In June, we got the word. Our daycare, where my five-year-old has been attending since he was nine months, would be reopening in a few weeks. Of course much would be different: outdoor drop-offs; temperature screenings; teachers and providers wearing masks and gloves all day; drastically reduced class sizes; no loveys; and all the carpet in the whole building had been covered with plastic (they posted virtual “tours” of the new classrooms online). The list goes on.
At the time, in mid-June, this felt like a no-brainer. I was barely hanging on, working from home full time with a toddler and a preschooler. My husband’s job necessitates him to still go into the office every day, so it had been mostly on me and – bless her – my mom to keep this place from burning to the ground. And we have it good: backyard, huge basement, wide and quiet neighborhood streets…
But still, when we got the word, we barely skipped a beat. Off they went.
Now, our country’s re-opening prognosis isn’t looking that great. In the weeks since daycare resumed, a new viral topic has taken to the wind: to school, or not to school (in person, that is). My five-year-old is rising-K. I immediately took to doomscrolling every article, opinion piece, and study possible about the risks and rewards of sending kids (particularly elementary school kids) back to school. We had the chance to pick: hybrid, or distance only? Again, we were presented with a choice, but now I’m skipping that beat. Now I’m weighed down by the Facebook pleas of teachers and administrators to think of them, their families, and the leagues of adults needed to support, clean, and manage that physical return. I’m urged to believe that there’s no way our district can execute this properly and safely in the time left before the beginning of the school year. I’m reminded that even the smallest risk is too large as case counts begin to climb in our area once again. When our district changed course to begin the year completely virtually, I was relieved. The burden was no longer on me to decide.
But… I also already had. As I type this now, my kids are off at daycare while I drink coffee on my WFH lunch break in a quiet house (picture: my kids are in daycare, yet my employer has not yet deemed it safe for my company to return to our office). What a hypocrite! What about our daycare and preschool teachers! What about their families! They have no collective voice the way our public school employees do, they have no option of keeping their paycheck while remaining at a safe distance. Their places of employment may very well collapse entirely if they don’t return. What about the economic fallout! What then? Is this the same choice? Or is it different?
I posed the question (from a very safe distance, masked, and outdoors) to a few of the daycare teachers and administrators with whom we’ve become closest over the last five years. I’m not sure how candid they truly felt they could be, but the responses more or less middled out to “I feel pretty good about the policies put into place, I’m generally a little nervous, but this is how it’s going to be for quite some time so we might as well figure it out now. Besides, if we need to close down again, we will.”
On the one hand, sending my kids helps our providers continue to work and allows me and my husband to do the same – as my company’s “leniency” with working parents certainly won’t last forever. In the case of our daycare, it also ensures our providers their health insurance. Like nurses, restaurant owners, and hair stylists beside them, our daycare workers cannot keep their paychecks unless they physically show up. And – sadly – our economy is depending on them too.
On the other hand, how many of these providers feel or felt – as our public school teachers are able to say out loud – that they have no choices either? How many of them would stay home if they could? How fraught is their work environment, how palpable is the fear or isolation they may feel? When is the government going to show up in all of this? Is the risk mitigation I’m relieved to participate in when it comes to public elementary school completely neutralized by my willingness to send my two-year-old to private daycare every day? Why did I allow for all of these questions when it came to public schooling, but not for daycare?
I have no answers. Only mixed feelings of relief, guilt, disappointment, and anxiety that come September I will be back to working from home and proctoring online kindergarten while continuing to send my toddler to daycare every day. This feels at odds, but I am also in the bucket of families who won’t be able to make ends meet on one income – at least not for too long, or without selling our house – should I quit my job and keep both kids at home for the foreseeable future. We won’t discuss why this will fall on me (the mom), as copious amounts of energy and airtime has already been spent lamenting how one of the “losers” in this global pandemic will be the working mother.
So for now I guess I’m resigned to this conflicted existence, and sincerely hoping for the best. And in case no one has told you lately: I’m hoping for the best for you and your family too. (And remember – wear your mask!)