Yes, another post about COVID-19. But let’s be honest, it’s hard to think about anything else right now.
This began as an entirely different draft. It was going to be about continuing care throughout a global pandemic. It was going to be about talking to children about not being able to hug our neighbors and worrying about toilet paper and jam. About keeping what sense of normalcy we can during these very strange times.
But that’s not what happened. One week ago Brian and I made the hard decision to temporarily close. I still have not processed all of the emotions surrounding this decision, but I know this was the best choice for our family and for the health and safety of The Children’s Burrow Families.
So for now, caregiving will look like working in outdoors to make improvements to the play yard, putting a fresh coat of paint on the walls, and scrubbing the floor. It will be sharing our favorites books and Pancake Robot. Caregiving will look like me slowing down and taking care of myself so when the day comes that we open the doors to The Children’s Burrow my cup will be full and ready to pour from again.
This space doesn’t get used everyday. When it was built last fall (THANK YOU, BITTY!!!), it was announced with little fanfare as to its grand purpose.
Life continued in The Junkyard, and while things happened at the sink, it never developed into deep, immersive play. Mostly the children just randomly dump sand into the sink as they passed or tried to see if everyone could sit in it at the same time.
Today I made a little bench with two tires and a plank of wood. Usually this signals a balance beam, but today I had a different purpose. I gathered some tools from around the yard, scooped a bit of sand, put a handful of clover on a tray. Immediately all three children ran over to see what I was doing and the questions came all at once:
What are you doing? What is that? What is that for? Can I do it? Why are you putting that in the bowl?
I’m making a potion . . .
Immediately little hands began making their own potions, pulling from ingredients I had brought to the bench and wandering off to find what else they might need. Flowers, seashells, water, and more clover, never enough clover.
I found Circle Time to be a bizarre gathering when I first experienced it. I was a floater in a small center and would often be in the 3’s and 4’s room when it began. I would sit in the back and quietly whisper “Criss cross applesauce” and “Shhhh! Listen to Miss Amanda” as Miss Amanda would try to get through the calendar, weather and letter of the week while attempting to keep one very active girl from bringing the easel down on top of her.
I continued on the tradition when I found myself hundreds of miles away jumping into family child care. I would try to fit in everything that the children needed to know about colors, numbers, letters, days of the week, the months, upcoming holidays and whatever theme we were learning about that week into ten minutes of constant interruptions.
These days Circle Time is a very different beast. Take today for example, I finally got the pumpkins off the counter and outside (you wouldn’t believe how difficult that was). First the pumpkins were carried around, wheeled from one side of the patio to the other in the wheelbarrow, placed in the pots of hibernating mint, and finally rolled down the hill to the play yard. Two of the four pumpkins made the journey intact, the other two cracked neatly in half. The Twins and L promptly sat down and began poking at the seeds and seeing what my response would be if they tried to eat them. Then getting no response other than my acknowledgement, they proceeded to chew up a few and spit them out unceremoniously.
K decided to join in after a bit, but was not thrilled with the slick and gooey nature of the inside of the pumpkin, so he stuck exploring the the whole pumpkins.
This is how circle time should happen; authentically, when there is something of interest to explore and discuss, not when the adult decides there is something important to teach.
It’s quite magical: snuggling up with a warm little body, holding a new book, and being filled with the anticipation of the story to come.
But let’s be honest, these moments are not often found with toddlers.
I was joking with Brian the other day that I have a new way of reading stories. First someone brings me a book and sits in my lap. Then I read the title whilst they are opening the book. I read what words I can before they flip to another page. If the little one in question wanders off I will continue to read the book if it strikes my fancy.
I have a secret: I used to hide the fact that I read while working. I felt guilty, that I wasn’t doing my job if I was reading a book while the children were engaged in other activities. Maybe the parents would be upset if they knew that I was reading. But I’ve found something magical in reading while with children: they notice what I’m doing. They want to sit next to me and also read a book. They are intrigued by the book that is holding my attention. Gigi used to ask me about what I was reading, or bring me the book to read her a passage.
I recently won a copy of Emily Plank’s book Discovering the Culture of Childhood (Thank you Redleaf Press!). In a rare quiet moment last week I pulled it out and started to read, quickly grabbing a pen to make passages I particularly enjoyed and jot down questions I had about the text. Fast forward to Monday when I am preparing lunch and enjoying my view from the kitchen of the three older children engrossed with a book on the couch. I was amazed with how much time they were taking with the book, the way they all were hovering around Miss A as she (I assumed) flipped through the pages of their current favorite, I Spy . . .
Notice the face on the cover?
Throughout the pages are small little purple scribbles alongside my notes. I am thankful that it doesn’t make much of an impact on reading the book. And how fitting, as I read about learning and embracing the culture of children, that is so different from that of adulthood, I am given a reminder of how these things aren’t done out of malice or destructive intent, that I need to remove my adult lenses and see things as a child would . . .
Today is my last Monday with Gigi. I’ve been sitting on the couch, ready to make the drive to her house for twenty minutes; I won’t need to leave for twenty more.
This won’t be the day that I had envisioned. The dogs have to go to the vet, Handy Randy is coming over to finish a few last minute projects to get the house ready for children (and insurance).
This past month has given me abundant practice at staying in the moment, choosing connection over reaction, savoring each moment. I’m not ready for this chapter to end, yet the story of Bethany and Gigi must continue.
Next Monday will be my first day with four new little ones. I won’t lie, I’m terrified. What if we don’t connect? What if they hate my food? What if they just cry at nap time? What if I don’t choose connect over reaction?
So here we are, ending one chapter and beginning a new one. I don’t know where this new adventure will take me, but I know where I’m coming from so I imagine it will be a wonderfully wild rollercoaster ride.
In one month my life will change. I won’t wake up and drive to Gigi’s house. I won’t get to have morning snuggles with my girl squirrel and sore fingernails from all of the back scratches given. Days at the pool will be over and impromptu trips to the zoo will be a thing of the past.
In one month my house will come to life with four little voices, eight running feet, and I’m sure, two confused (but thrilled) pups. I’ll have more diapers to change than I know what to do with and new rhythms to discover. Days will be long and spent learning about these new little humans.
In one month I will experience a devastating loss and wonderful new beginning.
So for the next month I will savor each kiss and cuddle, build memories each day, and reminisce about the past five years. I will clean, organize and put up baby gates.
Transitions are never easy for me . . . this time is no exception.
Step 1: Don’t take children strawberry picking.
Step 2: If you do choose to take children strawberry picking, don’t expect them to pick any strawberries.
Step 3: If your child does pick a strawberry, just let them eat it. They don’t actually weigh the children when you pay for your berries.
Step 4: Have fun!
As adults we often go into an experience with an agenda and a desired outcome. Two years ago I took Gigi strawberry picking for the first time. It was a disaster. Her little fingers did not have the skill to pluck the juicy berry from the plant, and she didn’t have the attention span to search under the leaves for ripe berries with me. She was quickly frustrated and bored. If I had let my agenda get in the way we would have spent the morning in a power struggle as I “helped” her fill a basket.
This year held more promise for strawberry picking. Gigi’s fingers had two years to work on the skills needed for such a delicate task. She is able to focus and finish a project that we begin together. And oh! The first three berries we picked was a thrilling experience for both of us! Then reality hit. Strawberry picking is hard work and Gigi was not interested, that is until I told her she could eat her fill of berries she picked herself!
My agenda wasn’t to fill a basket, though if I’m being honest the picking was very good and I did fill four baskets, thanks to a certain strawberry stained four year old who kept bringing me empty baskets ❤️. I had one desire for the morning: to spend a memorable morning with my sweet girl. Watching her run up and down the rows, chin dripping with juice, was worth more than filling a basket with berries.
Because I let go of my idyllic adult version of what strawberry picking should look like, Gigi was able to explore the fields, get advice from more seasoned pickers about how to find the best berries, and practice her independence by getting baskets alone. These things are more important than putting a strawberry in a basket.
I’ve always loved mixed age groups. There is something beautiful watching an older child hold an infant, or play with a toddler. I have memories recess in seventh grade watching a classmate give piggy-back rides to the kindergarteners instead of joining the basketball game that the older students had started. These fond memories fuel my love for family child care.
Our playmates recently have all been around the same age as Gigi so it was a treat when KJ (one of my amazing, beautiful nieces, and the most amazing ten year old I know) and her family came down to visit during spring break. She and Gigi have developed a very close relationship over the past few months through the wonder of video calls. KJ has a unique gift of interacting with young children and making them feel equal to her.
Cutthroat Kitchen features often in our chats so the girls decided to create some sweet treats with playdough. It soon verged from a contest to a lesson in playdough techniques. Each step was modeled with patience and gentle guidance from KJ.
I am often asked how I justify direct instruction when I am an advocate for child-led exploration and minimal intervention from adults. To be honest I don’t have a firm answer. Direct instruction is a filled with murky waters where the adult needs to make their own judgement call after observation and reflection. KJ was very intuitive in her lessons with Gigi. She didn’t demand exact replication or labeled Gigi’s attempts as wrong. There was less of an agenda on KJ’s part and more of just talking through the steps she was taking, and supporting Gigi when she asked for it.
Our spring break was brightened with the arrival of KJ (and the rest of the family, we love you too!!). We will keep the memories and lessons we learned in our hearts and mind for a long time to come.