Yes! There it is! The comfort beneath the chaos! Somehow, someway, my wife and I have worked from home part-time while corralling a 3-year-old who has the patience of a housefly. Bills get paid. Meals, or a reasonable facsimile, get on the table. This has gone on for nearly three months during the COVID-19 pandemic. The return to normal life will feel liberating, like that first plunge into a pool during summer vacation.
Fatigue is constant; enlightenment comes and goes. It will be yanked from my soul when our daughter stomps in for the 6:00 am (if we’re lucky) wake-up call. It will lay dormant as I broil under the late morning sun as she splashes in a kiddie pool that’s more grass clippings than water, and I’ll wonder if I can endure another day with my eyes on fire. (My wife was taking Excedrin daily until it ceased being effective.)
I curse us for being overly careful. I curse our daycare for being closed. And I will certainly curse at the prospect this fall of paying more than $600 a month for Zoom meetings we cannot convince our daughter to attend.
When three people are stuck together for nearly three months, patience must reign. I’ll slow down, take a breath, and wolf down the positives. My wife has a salaried job with benefits. I'm a freelance writer, yet against all logic, I remain busy. The people who work at my daycare are not. There is no money coming in, no real idea as to when they can return to work.
For the first two months of the pandemic, correspondence with our daycare provider was minimal and inconsistent regarding expectations of reopening and tuition. Pay what you can! Pay half! “Choose one,” I seethed to my wife more than once. “Act like a business.” But then I realized nobody has a pandemic playbook. For millions, the overwhelming immediacy of now has always outweighed future concerns. That’s life.
When September creeps in, we will once again send off the payment to ensure my daughter can return to a place she loves. We want to do what we can for her teachers. In the meantime, the worries escalate. As millions file for unemployment every week, I wonder what would happen if my wife lost her job. Or if my work dried up. Paying for daycare — regardless of its condition — is a luxury, even at the reduced, placeholder rate. My daughter’s new world: loving parents with shattered concentration, depleted savings, and dwindling reserves of energy.
The stifling atmosphere of “I don’t know” hangs over daycare.
If it’s not money, it’s the unending burden of wondering if you’re good enough as a parent. Before I talked to my editor friend, Sandy Almendarez, she had just learned that summer camps were opening June 1 in her area. Her two children, a 2-year-old and a soon-to-be 5-year-old, were scheduled to attend. She consults the latest CDC guidelines, but it’s not enough. “You don’t know,” she says, “if you’re doing the right thing. That’s what parenting is, I just think it’s all heightened because the stakes are so high.”
Taking that stance is hard when you have no space. In a phone interview, Almendarez, who lives in Phoenix, answered questions as she battled the cries for attention from her 2-year-old, Leona. She has been able to work from home, but the kids want Mom, so she slinks around from room to room chasing privacy. Working at night is impossible; she’s exhausted. Even with a babysitter coming in three days a week, the kids feel rejected, plus they’re missing interaction with peers.
Alexander Huls, a Toronto-based freelance writer, has seen that with his almost-20-month-old son, Emeric. Two months into his family’s self-isolation, Huls’ friends’ kids stayed at his house so they could attend a funeral. The children wanted to get close to Emeric, who was cagey. Huls soon realized why: The boy hadn’t been around children in weeks.
Huls and his wife, Linda, had thought about switching to a full-time daycare center, but when? Will spots be available? Huls doesn’t want that burden to fall on Linda, who works full-time for the University of Toronto. But it’s hard to increase a client base when you work part-time and budgets are freezing, not thawing.
“We can’t stay in our house until there is a vaccine,” Almendarez says. Sending the kids to camp is the best move. “I’m feeling overwhelmed in all aspects life,” she says. “It’s for them, for me, and I hope it’s the right decision.”
Renee Haynes, who runs MaMa Goose Day Care out of her home in Glen Ridge, New Jersey, is eager to re-open her family daycare, but she considers the risks of coronavirus too high for her kids. “It’s not about me,” she says. “it’s about the children.” She has attended various webinars to learn how to do her job safely. Nobody can answer how this new protocol will work when social distancing infants and toddlers is impossible. An arm’s length approach also dampens Haynes’ effectiveness as a caregiver. One kid sits in her lap, then another wants to scale “Nae Nae.” Another worships at her feet. There are tears of joy and sadness, and the accompanying drool to match. A caregiver can’t get to know a child if they can’t get close to them, she says.
Haynes hopes to offer her services to a couple of families by July — “a minimal capacity system” — without increasing the price, an act she cannot condone during a pandemic. She has had heard other daycares will do so; she will not. “Do we need to sell our home?” she says. “I’m hoping not.”
Haynes is stuck in a greater-good limbo; so is everyone else. Without adequate childcare, millions of Americans can’t fully return to work, turning their homes into a 24-7 daycare-workspace that benefits no one. The prospect of child care re-opening turns a basic, beneficial need into a morality play with too many monologues and hand-wringing.
Every day Haynes heads to the empty daycare she has called a second home for more than 25 years. She looks around, wonders how to improve the space, and waits, like everyone else, for an answer to arrive.
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