feathers a mild contrast to the deep green branches. As we round the corner, I look back and the hawk is gone, somehow disappeared in the seconds between my last check and then. We are sad and wonder where it went, so sly that hawk. And next there is a seagull which I see way up there, and then another plane, blue, blue sky and shining sun bringing out our smiles just in time for our visit to the park, no more tears for awhile, no more missing mommy, though the other four misses summer, which he says is his favorite time of year, and I do, too, seems very far away, that time of sand and water and sun and heat, getting back to it just a tiny bit on this sunny hawk day in January, things alive around us calling to be watched, if only in the flap of their wings or in their standing out against the blue and the buildings.

Every year I have a little forethought of grief thinking ahead to the busyness of the New Year, when tax time, enrollments, summer scheduling, all kinds of stuff come tumbling down. Right now I am in it, the thick of that over busy time, holidays past, deep, dark cold all around, no sign of summer sun, beaches, floating on my back in the middle of the pond, all work, not much play makes this Jill a dull girl. But the conversations with new parents always make me happy. I forget this till I have them, how nice it is to be the program folks are interested in learning about for their children. How sweet to talk to folks looking for that perfect place for their child, all about love and care and hopes and dreams, right here in the middle of frigid cold winter, keeps me looking ahead to sunnier times, right past the pond into our little day care next fall, wishing to take every last kid and family in every single year, not wanting to let one go, not just to another program, or a to a place that is less than great for kids, of which there are many, but just not to let one story and life get away, each one something special I wish to know in a more significant way.

People are my passion, and writing and flowers, and the big fat beautiful world, and delicious food, but people are the rock bottom goods. To all the families looking, I wish you the very, very best. We will likely have two or so morning openings, maybe some after school spots. There are so many of you I have already written or talked to or known, I don’t know how it’s all going to work out. Keep our fingers crossed and believe and work hard, hard, hard to make it all work out.

Back to business, February vacation schedule, tuition receipts, parking passes, then school pickup, lots to do at this busy time of year, working to keep balance not least amongst the chores!

This is the not so glamorous life of a family day care provider. Up until now, you all thought it was all glamour all the time, right? Cute kids, poopy diapers, photos of children making cookies and up to their elbows in playdough and clay, paintings, buildings, dress-up and pretend, park life summer and winter, fun, fun, fun.

Guess what? There is another side of this job, PAPERWORK!!! And have I said yet, I HATE PAPERWORK!!! I hate Workers Compensation Audits, I hate Food Program Attendance and drippy trainings.  I hate keeping track of endless permissions and forms and documentation.  I don’t completely hate, but I don’t love tuition deposits, banking, creating receipts, payroll, attendance, but I forget to do those things. I put them off, I am slow, I have no system that works for itself. I HATE tax time, and it’s here, the endless collecting of every single penny spent on the house or food or day care or papertowels or toilet paper or 409, mulch, sand, flowers, subs, groceries, toys, art and science supplies, every last expense must be documented with receipts, cancelled checks, bank statements, credit card and utility bills, stacks and stacks of papers and numbers piled in my bedroom, in my dining room, curling in the corners of my purse and my car coin box, YIKES!!!

Family day care providers don’t have book keepers. We see our accountants once a year. I have a payroll service, for which I pay dearly, having learned the fines for my wayward ways weren’t worth the trouble. We don’t have secretaries. We don’t have directors, or admissions officers or fundraisers. There is only us. The same three ladies who look after your kids keep the files, take the tuition, record when your kids get hurt or go to the doctor or have a developmental delay that requires testing and intervention. We do the shopping, the repairs and maintenance (witness Alice at Lowe’s, the local hardware store, and the project room collecting wood, repairing the radiator covers), the trips to the library and Target and Johnnie’s and Whole Foods. We don’t do the weekly cleaning in the day care, but I do the upper two floors and let me just say, Silvia does a much better job, and is a whole lot more regular in the floor mopping and the deep cleaning.

Some Saturdays my kids and I have a social time with friends. Some Saturdays we go to Swim Class. Some Sunday mornings I bake banana bread. Some Friday nights we order Chinese and have Movie Night. This weekend is catch  up time. Saturday night is Tuition Deposit and Workers Compensation and Payroll time.  Sunday morning will be grocery shopping time for me while the kids stay home. Then they bring it all in and help put it away. The cans are askew on the kitchen shelves when they are done, but I find it takes me a whole lot longer to do it all myself. The cleaning might or might not get done. I am feeling grouchy and its not even full blown enrollment time, though in between making my kids breakfast and lunch and dinner I corresponded with families looking for care, set up visits, answered questions, all via e-mail. Tax time will come and so I am not going to take that poetry workshop or yoga class I had hoped for, but I am determined to get my taxes in on time.

And the sad news is that I am a darn lucky family day care provider. I don’t work the average 60 something hours a week. I open at 8:30 and close at 5:00, with time on either end and evenings and weekends for non caregiving stuff. Some providers open at 6 or 7, close at 6 or 7, others do overnight or weekend care.  I make enough money that my kids don’t qualify for free lunch and I don’t qualify for Section 8 housing assistance or Food Stamps. Not so for many providers. I own my own home, am paying the mortgage, and keeping it up mostly to day care regulation standards. Renting is a whole different scene when you wish to provide family day care. Landlords tend not to like us much.

I am getting all this out, not so much to be a grump, though I am feeling like one right now, but to put the word out there that Family Day Care is not babysitting. It is a business, and like all small business, it comes with a whole package, not just caring for kids. Adding more regulations to our plate, expecting quarterly and biannual written progress reports, more forms, more training, more documentation makes me worry and wonder. If I am worrying and wondering, how are the others holding up, the recent immigrant providers whose English works for young kids but maybe not for written regulations or tax forms, the folks who already work twelve hours with kids each day, the ones who have no partners or subs or backup care, the ones with a sick kid or loved one, a health issue, whose mortgage is overdue, whose enrollment isn’t steady, whose kids’ tuition is paid by the state, at half the going rate for private paying slots. How is this all going to play out? Best sign off and put away my desk work, covering the dining room table across from my kids science fair stuff, give up on the movie, read the girl a bedtime story and call it a night.

Listening this morning to Bob Marley, needing a song to fight my battles. Redemption Song , Get Up, Stand Up background to my morning of making homemade bread, whole wheat honey, banana, using a red wooden handled pastry cutter like my grandmother’s, a Betty Crocker cookbook just like my mother’s growing up, bread machine given to me by a friend, computer in the background sending me e-mails, political activism, parent communication, adds from Amazon telling me what to read and buy, all mixed up old and new life, like memory and life, one layering the other….and this morning I am giving the dream back, no alternative school for me this round, homeschooling Friday fun but not financially stable enough to be viable in my new life of financial tightness or really any life i have lead, always money has been some consideration in my options, not like some who find the choice between food or heat a daily worry, but certainly, I can’t afford to lose hundreds of dollars a month to fluctuating enrollment and tuition, which I was warned last year by others who have tried alternatives to school serving homeschoolers, and which I have learned this year by experience, is a real risk.

I serve folks who need early childhood programming, child care, after school care, summer care. That is my niche. There is always a pool of folks looking for that. I patchwork it all together, mostly from January through April, when I invite folks to visit, e-mail, talk, schedule, scheme, budget, reckon with last year’s numbers at tax time. This year will be no different, but tighter, tough economy, single parent household, lots of patching with Friday openings left by trial homeschool kids who didn’t have a good fit with our program, summer spaces left open from contracts I have allowed to go to school year only in anticipation of a wide mix of school age and younger kids in summer. I love the experimentation. I love all the work we do. I find each kid exciting to work with, each family good to get to know. But for now, it is what it is, no more grandiose ideas about a school, a home schooling center, separate after school or summer programs or a larger space or program to incorporate more families, taking in kids whose families can’t afford our private tuition. All that is on hold. Need some new direction for the dreams. Haven’t found it yet. Haven’t given up looking. I’ll keep you posted.

Meanwhile, I have my own kids in an alternative urban public elementary school, a traditional urban middle school, and a far out independent school that values freedom and democracy. Life is full of contradictions and co-existing realities. I am learning to reconcile myself to that. Hard work. Keep you posted on that, too.

Meanwhile, regulations keep coming, chasing us down as we run from stuff we find hard to take or enforce, slowing down to face the onslaught with our best effort and explanation seems hardly enough. Bob Marley, take me away….We’re jammin, we’re jammin, we’re jammin… Hope you like jammin, too…

All I can think is music or poetry or art, even religion, some way to get the point across without a picket sign or a meeting, or maybe back to meetings, got to be some way to shout it out without disrupting my family life, can’t keep it all inside, don’t know where else to go with it. Suggestions? Quaker Meeting? Searching for the peace and justice thing. Hard.

This year as the last two years our day care families said thank you to teachers with a group gift. Each day before vacation began a child came with four flowers, one for each teacher, including Danny, our fall stand in while Alice was away. By the time we closed for vacation, the day care was full of flowers. Over vacation, my house was full of flowers. The last of the blossoms are still hanging in there on my kitchen counter. I had fun cooking and entertaining over the holidays with flowers from the families decorating my home. Here are some of the pictures I took while I was feeling grateful in the presence of the flowers. I love the contrast of living things inside with ice and snow outside. Will include some pictures of my days in the country, more nature there than civilization, but even there the icicles on the roof made me awfully happy, as much as the snow covered path in the woods and the snow flakes doing funny things in the flash of the camera when I was on my own deep in the woods at dusk. THANK YOU!!

Playful, quiet afternoon with after school, lots of kids out due to slow return from holiday travel, other plans, so only four of us here, a five, my nine and fifteen (both had birthdays! I am now a mother of two teenage boys!!), and me. Quiet day called for something different, time for me to join the play. Tricked my reluctant five into Jenga, cleared the rug, put two pillows down for our bellies, nose to nose we couldn’t help giggle and squirm and laugh as the tower towered and teetered, the blocks seemed harder to pull, then crashed. Then on to our new routine, afternoon bread eating and making, nice to have crossed over the hump of how do I make homemade bread to its time to make the daily bread, no Our Father, but ritual all the same, soothes, and the bread is good, with butter, cinnamon sugar, honey, jelly, peanut butter or chocolate spread for a treat. Then on to dancing cats. Pictures of a few moments of each, not the greatest, but keeping that routine, too…Happy January, month of quiet dark cold outside, warm lamplit cozy pleasures inside.

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