Uncategorized


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.

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.

Next Page »