March 2018


This is the theme I’ve been working with the last few days. Where are they? Our oldest have graduated from college. Our youngest were on their way for fall. Others may be in the womb, some not yet conceived.

Many, many of us have dreamed our children into the world of WFDC. I was the first. Many have followed. My son Ben texted me how sad he was when he heard the news of our temporary closure nearly a month ago. He let me know that he tells his friends in New York City about the day care and how well I’ve treated our children and employees. That left a fine image in my mind, my twenty three year old mathematician, software consultant, ultimate frisbee champ sitting around in Brooklyn bars talking about WFDC with his friends. Word travels. Experience sticks.

Ben was the first.

Yesterday I spent the day with the current/only recently alumnized children of WFDC, two sisters, a nearly five and a two. The night before I prepared for my time with them at their house by cutting up heavy paper into pieces we could fold into thank you cards and decorate and write on and slip into a collection of rainbow envelopes I got at a Noho yardsale awhile ago. While I cut the paper I talked with my younger son about books he thought I might read to the older of the sisters that would hold her interest and bore the younger one to sleep.

In the morning before I left, I packed my lunch and things to share with the girls, cous cous made by my sister from a recipe I learned from a day care parent who shared it at our recent potluck, oranges that would otherwise have been served in the day care for lunch, pork I’d made for my mom when she was here after my surgery, french toast I’d made for me and my son I thought the girls might like, maple syrup made from sap from my brother’s trees, all in a cloth bag that had been hand delivered by a day care mom to my door the day of our closing, which had contained a bottle of wine and delicious ingredients from Dave’s Pasta for my dinner that night with my son, where we ate in disbelief both at the horror of the closure and the unbelievably delicious food and kindness in that bag.

Before I left the house, I took my license off the wall, gathered a large envelope for mailing it back to DEEC, and took photos of the documents I’ve been sent throughout this proces, so few, photocopied my license, photographed the empty day care, and walked the path my charges have been walking to me the last four years, in reverse, to lead my life in a mixed up way in the girls’ home instead of mine, laughing, talking, reading, drawing, cooking, eating, walking, delivering my license to the post office, where I paid ten dollars to get it to DEEC today, visiting the park where we were last together on that fated Friday so long ago, where we three were tentative in our approach and our colleagues and their day care children still play each day and welcomed us back into the fold.

I loved my day with the girls. And it was too, too quiet. Children at two and five need friends. Adults at 51 need the company of adults. We did our best. We cuddled, we talked about what is going on, we tried to make sense of our situation. But it is odd, very odd.

Around town the other children of WFDC are living similar lives, being cared for in their homes by sitters and nannies, grandparents and parents, walking, cooking, talking, laughing, playing, visiting the parks. While we are making do, we’d so much rather be together, so much rather the parents could do their drop off at my door than have me and others arriving at theirs.

The children want to be together. I learned at a dinner last night where Liana and I were treated by our park colleagues that our newly two thinks there must be something wrong with the front door of the day care that is keeping us from being open.

My nearly five helped me make one card yesterday, and then she and I both got tired. She wanted to write inside, but knew the words were too many for her to print on her own. I was washing dishes, and took her words by dictation on my phone: Thank you for helping us open up the day care because it’s really hard for us and we’re tired.

Here sister the two thought a lot about the mystery of the day care all day long. The day care is really closed? She kept asking me, wondering I am sure, what I was doing there, when I could be opening my own front door. Later she invited me to bounce on the see saw at the park, where she began telling me a long story I wished I could have had on video, saying, The day care is closed. Me and my sister are sad because the day care is closed. Me and my sister and my dad and my mom and my grandma and grandpa (and she repeated this sequence many times) are working hard to open the day care, and then it will be open and then we will be HAPPY!

Later in the day the sisters were pretending in their living room, in a quiet house after a pleasant lunch of pb and j they made themselves but hardly ate and cous cous from my home. The two said, The real day care is closed? But the pretend day care is OPEN!!

She is right. It is open in our minds. All of us must use our imaginations to our fullest potential to keep WFDC alive.

At rest time I read my new Winnicott book, Home is Where We Start From while the girls read books about using the potty they chose with Liana on an outing to the library last week. My two looked at my book and proclaimed it beautiful, a boring adult paperback full of words on a page. It is beautiful, I agreed, as I read further into the mind of another great thinker who knows for sure the importance of the early years and who is reminding me in this dark time that the work we do is invaluable, that the children are worth it, and that we can’t give up yet.

As discouraging as the supported allegations of neglect and turning in my license have been, I am trying to keep the positive images alive. Yesterday as I was getting up to start the day I got a text from a parent who hasn’t been here for years but who has been so, so supportive, asking me if it was true I had to turn in my license, telling me she had heard the news and been crying and wondered if she could call. I couldn’t talk, but we texted and imagined together that instead of walking with my two gals to the Davis Square post office, that we would be making a parade of all the WFDC supporters to the door of DEEC, where they could see us marching and singing and happy, as  my six imagined and I wrote yesterday, and understand at last that WFDC should be opened so the children and caregivers and families can be together again.

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Today I wrote to families, who have been doing their best to hold out while we try to save the day care for their children and those we hope to care for in the future. I wanted to know their plans, who is able to hold out and how long, and what people may be doing for care now and in the future, as we await the decisions that might allow us to reopen.

One family wrote back and shared a plan suggested by their daughter, a six year old homeschooler who has been with us since September and hopes to return. Her plan is so wise, I wanted to share it here. If only we could follow this girl’s wisdom, surely the powers that be would see.

From the mom with the wise child, words that cheered me up on a day I have been feeling  rather sad:

— says that she has a plan for how to get them to re-open the day care. She says we should just have all of the kids come back to the day care and then the people can come visit and see how happy all of the kids are and how well you all take care of them. If only we could get DEEC to just listen to the kids…

Thank you, thank you to all the kids and families and friends and colleagues and community members for your support. At times it is overwhelming. Always it is important. When so much is unknown and at stake, it is so important not to be alone.

At last night’s parent and teacher meeting we talked about all the ways to send the Love Blast to the powers that be. After this I’m going to write to alumni families to see if we can gather the voices of the teens and young adults who began their years at WFDC to see what they can offer as testament to our program and it’s legacy. What form might their testimony take? Twitter? Instagram? Youtube? Facebook? Snapchat? All suggestions welcome.

We’re also considering making and sharing a video of the current WFDC kids telling the world about the place they love to be and play with their friends. We’ve heard one nearly five has been talking about what it is going to take to get the “government to open the day care”.  Her sister the two said she loves Maria’s house because there are q-tips there! Her mom says she just learned about q-tips with her grandparents this weekend. We know she loves the day care, but we aren’t sure the q-tips are the way to the DEEC’s heart!

As you can see, while we are sad and angry and scared, we are also persistent, creative, strong, and many, and haven’t given up yet! I’m also trying with gentle reminders, to keep my sense of humor, fleeting at times, but still there. Q-tips and my improv son and others who remind me to giggle, help a lot.

 

 

I’ve not written here for awhile. I’ve been immersed and adrift, sorting out the fallout, ever heavier, from the park incident, subsequent day care closure, DCF and DEEC investigations and the findings, now the process of appealing the DCF determination of support for the allegations of neglect against Liana and me, which could take months and thousands of dollars in legal fees, and the discretionary review process at DEEC which we learned Friday has the potential to allow us to resume care while the DCF appeal is ongoing.

While we have been doing all this, the parent group, including alumni and prospective families, as well as community members and colleagues, have been organizing a tremendous outreach, advocacy, and support initiative, including a petition, a gofundme, a meal train, child care networking to get the parents and children through this rough time in hopes of a future together, letter writing, contact with DEEC and DCF and elected officials, a potluck, and two parent meetings to keep the community focussed and together.

Through all of this, Liana’s and my faith in the community we’ve been part of and helped create through our years of dedication to the field of early education and care and to the life of WFDC has been built as strong as it could be. Parents have sent us key letters at moments when our hope was flagging. We received a compilation of comments left by those signing the petition that nearly broke my heart, years and years of families, colleagues, and community connections gathered to show us that we mattered, that we were seen and loved and valued, that we had given our lives for a purpose deep with meaning.

In the midst of this, I had surgery I thought would require a day to recover, that turned into more like a month. Liana and my sister and my mom each spent a night (three for my mom) making sure my kids and I got through it. Today I did my first fifteen minutes of yoga since the surgery two Fridays ago, and shortly I’ll take my first good walk outdoors with a friend. I still can’t sit long at a desk, so I’m writing from the futon couch today.

I’ve lost thousands and thousands of dollars to this closure. My kids and I are talking about options. I’ve told my tenant who shares the day care space she may need to find a new home as if we aren’t successful in our bid to reopen the day care I need to rent the day care space as a market rate apartment. I’ve offered to work as a nanny for a family to get me through the summer. I’ve let my daughter’s school know I’ve had a job loss and asked that they take that into account when determining her financial aid. We have to wait and see how that goes. Grocery shopping now feels scary. I’ve researched Mass Health, just after receiving the annual enrollment and rate increase to the Cobra plan I still subscribe to from a past employer. I’ve cut out movies, shopping of any kind, ended subscriptions, called to lower my internet bill, will drop the day care phone line, have made and revised a cash flow projection that may or may not get me through the year, which shows my savings disappearing and deficits looming even after I eliminate this year’s retirement savings, vacations, purchases other than essentials, defer home maintenance projects I hoped to do this year when I could benefit from tax deductions available the next few years, and work full time earning wages below what I expected.

My teachers are sorting out their own lives, without paychecks or regular employment from the day care, making their own ways. The cleaners have stopped coming, the day care and yard we worked to freshen up before the DEEC and DCF visits go unused by children. The children are dispersed, cared for at home by parents rearranging work, grandparents, babysitters, and nannies. The parents are putting in endless hours, doing shift work so one parent works while the other cares for children and the other works at night, arranging child care day by day and week by week, advocating, writing letters, calling, organizing, even bringing us food and checking on us caregivers, offering us sustenance and support.

All of this feels outrageous. And yet it is our reality. After two lifetimes of teaching and caring for children, Liana and I have been told we can no longer care for children in a DEEC licensed setting, nor can I operate a program, barring a successful appeal to DCF and/or a positive outcome of a discretionary review with DEEC.  Our careers, to which we have dedicated our lives and the best of ourselves, are ended, unless the those two options are successful.

In the midst of this craziness, of the loss of our livelihoods and the place to which we’ve devoted ourselves and found community and where we’ve offered care to many children and families, we have found a deep, deep well of love. Yesterday in Quaker meeting folks talked about acting on our anger but connecting deeply with our love as a basis for social justice work. The speakers talked of the Youth Rallies over the weekend and how they witnessed young black people talking honestly about gun and police violence affecting their families and neighborhoods, and how they spoke with both anger and love, and how a speaker at the forum before meeting had talked about anger and love in his work on behalf of those affected by the military intervention in Iran.

Last night we talked about a Love Blast, which is happening today. Parents and professionals are calling the Commissioner of DEEC, Tom Weber, to let him know how much we mean in the world, to them, to their children, to the community, and how important it is we are not shut down, but are able to continue in the work we were meant to do. Another Quaker gave a message about that yesterday, about how we each are called to follow a path, to do what we are meant to do, and if we follow that calling, we can make a difference in the world.

I have given up a career in public school teaching, with summers off and health and retirement benefits. My family and I have given our home, having shared it for twenty two and a half years with the day care. My children shared their mother all the years of their childhood and even now. I gave up most of my retirement savings when I got divorced and refinanced my mortgage so I’ll be paying on it over fifty years by the time I’m done so that I could keep the house and continue to run the day care. I haven’t moved so my kids could be closer to their school when they commuted hours each day for years to Framingham for Sudbury Valley and now my daughter boards so she can go to school in Beverly while I run the day care here. When I started the day care, I kept the option to return to my teaching job in the Mansfield public schools on hold three years before committing to the day care. In the last ten years I’ve tried starting schools and working at one and I’ve come back each time to do this work. I believe its the work I was meant to do.

And yet, tomorrow I’ll be a nanny, and next week and all summer five days a week, unless we win our day care back. After that, if we don’t win, I don’t know what I’ll do. That is for another day. For now, I’m going to take my first good walk since surgery, and get some fresh air and exercise at last.

I’m here at my new desk, in the room that was most recently rented to a cellist, before that a shrine to my college son, before that my son’s room, before that his father’s office, before that my boys’ bedroom and a day care play space, before that, my office, way back when the house was newly ours and I put a book shelf for my things up against the primary colored clown wallpaper we painted over in coral later when I was pregnant, along with a hand painted cloud ceiling I created for the baby I wanted to dream big, cloud ceiling broken and re-plastered when we added the third floor dormer addition above it so my husband could have a quiet office away from the day care, now moved to the first floor, where he had an office one year and children would visit him with their blankets, which he loved, but where he found it hard to concentrate on his work.

All this is to say, my entire life, my whole life, I have worked on this project, this creation of a space where humans are seen and known and loved, where children and adults can live together, making meaning, being together, becoming themselves.

A person would think this would be simple. What else do we want for one another than that, to be seen, to be known, to be loved?

You would be amazed how difficult this life’s work has been, how many nights and days I’ve spent like the one I spent last night, gathered in living rooms, in school libraries, in child care centers and the offices of schools and nonprofits, trying to find a way to continue to do just that.

All three of my children have needed me to advocate for them, and they have learned to advocate for themselves in order to find the places they have needed to remain themselves, for their souls not to perish, and it remains a fight they each are fighting.

The children in public and private schools and child cares and camps have needed this, too. How is it that it is so hard for us to support children and the adults who spend their days with them in becoming themselves, in being who they are meant to be, and in doing so with dignity?

Our schools are like prisons, I once heard Deborah Meier say at an Alternative Education conference I attended when I was trying to imagine making a school of my own for older kids. How can we demand that children stay there? she asked.

Indeed, if Deborah Meier, who was near eighty at the time, who started the public alternative school where I student taught in East Harlem, Central Park East Elementary, who walked the halls when I was there as she guided the Central Park East High School in the same building, could say that on a stage to hundreds of people, after spending her life creating public schools that saw children and adolescents and teachers and families as people with vision, as capable of contributing to society, not as automatons, but as authentic selves, why should I be shy about saying what I think here?

And what better time? I am fighting for my life, for my livelihood, for my love.

I have begun to sign my e-mails with the closing, may love and justice prevail. God willing, I say, as a person who has not actively believed in God for years, who has only recently begun again, after years away from the Catholic growing up of deep and regular prayer, to pray again, to accept and learn from the prayers of my newfound Quaker community, which came to me, in part, as so many things in my life have, from my family day care life, from an early family whose Quaker beliefs and practice ran deep when they were in my care, and who notified me the morning after the mother died, when the son was fourteen, to thank me for the care I had provided their son in his early childhood, and to let me know how the mother had died and how they had sung her out of this world, compelling me to Quaker Meeting that hour I read the e-mail, where I honored that family, and the following weekend, where I attended her memorial service in the Quaker style and began to deepen my wish and commitment to find that spiritual community of knowing and being known for myself.

Yes, at times it does all feel connected. It feels quite whole. Which is what I wrote for myself yesterday in my proprioceptive writing practice, where I write each day I’m able, in order to tune into my own voice. I had asked myself when my life would be whole again and in so doing I wondered what I meant by whole, by when my life would return to being whole again, about when it ever had been whole and what it would look like if my life became whole again.

My life has been ripped apart the last two weeks.

Two weeks ago I sat at this same desk all morning as I coached a new friend through a day at the courthouse where he was appealing for a modification of his child support agreement, a lifelong worker in the field of education sorting out a series of job and life changes in his fifties, trying to do right by his kids while making ends meet. We texted while I worked nearly five hours completing the financial aid forms required of me in order to apply for the scholarship that allows my daughter to attend the special education boarding school we pay for out of pocket, after years of trying to find another way, and finding at last a place that can teach her at seventeen, to read.

That Monday I was anticipating March 2nd, when I would have completed my taxes, my financial aid application for my daughter, and the day care prospective families interview process, when I would have prepared my budget projections for the coming year, the schedule and contracts for incoming families, and I could relax. I told my friend I could not wait for March 2nd. He wondered what was happening on March 2nd. I would be free, was my response. I would be able to relax after months of nonstop work on these large projects which consume me from December through March 1st each year. I would have my life back. I would have time to relax and be free.

I could not have been more wrong.

On March 2nd I was told by the family child care licensor supervisor, while I served breakfast to the children in the day care, that I was to shut down the day care, pending the DCF (Department of Children and Families) investigation into a 51A allegation of neglect and the DEEC (Department of Early Education and Care) investigation into my ability to continue to run my family day care.

The last two weeks have been a blur. Yesterday when I came downstairs to begin the day, the heat was off. I had forgotten to refill the boiler tank. My cat was out of food. I had forgotten to refill her automatic feeding container. The night before when I left the house for the first time all day near seven to see my son’s Improv show, my gas tank was on empty, 30 miles of gas left, lowest I’ve let it go. I hadn’t been to the grocery store in nearly two weeks. My friend brought a gallon of milk, and my daughter cleaned out her dorm fridge. We have lots of food in the house, for me and my son and the cat. Things have just not been normal.

Since I was twenty eight years old and I opened the West Family Day Care so I could be with my son rather than return to my public school teaching job in Mansfield, nearly an hour commute on a good day, I have been running the West Family Day Care in my house. My children grew up here. My marriage lived and died here, as did two other long term relationships with men who loved me, but who couldn’t compete with my need to live and raise my children here.

In all these years, from October 22, 1995, until March 2, 2018, there has been an active day care. We have shut down four weeks a year, two of them adjacent weeks in summer to allow for projects to be done on the house and day care space, but in all that time, the only time I’ve shut down without pay was when my second son was born and we moved the day care from our home upstairs, which we were outgrowing with two children of our own, four additional in care, five cribs, including three in our bedroom, and a husband who worked from home, into the first floor apartment where our tenants had moved out ten days before my son was born. We closed about six weeks while I recovered and cared for my newborn and my husband and his father and sister from Texas prepared the first floor apartment for the day care, and the licensor approved it for use.

Other than that, there have been children cared for in my home, all but holidays and vacations and snow days, for twenty two and a half years, year round, 8:30 to 5, every single weekday.

Without them here I’ve been a bit thrown off. Besides not feeding the cat or the furnace or the gas tank, I’ve been flat out, seven days a week, preparing the indoor space and yard, the files, the teachers, and myself for the investigations, meeting with DCF and DEEC investigators, understanding what is happening, working with lawyers and parents and teachers, talking and e-mailing and texting with friends and colleagues and my family about what is going on, preparing mailing lists and strategies for fighting what seems increasingly to be injustice, napping, listening to music, going out a few times, but mostly being home, living the nightmare and wild dream that has become my life, surrounded by incredible support and intelligence and initiative and hard work, still feeling that all I’ve worked for is threatened and in jeopardy and that still I don’t know why.

Two Tuesdays ago we left a child at the park, for under five minutes, where he remained in the care of our colleagues, fellow family child care providers with whom we’ve been sharing the park twenty two years. He was safe, he was scared, but he calmed down as soon as he was reunited with my day care partner. We talked with him and with the other children. We fed them lunch and when lunch was over, I called the child’s parents, who recognized as we did, that something serious had happened. They have remained unwavering in their confidence in our care. I reported the incident to my licensor, who directed me to complete the standard incident report we have always filed when a child is injured or left unsupervised, and lead me through the process of filing it in a relatively new online portal. When I completed this process, I contacted the entire group of currently enrolled day care families and regular and substitute caregivers, sending a group message to a list of all their individual e-mails.

We were frightened and horrified to have made this real mistake. Never in our twenty two and a half years of operation have we left a child at the park. While we could see how it had happened, during a busy and slightly atypical transition, we were not happy with ourselves and went over and over the scenario in our minds, and thought about what had happened and how we might change things going forward to make sure it didn’t happen again. We were also grateful for our park community, and for our group of dedicated families, who were able to take in the incident, see us in our humanity, and maintain their confidence and trust in our care.

We went on with life in the day care Wednesday and Thursday, extra vigilant, and aware we would be expecting a visit from DEEC to check on our program and to talk with us about the incident and possibly to be contacted by DCF, as a fellow provider had been many years ago when she left a child at home alone briefly, thinking he was with her partner who had left for the park ahead of her.

On Thursday, my morning off, I got a call from a DCF investigator, telling me, as I had expected, that we would have a visit from DEEC and DCF the following Tuesday. I asked if we should hire subs or rearrange our morning to accommodate her visit and I was told that would not be necessary, that the visit should not be intrusive, but would require us to share our attendance records from Tuesday, contact information for our parents, and to share our files with DEEC.

This was a big deal, but we expected to be ok.

Friday morning while serving breakfast to the children, I got a call from DEEC asking if I was open and if I knew a 51A allegation of neglect had been filed against me. I did not. I was advised to close the day care during the investigation. I asked if I should shut down immediately, was told I could remain open the rest of the day, and said I would let parents know about the closure and give them the option to pick up early, which I did and nobody chose.

We talked with the children who did not understand why were were being asked to close. When I explained to my breakfast group that the adults in charge of making sure we did our jobs to take care of them looked into what had happened at the park and made sure it wouldn’t happen again and that we could continue to take good care of them, my six-year-old homeschooler exclaimed, Well, of course you are doing a good job!

We are sure trying hard, is what I replied.

Later, after I had done the dishes and my partner had read to the children, and when we had told the group of children we would be closed two days and maybe more while the adults in charge of making sure day cares are good for children did their work, the children expressed sadness and disappointment that their beloved day care would be closed. After the conversation with the group, my almost five year old took me by both arms, looked me in the eyes, and said, We hope it will only be two days, right?

I sure hope so, but we don’t know, is what I replied.

Indeed I didn’t know.

We are now closed indefinitely, with no clear timeline for resolution, with multiple long deadlines for DCF and DEEC to complete investigations, and if those go well, for DEEC licensing to complete their process for making determinations about my license and my day care partner’s certification.

If the allegations of neglect are supported our careers in family child care will be ended.

If the processes take as long as they might, it is not clear how long we can hold out. Without income or child care, providers and families are stressed and stretched. How many weeks or months of closure can we endure?

Which is why I’m writing here today. I don’t understand why I’m here. I know it is a terrible thing to leave a child behind. I also know he was safe, and not there long, and that in talking with others, we are not alone in having left a child behind. In other circumstances, at least the ones I’ve learned of, programs have not been shut down.

Even we have experience with an incident that felt much worse. A child in our program twelve years ago left the day care on his first day, unnoticed by the providers and was returned to us by a neighbor. We reported this to the child’s family, to the day care group, and to DEEC, who followed up with a site visit, who guided us in creating and implementing corrective actions, and who supported us in continuing to provide safe, high quality care for children ever since.

This park incident was serious, but I do not believe it should have shut us down or that we should be on hold awaiting a decision for potentially months while our community and livelihoods fall apart.

We have an active group of parents advocating and organizing on behalf of the day care. Every one of our families has written a letter of support. A living room full of caregivers and parents gathered last night from eight until after eleven on a Sunday evening to learn more about what is happening and to try and move forward together. We have reached out to alumni and their parents and even incoming and prospective families and are finding deep and wide support. We’ve contacted colleagues, elected officials, called offices at DEEC and DCF trying to understand the process and what is happening and what we might do. Parents are arranging alternative care, working from home, calling in grandparents and nannies and depending upon one another. They organized a potluck on Tuesday night in a family’s home. The hug I shared with a recently two year old was a powerful moment in my week. He held me tight a long while, surely confused about what is happening in his life. He and his friends and their siblings played happily for two hours, said good bye, and wonder when they will be allowed to return to my home and WFDC, as do their parents and teachers.

We don’t know. Today is another day. I need to stop writing and organize for the calls I plan to make, the e-mails I plan to write, the bills I plan to pay, the budget and cash flow projections I need to revisit, the time I hope to have with a friend and my son, the hope I hold each day for a walk or a nap or time with a book, some good food, sound sleep, not much more to my days the last week of closure and with no clear view of what lies ahead.

Wish us luck. Thanks for listening. Pray for us if you do. Hold us in the light. Remain on our side. See us, love us, let us know that we are known.