- Courtesy of Aubrey Boyles
- Children playing at Aubrey's House
I've run a childcare program out of my home for the last 13 years. It all started when friends were in a desperate situation, having lost their childcare overnight due to unforeseen circumstances, and needed care for their 18-month-old. We agreed that their daughter would spend two days a week with me and my then-2-year-old son. She became one of his first friends, and they got into all kinds of delightful mischief. Several months later, when she moved on to a childcare center across town, I felt a void. My son and I missed her.
Also, it was time for me to get back into the workforce. My family needed the second income. Although I'd been working full time before the birth of our son, I didn't have a career to get back to. After weighing my options, I decided to try my hand as a small-business owner and launched my then-unnamed childcare program. Since then, that program, Aubrey's House, has undergone many changes. Over the years, I've adjusted my hours and rates, and introduced family-caregiver conferences and developmental screening.
The pandemic brought even more changes. Some of them, such as shorter hours and restrictions on families coming inside my home, were so drastic that I asked all six of my families to sign an entirely new handbook/contract in the middle of the year. Since then, enrollment has grown to eight families: four full time and four part time. I absolutely love being with the kids every day. They are such a light during these dark times. A normal day for us looks something like this.
7:30 a.m. Get fresh sheets and blankets out of the dryer and make up six toddler cots before stacking them in the closet for later. Check the toy rotation to find out which ones we're scheduled to play with today and exchange jokes with my husband who currently works at home about how excited he is for a "zoo animal day." According to the state's COVID-19 protocols, toys have to spend a minimum of three days in quarantine before we can get them out again. Sanitize all surfaces in the kitchen and clean the bathroom. Rearrange the fridge to make room for six snack boxes and six lunch boxes.
9 a.m. Kids start arriving. We have drop-off and pickup down to a science, and it takes just a couple minutes before we meet at the waving window (parent outside, me and the kids inside) to say goodbye and blow kisses. We settle in to read, play and have morning snacks.
10:30 a.m. Three kids build a Duplo village together. I overhear them say, "I have idea!" "Good worker!" and "Where should this go?" These kids get along better than most adult coworkers. Meanwhile, another toddler has fit Duplo roof pieces snugly over her bare toes and is hobbling around the playroom in homemade "shoes."
It's 9 degrees, so we are not going outside. I move the toddler couch closer to the climbing triangle so the kids can slide and jump from one to the other. They are so excited, you'd think I just built them a water park. We use cushions and floor tiles to create a circular path connecting the climbing triangle and toddler couch. It's like a tiny "American Ninja Warrior" course, but better because nobody's going to get disqualified by falling into the water.
We pull out the hand pump to put more air in the one ball that always leaks. The kids beg me to blow air onto their faces with the pump. They close their eyes and giggle, their cheeks feeling the "breeze."
My nose tells me someone needs a fresh diaper. It's a doozy, and I help that kiddo change clothes, being sure to wipe their upper back really well. This is the same kiddo who needed more than one nose wipe earlier. Diarrhea plus runny nose means they definitely have to go home. COVID-19 has come to mean zero tolerance for anything but a pristinely dry nose and bottom.
11:30 a.m. Each kiddo gets a glue bottle and a paper plate. We make collages with beads, sequins, seashells and scraps from cut-up holiday cards that look like confetti.
12 p.m. During lunch, one of the kids says my spaghetti looks like worms (gag) which I'll never be able to unsee. Two others are having a lively conversation (or maybe it's a debate) about what food belongs to whom. They are smiling and laughing and shouting back and forth even though, in reality, they have clearly labeled lunch boxes. Another kiddo is still hungry after finishing his packed lunch from home, so I grab a little bag of pretzels kept on hand for just this purpose. I compost the spaghetti and start slurping down smoothie leftovers from my own kid's breakfast. One of the tiny kids grins and starts pointing back and forth between my smoothie and herself. She knows we can't share food, but it's clear she's saying she loves smoothies, too. This small genius is fluent in baby sign language, facial expressions and body language. Without saying a word, she's more articulate than many adults.
12:30 p.m. We're playing "Bang the Toys Away," a game one of the kids invented to make putting away the morning toys more fun. Everybody runs around shouting and bumping into each other while I get out cots. The youngest kids fall asleep almost immediately. The older kids nod off with books covering their faces (sometimes the books end up under their faces and then I've got to move fast to keep the pages dry). Except sometimes the big kids don't fall asleep — sometimes no one falls asleep —and that can be really hard. Recently one of the kids started pooping every day during nap time. It took him a year and a half before he felt comfortable doing No. 2 in my potty. Now I'm so relieved every time he lets it out.
2:25 p.m. Rest time is over. Time to get the kids snacks and fresh diapers before parents arrive.
3:15 p.m. Everyone is gone and it's very quiet. I stack six cots in the closet for tomorrow and start a load of toddler laundry. I put toys back in the basement, sanitize the kitchen, sanitize the bathroom and sit down at my computer to answer emails.
Despite the sometimes exhausting nature of my work, I have one of the best jobs in the whole entire world. I get to witness and help facilitate the growth of and friendships between these smart and kind, totally unique, and very complicated toddlers. They are funny and sensitive, inquisitive and resilient. Every day I'm challenged to figure out how to best support them as they grow. The kids and I are getting each other through this pandemic. They need me and, it turns out, I need them. They allow me to set aside worries and uncertainties and are the reason my brain hasn't gone completely mushy after a year of isolation. We make a great team.