March 2020


One of the things many of us are experiencing in the life of the unraveling world is more knitting together across the internet, across the yard, on the bike path, among those in our households, over the phone.

Today, I’m taking time to write to those I didn’t find time or energy to respond to during the “work week” when I was busy sorting through so much related to shutting down, letting workers go, managing the business, trying to imagine what next, while reading the news that changes constantly.

I woke up thinking of the kids and families and of the tree house and sent the e-mail below. So far, a few kids plan to visit.

Meanwhile, my house is getting cleaned. JT is tackling the bathrooms with the attentive, detail-oriented focus that makes him a great copy editor, and I am rambling my way through various chores with the divergent thinking I bring to life, here, there, and everywhere, getting things done and thinking of new things to do as I go.

Isabel made us a fine breakfast, tidied up, and headed out with three friends from Rindge, making me even more grateful for the few months she spent there, which left her with local friends near enough to bike from their homes, far enough that she’s introducing them to the bike paths near our home, venturing into Arlington, Medford, and Winchester.

Later, its the Breakheart Reservation for me and JT, a walk in the woods, and time to be together out of doors. Somehow, the weekend feels like a real relief here. Even as the world unravels, there is joy in connection, in caring for home and neighbors, in doing our work in new ways, in being out of doors and active, in cleaning things that haven’t been cleaned and sleeping in a bit, after years of hardly slowing down or having time or energy for lots of things.

If you’d like to visit the Tree House, let me know, and we can find a time for an appointment. Share your dreams, as well as your fears. Maybe together we can make them true.

Hello All,

I woke up thinking of all of you. When Isabel and I collected her things from her dorm at Landmark, I found the tree house book I used to keep in the day care, and decided to bring it home so I could share it with the children over Zoom or in photos to remind us of our shared dreams and stories. 

Many years ago the tree house in the backyard was built out of the dreams and stories and community of the day care. At a time when my family was breaking apart and my financial future was uncertain, the children wanted to build a tree house. At first I thought we could build it ourselves. When I was a little girl, I had wanted to build a club house in my backyard. My two best friends had fathers who built them each real club houses, with windows and doors and roofs. My stepfather promised, but didn’t. One day I gathered pieces of flat wide siding boards, a hammer, and nails, and tried to get started. I didn’t get far. Somehow, I thought the kids and I could build the tree house with our day care tools. And then I realized we couldn’t. I also realized I didn’t have the money for supplies. The children were not worried. They set about raising money for the tree house. When I saw how committed they were, I wondered who would help us. We put a request out on the list, and soon a grandfather offered to build it with us/for us. He had a son-in-law who was a structural engineer who would help design it, and two grandchildren in the day care, one adopted from Columbia, and one born miraculously shortly after, whose lives and community he wanted to honor.

The children raised one thousand dollars that year! They baked cookies and sold them at the end of the day care day and at Sudbury Valley. They painted pictures and we made and sold calendars. They wrote letters to the parents, and many donated. We had a huge day care yard sale during Porch fest and raised money that way. The grandfather built a wonderful tree house and the children were so happy that all of the children could play in it, with it’s tall sides and safe ramp ladder. The grandfather measured the hanging bars so that each of his grandchildren and their friends would have the right height to test their skills. 

In the middle of the children’s fundraising efforts, that grandfather had a serious stroke. I worried that the children’s dreams of a tree house with a ramp that would go up and down, a rope ladder, a roof, and a pulley to the upstairs porch (which was there for several years but no longer) would not come true. But the grandfather rallied. He came and worked as he recovered. The children could see him from the back door and the porch as he hammered and sawed and built. 

All that year Isabel and her after school friends counted and rolled quarters. She and I set up a passbook account at Middlesex, called The Tree House account, which grew roll by roll of quarters. She is still a wiz with money and manages her own accounts with skill I trace back in part to the year we dreamed the tree house into being.

When the tree house was done, one of the older girls (whose younger brother had dreamt it in the first place, an active guy adopted from Guatemala, whose arrival marked the beginning of our connection) decided to make a wooden marker dedicating the tree house to the day care and to the kids who would use it into the future. We honored that group’s work in a ceremony and for many years the Tree House was a focus of our backyard play.

Two years ago at this time the day care was shut down by EEC after we made and reported a mistake we made by leaving a child at the park. Since that time we haven’t felt able to use the tree house, knowing that we were skating on thin ice and couldn’t afford an injury in the yard on a tree house that didn’t fully meet EEC requirements for backyard play equipment. The children ask about it and we say they may not use it because of rules we need to follow. When we were relicensed this summer, our licensor confirmed with us that we were not using the tree house. Fortunately the ladder the children requested, that could go up and down, has allowed us to see and not visit the tree house, and has prevented the licensors from requiring us to take it down.

This morning I realized I am not currently operating a licensed day care and that maybe some children would like to visit the tree house during this unusual time. I think about how the children are missing out on playgrounds and climbing and getting a different view by being up high. Though some of us, like Emmy and Harper and I, have porches on the second floor, others find their lives more settled down below, and might enjoy being up high and exploring the tree house for a little while.

If you would like to make a date to come and visit the tree house, let me know. I’d have to think about how to stagger the visits and would clear it with my household members so we would all know who is coming and going. While the tree house is mostly made of wood, there are a few parts made of metal bars and two plastic hand holds. Perhaps before leaving a family could wipe those down with something sanitizing.

I’ve also been thinking, as I read the news, about how to share things from the day care if we are closed longer than three weeks, which seems possible to probable. If families would like to borrow  toys or books that are meaningful to their child, or take home the special animal they sleep with at nap, or their nap blanket, or gather things from their cubbies, please let me know. I also have a lot of art supplies I would be happy to share, if families could use those.

I’d like to keep writing about children and learning during this time. I’m thinking about the format I want to use, and will keep you posted. Please let me know if there are topics you’d like me to address or information or ideas you’d like me to share.

So much is changing so fast, I haven’t been able to get my head around fall contracts or tuition or the financial ramifications of all that is happening. If you have thoughts about those things to share, I’m open to a conversation. We are all operating in a landscape that is transforming all around us, in which making plans for the future feels almost absurd.

I am happy for the children to have this time with you, even as I miss them and all of you. For all the stress and challenges, you are the most important people in your children’s lives. They can never get enough of your love and time and attention. May you find peace and love in your connections with your children as well as time for your work and yourselves and your adult relationships.

May our dreams continue to come true,

Maria

I’ve been dreaming about redwoods, reading Wendell Berry’s World Ending Fire, walking in the woods around Walden, wandering the Minuteman path to Spy Pond, telling stories to the children about heading to the forest to build a tree house, thinking about Ashfield and the land there, wondering about growing food and flowers, anticipating working in the garden.

When I woke up this morning, having taken a day off day care to reflect and find a way forward that feels right, I imagined ways our little people could gather safely. Just like in our stories, we would wear backpacks. The children’s parents would pack lunches. We’d wear outdoor gear and wander the bike path, exploring the edges I noticed yesterday, where others would be less likely to gather, collect sticks, bring shovels and buckets, one for each child, with their name on it. We might meet at Walden Pond, where kids could dig six feet apart in the sand they love so much. Parents would need to drop off and pick up at the Pond on those days. Days we explored nearby we might meet in the yard, and walk with a long rope, with loops six feet apart for each child, or with a stroller for the toddler and rules for older ones who might be allowed to run along the path on their own.

I imagined little cloth mittens for my toddler, so I could safely hold his hand, as words don’t always guide him. But are mittens safe?

I wondered how we would wash hands outside, how long we could be out without a bathroom. I pictured the yard, and our tiny sandbox, and wondered how we would share it with a group of kids, who normally congregate there in a bunch. I imagined giving kids access to the bathroom, sanitizing the surfaces as much as we could, sending kids inside to pee or poop while I was in the yard with the others. But who would check to see if my little guy had adequately wiped? So many, many details to consider in providing child care in the time of Coronavirus, COVID-19. Even if I were to follow our fantasy of the children leaving the day care for the forest, I can’t imagine caring for young children from a distance.

I did picture story time and singing in a circle in Magnolia Field. I wondered if the ground was too wet for sitting, pictured bringing an old shower curtain from my basement for us to sit on, or cutting it into small squares for each of us to carry in our backpack so we could sit farther apart. But squares of plastic and forest day care seem to be at odds. Perhaps we just get damp, or wear the rain pants or rain suits we wear on damp and rainy days.

When I announced that today I would be closed to think one Dad asked about a singing or story time over the computer. While I imagine that is something we could do, I spent hours meeting with Quakers for Worship and decision-making yesterday and by the end of it I was disconnected from the people and concreteness of my home world. The walk JT and I took to Spy Pond along the bike path, where I saw a real life tree house I wanted to show the children, and the scrubby edges of the path I imagined the children exploring, and the ducks on the Brook I figured the kids would be happy to see, and the open spaces at Magnolia that seemed just right for kicking balls or gathering for stories, was the highlight of my day.

Walking together, though, we held hands. We’ve been together through the last week of Coronavirus life altering experiences. He’s worked from my home upstairs and I’ve worked with the children in the day care down below. We are as safe as we can be to one another. Though we’ve each had contacts with the outside world, mine have mostly been with day care families and children and his have been with folks at the grocery and pharmacy and with a friend on her front lawn.

Yesterday my daughter returned from her father’s, where she’s been with others outside our household. Our day care housemate stopped work in the public schools on Friday. A child in the day care, who hasn’t been with us for a week, is sick, with fever, sore throat, headache. She and another child in one of our day care families have had contact with children and adults in a group where a parent has a confirmed case of COVID19, as he attended the Biogen Conference that is the epicenter of our local outbreak.

I don’t feel any of my teachers are safe enough to come to work. One has been working in a restaurant, now closed due to yesterday’s Governor’s orders. One has medical issues. One has spent the last several days with her mother, who is a doctor in a major Boston Hospital. One had a fever last Thursday and Friday, though her doctor said it wasn’t COVID19. I thought yesterday I would carry on alone, imagining and then confirming that the numbers would allow it, as they did on Friday, when I chose to operate that way.

Then this morning, after the dreams of the WFDC adventuring out of doors, I got notices from the EEC, saying we didn’t need to close but had to use approved cleaning products to follow COVID19 cleaning procedures, which in my range of ability to procure them, includes only Clorox, which isn’t a product I want to use on all the surfaces of the day care.

After reading that letter I got a petition forwarded by my colleague, another longtime provider who has been struggling with the decision to open or close, asking us to join other early childhood workers in calling for the state to close child care programs as it has called for the closing of schools and restaurants and bars, out of a concern for the health of the workers, who are made vulnerable by caring for our youngest. I saw a comment from worker from Bright Horizons, a corporate child care center, and imagined how many, many underpaid, under-protected workers are showing up to work scared, not knowing what to do if their employers, in many cases large corporations, remain open.

In light of all that, it feels harder, again, to know what to do. The Forest Day Care has a lot of appeal. If we could wander six feet apart, if no one needed to pee or poop for hours on end while we were out walking, if none of the children wore diapers or needed their noses wiped, if no one fell and scraped a knee, if I could imagine children playing together without touching, or comforting a child without cuddling, from six feet away, that dream might have come true.

At this moment, I can’t. At 6 o’clock last evening I changed my mind about being open today. My anxiety level had risen as I had tried to sort out where my housemate would be if the day care was in our shared space, as I thought about the vulnerabilities of my employees and of some of the children and their family members, of the responsibility I have to my family to keep them safe, and of the risks of inviting children and families into our home, of mixing together the children of families and caregivers with our many trajectories of connection over the last few weeks, of the obligation to society right now to do things we have never done before, which are difficult, sometimes unimaginable until they happen, which will cause hardship and suffering as well as prevent those.

So, today, I’m sitting with the images of children singing and running and digging together far apart out of doors, alongside the realities presented in the petition, by the Governor, by the news, by what’s been happening all around the world, and anticipating the way forward will come, minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day, week by week, month by month. Life will change. Many will suffer. I’ll find what I am called to do. For now it’s time to be still, to write and reflect, and to be present to the day.

May you all find peace and love in this time of fear and chaos. Here it’s sunny and I look forward to a walk in nature, watching spring emerge and hoping I’ll see others out in ways we haven’t been before, loving the natural world around us for the safety, inspiration, comfort, and hope it confers, even as we know nature, too, is in danger, and that everything is ever changing and mysterious.