Today I am sitting in the project room of the day care. It is a cluttered space. The walls aren’t pretty, but the sun shines through the newly refurbished old windows, through the white cotton polka dot curtains, onto the table where we work. One boy brought rolls and rolls of bar code stickers to day care today, and I thought to put them on the art table with heavy white paper and dot markers. Turns out this was a very popular activity, and kids did all kinds of interesting things with it. Eventually, though, there were only the four who brought the stickers and his companion, a nearly three. They sat and painted, and while they did, the four asked the nearly three, “Did you get flooded?”

She replied, “Yeah, a little bit.”

He persisted, ” I wonder, did your basement get flooded?”

“Yeah, a little bit.” She replied, amazingly thoughtfully for a two and many months.

“How much?” asked the four.

“I didn’t get that much.” and she pauses to think. “About a foot. Not much in my basement.”

I sit astounded. How is it that when two and four year olds have the freedom to talk as they wish, when they are relaxed in the company of adults who help them to get out the paints and paper and stickers, who don’t tell them what to do, too much, that their talk drifts to flooding and basements? I might as well have been at Dunkin Donuts in Sudbury, where I stopped yesterday for a decaf, envied the table full of older folks drinking coffee and talking with animation to one another, intensity and eye contact at 10 am for the companionship of friends, old and young. Conversation, freedom of expression, a basic human right, a privilege of those who are not alone, is a gift to many of our old folks and to our children, no rule here that says no talking, that says, it is spring and therefore your artwork must look like this.

I think as I overhear this conversation about the privilege of privacy we have in our little family day care world. No one walks down the hall to check up on us and to see what we are doing. We can do whatever we want within the regulations, and even without if we so choose and don’t get caught, but mostly we stay inside the rules and still we have enormous freedom, and privacy, which we share and extend to our children.

I wonder how many other programs use this same freedom and privacy to do things or to neglect to do things that we might all wish were more visible. Sometimes I hear stories about family day care providers whose kids live on donuts and tv, who leave ashtrays of cigarette butts on the end tables in reach of their toddlers, who keep toys put away in closets so only they can take them out. I have seen kids in carriages from day care centers strapped into their seats and walked around the block, never to touch the ground, and back to their square block classrooms in time for lunch and nap. And then I think, privacy for us is wonderful. Transparency, though, has it’s place, and while I feel lucky that the state doesn’t require me to make lesson plans, that bar code stickers and watercolor paints and conversations about the flood can happen in one room while kids play good guys and bad guys or lay on the couch or read books with a teacher, or dump buckets of toys to explore in the other rooms, I know it isn’t all rainbows and happy trees for kids and grown-ups in many places.

One friend left his job, though, because of too much accountability. He could have been fired for failing to take attendance in his toddler group every ten minutes by the clock, forget about reading stories uninterrupted, or changing diapers when a kid made a poop, if it was 1:10 and his supervisor walked in, he had to be taking attendance. Same place required the kids to sleep with lights on, to have lights on at all times in fact, the overhead flourescent ones that give some grown-ups migraines were required by the national corporation to be lit for their youngest children from earliest morning to darkest night, never turned off in case something bad might happen. Something bad happened in one of their other centers one time, when the lights were off, and therefore, to lessen the chance of another such bad thing happening, all the kids and all the grown-ups in all the centers run by this corporation worldwide had to live with the lights on all the time. Shocking but true, and my friend moved on, while other, likely less qualified and less experienced teachers or providers moved in, the way it goes in places that deny freedom, those with less choice, with fewer options, accept the position of less freedom, learn to live by the rules that to some of us would feel like torture.