In our program, transition into early care is supported by predictable daily routines, beginning with each family’s orientation.
Prior to the arrival of the Coronavirus, our families came into our classroom, we greeted each other and had a daily health check with the child. Parents put prepared bottles away and placed car seats by their child’s crib, then completed information on our large whiteboard in the classroom. Daily, parents were asked about their child’s wake-up time, last feeding and mood. They were also asked to identify who to contact first on a given day, whether the child was given any medications and approximate pick-up time. Families were oriented to how these routines helped us function together for their child’s well-being. At the end of the day, families came back into our classroom and saw how we built their child’s day around the information parents had given us. Each child had their own schedule.
As the shutdown began in March of 2020, our precious routines were disrupted. Our child care remained open but parents could not enter the school. Instead, parents remained at the front door to complete information on a clipboard while we conducted a wellness check. In April 2020, we were required to wear masks and staff were offered furlough. There were additional challenges. We lost our communication app and came up with a way to email parents about their child’s day. We recognized we were living in a pandemic, a state of emergency. Many families began working from their homes, keeping their children with them. We made a few phone calls and received some photo emails as a way to stay in touch with families. These were important to our sanity. In May, we welcomed a few families back. We watched for signs of stress. Together, we encouraged a new normal, trying our best to stay afloat and hold each other up.
In June, I was overwhelmed by the new tension brought on by civic protests and nearby property damage, knowing we had staff traveling through town and by bus. One day Metro Transit gave notice that they were closing down and we sent one of our teachers home early. Some teachers quit or did not return to the classroom. Our families and staff were additionally stressed.
Social distancing, disinfectant wipe downs, hand washing, gloves, masks, face shields and gowns were made available and used as needed to ensure safety for staff and families. Classroom staff welcomed and brought in each child from the entry. At the end of the day, one staff person was available to watch for each parent arriving. This continues to be a new dance as we respond to changing CDC guidelines. We are cross training. In the beginning, adjusting schedules helped us get used to wearing masks and working in a new way. Staff are continually needed, days off are less. We grieve for the way it was, while we adjust to the way it is. The children hesitate as we hesitate. The children embrace the situation much like we do. Trust is huge. We can’t do what we do without trust. We are grateful every day.
Still, connections persevere. One cold day during the winter of 2021 as I was masked, wearing my down coat and trudging through the parking lot on my way to be tested, a weekly part of our routine, a dad and daughter pulled up nearby. I heard the one-year-old call out my name. She recognized me. I couldn’t believe it. I turned and squatted down as my friend ran and gave me a big hug. We wore masks in the infant room while she was growing and learning, listening closely and assimilating language. Our connection and trust is strong, even in this new world.
Still, so many people are hurting in this new and complicated reality. Recently, I was looking forward to welcoming a new family. I left a voicemail and waited patiently, anticipating the arrival of a family of four. I was asked specifically if the older sister could come and play in our large muscle room while we went over the infant’s routines and how everything was going for the family. We planned to review policy and procedures in the process and welcome the family by creating a family panel with photos.
But on this very sad day, no one came. The director came into the room. She stood in front of me as I fed an infant and said, “I have very sad news. The worst possible news.” She sat down on the cushion in front of me and told me she received word that the new infant, who was to be oriented today, had lost his mother. His mom was suffering from postpartum depression, had a psychotic episode, and ended her life. Dad, in his grief, had no plans to return to work. There would be a memorial service later as he gathered her distant family.
I am sad. I grieve for this family. I grieve for the way it was and all of the rich opportunities we had for family connection and support. What next? I’m not sure. How do we keep on? Sometimes circumstances keep us from having opportunities to be with families. But still, I think of the smiling faces of the children and look at what we do have. We can still be a part of someone’s day, and maintaining these bonds is important. Caring is our connection and we must look for the opportunities to care for families whenever we can.