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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

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Daycare and parenting in the age of COVID-19

I was not exactly surprised last Thursday when I got a text message from my son’s daycare saying they’d be closed on Friday. It’s not even been a full week, but the avalanche of closings – at that time, most notably the suspension of the NBA season – was still very young. “Social distancing” wasn’t a thing yet, either.

Despite the daycare’s notes that they were working to reopen this week, I had already imagined the place would be closed, like so many other things right now during coronavirus (COVIC-19) pandemic. So I was surprised when I checked with the daycare Sunday night to see if they’d be open.

The text came back that they were trying to get a head count so they could make sure they were properly staffed. By this time, we’d already decided to keep him home on Monday, but were hopeful he’d go the rest of the week.

But for parents on a challenging budget – of which I am one – it raised a conundrum. Should I pay the weekly rate of $125, which ensures EJ has a spot in the daycare? Or should I pay the daily rate of $40 on an as-you-go basis? Do you pay $125 for a week, when the place probably won’t be open in a day or two?

I figured I’d sort it out when I got him there. So, I got up this morning (Tuesday) and took him, where I had a long conversation with the proprietor – who was exhausted. She explained the differences between the daily rate and the weekly contract. Partially out of respect for seeing how hard she was trying to help, I Cash-apped her $125, even as I winced at what it meant for my finances this week.

Turns out that only four children attended the daycare on Monday – yet she had six staff on hand. That’s great to hear, I suppose for a parent – more one-on-one attention. But like so many entrepreneurs during this crisis, paying staff without the income (students) to pay for it … well it put her in a tough spot. I could hear it in her voice.

“I’m trying to be helpful,” she said. “But I got to pay this staff, run all this building … it just doesn’t make sense, economically or financially.”

Her problem was exacerbated by unresponsive parents. Had more of them responded one way or the other that they would be attending, she could have adjusted her staffing accordingly. But despite her text on Monday night, and enough confirmations to convince her to soldier on, when I arrived with EJ there were only two other toddlers there.

“Honestly, I kinda wish I’d just closed down like SCS,” she said. “I was projecting that if we didn’t have enough kids today, we’ll close for the rest of the week.”

I knew before I left that she was going to close down for the rest of the week, but at least he’d get this day in daycare – or so I thought. Moments after I pulled into the driveway, she called about a cough that EJ’s been wrestling with for a few days. I threw the car in reverse and headed straight back to bring him on home.

Pancakes for breakfast. And she refunded me my $125.

So to recap: At 8:50 a.m., I signed my son into daycare, paid $125 with the anticipation he’d be in daycare all week. By 9:30 a.m., I had my money back and my son was buckled up in the back of my van headed home.

And I’m just ONE parent dealing with these dynamics. I know my story isn’t unique. Parents in Memphis and all over the country are dealing with this in some way. But we can get through it together. If you have a similar story, click here to tell me about it – we might use your story here online or in our print edition.

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