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January 10, 2022

Quickly adapting to keep children learning at home in Contra Costa County

This is episode 8 in the 'Pandemic Provider Interview' series. You can find more episodes here.

I had some of the children with me, probably about half of them stayed home and half of them were with me, but I still had to do story time. I started doing Facebook Live story circle time, so that the children wouldn't miss the atmosphere and the learning, and I would still continue getting paid.

I had one of my daughters work for me and I had to let go one of the ladies that had just started because she wasn't very familiar with the whole thing. She was kind of scared because she had a family member who was older in her household. So she said, "I think it's best that I don't continue and maybe after this is over, I can start again". She's a family friend, so I said, "sure that's fine". So my daughters kind of stepped in and that's what we did. They were helping the distance learners. I was doing the live Facebook all morning with circle time story, language and literacy, and math, just different things that we did so that the parents were able to see what the children were learning. Then the ones that were home, or kind of following as well, I would give them little packets of work that they were able to do like sensory and cognitive color coding recognition, every week, so that they can take that home.

It was very stressful; my hair would fall off. I mean, literally, I would take a shower, and my hair would start to fall off. I was taking vitamins and I think with this whole stress, every day, I couldn't sleep. I would fall asleep at midnight, and I was up at four.


I am a large family child care provider in Contra Costa County in the city of Concord. I've been doing family childcare for almost 14 years.

In the beginning, I'm the type of person that likes to be updated with news, but at the same time, when you're dealing with children, you need to be very calm, with peace of mind, and just happy. That's how I feel and that's how I protect myself with the children. So unless it's something very exciting, or something that I need to be careful about, I will watch the news, I will hear it via a little bit of social media or through family, but unless it's something that really impacts me and my daily life, I really try to get away from it. Unless it's the weekend or just a little bit too extensive, because I'm a very empathetic person so I’ll try. So everything that I see, and I hear, it really resonates with me. I just continue thinking and I don't like that feeling in a way. It's good because when you're empathetic, you empathize with everyone, you know, children and adults and so forth.

So usually every week, myself and a few colleagues, we go to the grocery store every week and we go on the weekend. For some reason, in the month of late February, I was looking for rice because I provide homemade meals for my children every day. I don't do anything out of a box or canned. I was trying to get the big sacks of rice and olive oil, paper towels, and toilet paper. I just couldn't find it. I would go to the store, I wouldn’t see it. I was like, okay, maybe something's going on. I'll just wait till next week. So that happened about three weeks in a row, right when it hit, I believe March 11th or 12th, I couldn't find anything. Then I tapped into one of my colleagues and I said, “Are you guys having any issues with you know, like, toilet paper, or food?”, and they're like, “yeah, we haven't seen any wipes” and I was like, “oh, wipes like disinfecting wipes”. I was like, “Oh?!”, so then I was just hearing little rumors about people needing to start collecting toilet paper because there's this COVID thing, and they were seeing Coronavirus, and people were laughing and making fun of beer comparing it to this virus. I was just like, okay, whatever and finally, I said, “Okay, this isn't three weeks in a row, this isn't Okay, I'm gonna look at the news. I sat down, listened to CNN” and my hair just flew up. I was like, Okay, this is no joke.

We're going to the store. I think this was a Thursday and I told my friend, I said, “Let's go to the store. We're going to hit Costco first thing”. We got to get in line, and we went to see what's going on because things are not going to be okay. They said it's going to be a couple of weeks, but we got to be safe. I mean, we've got all these children. Anyways, we ended up going to Costco on Saturday morning. We got up at five in the morning and we went to the business, Costco in Hayward. The line, I have pictures, the line was, I mean, I think Black Friday was not even close to what we saw. I said, “Well, we're not getting there because we're not going to leave there till probably afternoon and it was five in the morning”. It was still a little chilly and I said nope, we're not, so I said let's go to the one in San Leandro and it was raining and we got out of the car. There was a line but the line wasn't too big and I said “okay, we haven’t had breakfast, I'll go get breakfast and you stay in line”. We stood in line for two hours.

When we got into the store, we were limited to only one package of toilet paper, one package of paper towels, and one package of the box of three wipes (disinfecting wipes). There was no rice. The rice they had was like this weird rice that I have never seen or used. I said, “Well, I have to feed my kids and I can't not have rice”. So I put it all in my bag in my cart and when we got there, it was just weird. People were rushing and people were not talking to you. At that time, nobody was wearing a mask. Everybody was normal, you know, nothing, so it just had a very tense atmosphere in that store. The people were very stern when they were talking about merchandise, and people were just running with their carts, like, they needed all of these things. I was like, “Oh my god, I’ve never experienced that in my whole entire life”.

Anyways, I've heard about other countries because my background is from South America, and in my younger years, where rice and sugar was scarce and this and that. They had to get in line and all this, but I have never had this happen in the United States ever. So to me, this was weird. It was not something of a norm. So you know, we got in, we paid for everything and we were like, “Okay, we got our toilet paper, we got the stuff we need, and we're good”. We kind of went by and I said, you know what, this doesn't seem right. I told her, “Let's go next week just to see what we see because they said two weeks”. Week One, I said, “Let's get another set of toilet paper because we don't know what's going to happen”. We've been hearing all these things. So we did, the next week, we were limited to just one toilet paper and paper towel. This time we went to Sam's Club in Concord and there were no wipes. Were like, “okay?”, so we just kind of talked to each other and then we're like, “okay, this looks bad” and then we started to do research.

I had vacation planned. Couple of my colleagues had vacations planned, and we're like, should we go? Should we not go? I said to her, you know what, “I'm going to call my agent and I'm going to tell them that I need to postpone because I can't leave my business”. When things like this are happening, we don't know what's happening, when it's the unknown. I don't think it's safe and so she goes, “yeah”, but her vacation wasn't till April. So she goes, “well, I still have a little bit of time, so let's see what happens anyways”. So we kept going every week. By this time, I think it was week number three, and things were getting even worse. Then things weren’t opening up and then we heard the governor say, “okay, things are going to close down for another.... “. So Easter, I think, was coming around the corner and then they said okay, maybe for Easter, they're going to open up, nothing. We go every week, and this week we couldn't go. When we did, the lines were long, so we had to wake up early. It was like, we had to tell each other via text, “Kage, did you know this is missing?”. We would actually call each other and say I've seen this at Costco, and this. I've seen at Sam's, wipes.

I mean, we would tell each other and we have a Tuesday talk because we're also part of an Association, the Secretary and the President are my friends. So we kind of talked about it and then the treasurer and the other board members, and we were just like, “Okay, this isn't looking, okay”. We don't know what we're doing, but we're going to need to go to the Tuesday Talk and we need to talk to people to see what their experiences are and what's going on. What are they seeing? What are they hearing, you know? So then we kind of went on, we talked about our experiences, and just kind of what we went through. So people were like, “okay, they're kind of going through the same thing”.

Right in that time, reverse a little bit a week before.. I guess the governor was saying that we need to shut down. Then I had to put up a notice to my families and I told them that we don't really know what's going on, but we need to take precautionary measures. I did more research, I was looking at the news and I was reading what the CDC was saying, and everybody was in the unknown. There was information that we grasped from various places to put something together for our own business and I had a letter saying, what I'm going to do, and I said, we're going to start washing hands, we're going to start wearing these hats, which were very expensive. They were like $15 each, and I needed like, 12. They weren't sure if they needed it or not, but I was like, these children are in close quarters with us, you know, what are we going to do? We were wiping things and we were starting to clean things, but we weren't sure what's going on. We took every day, and every week slowly and just had our ears and our eyes open. We went to Tuesday Talks, and they were telling us that everybody was experiencing almost the same exact thing. We didn't know to what extent or how extensive this was.

I think it was in March, where a couple of providers said, “I've got health issues, so we need to close down and my friend and I said, “Well, I don't have any health issues, neither do you” and I don't think at the time it was a good idea. I think it was essential workers and it's like, thank goodness, we had nurses, we had computer techs that actually go out in the field, to do the internet. So we had those kinds of parents. I had a mechanic and I had some teachers that said, “Okay, I'm going to keep my kids”. They were scrambling, because they didn't know how to handle it. Their employers didn't know what they were doing. So I said, we need to figure out if you're going to bring them and if they're safe to be brought. I told them, you know, we can't be exposing ourselves to places, we need to stay in our own little environment. We kind of just went by what the book was, like, what they were saying to us, and we just kind of followed through and just checked in with each other. Through the first five Tuesday Talks, it gave us an idea. They supported us and they said, okay, we can do it every week. So every week, we were meeting. We were meeting with the fruit program and we were meeting with the subsidy, because we were getting to a point.

I don't remember the exact dates, but all this came to a point where the schools were shutting down and these children needed long distance learning. We had no idea how that was working and then along came zoom and we're trying to figure out zoom and how that worked. Some of these children were not used to sitting at a table and focusing, so that was a challenge, trying to get zoom. Then, we had the internet, but we didn't have an open Internet. So it got to the point in our first month, I remember that we had distance learners, it was like, okay, your internet is very slow, what's going on? So I called my internet company and the internet company said, “Oh, well, you're done, you're slowed”. You've slowed down because you've already used all your megabytes that you have. I was like, No, no, no, we can't do that. We need you know, more. So I had to upgrade that without even looking, you know, right or left if I could afford it. I think it's double the price, but I needed to keep my business open with these distanced learners. I needed my daughters to work now and go to school from home. I had some of the children with me and probably about half of them stayed home. The other half of them were with me, but I still had to do story time and I started doing Facebook Live story circle time, so that the children wouldn't miss the atmosphere and the learning, and that I would still continue getting paid. So we kind of just reinvented the wheel very quickly and I'm a multitasker. So I'm like, ahead of the game. I'm always thinking, Okay, what do I do? What is going to happen if this happens and so I would go on live.

I had one of my daughters work for me and I had to let go of one of the ladies that had just started because she wasn't very familiar with the whole thing. She was kind of scared because she had a family member that was older in her household. She said, you know, I think it's best that I don't continue, maybe after this is over, I can start again. She's a family friend so I said, sure, that's fine and so my daughters kind of stepped in. And that's what we did, they were helping the distance learners. I was doing the live Facebook all morning with circle time, stories, and language, literacy, and math, and just different things that we did so that the parents were able to see what the children were learning. Then the ones that were home, or kind of following as well, I would give them little packets of work that they were able to do a sensory and cognitive color coding recognition, every week, so that they can take that home. They were also doing things at home as well and that's just kind of how it went. We did that, week by week and I did lose some families where they were like, well, I can't really continue doing this. By that time, their employers were kind of reorganizing and getting their offices in their home, so that's just kind of how we did it. Supplies were very scarce, so we didn't have supplies, like, I had to buy a blower and you put peroxide in it and it's a huge machine. Then you just kind of, it's got air, use the peroxide that sanitizes the whole environment. But we had to figure out if we can use alcohol in it, or if we can use peroxide, because we weren't sure about these machines, but you know, they aren’t cheap. We didn't get them on Amazon. The instructions are very small, and they don't tell you the purpose that we wanted them for, so that was a challenge.

We brought it into Tuesday Talks and people were telling us their experiences and so forth. The other thing was that we didn't have certain things. So we would go to Safeway, and they'll say if we didn't have fruit or vegetables. There was one point that it looked like it was the walking dead, because there was nothing on the shelves. We literally could not find anything. The fruit was gone. Everything! Then I heard a couple of people that had a family that worked at Safeway, that people at Safeway were getting Coronavirus, and so then they had to stop the trucks. Then that's why we weren't getting any of the food. We ended up going to Smart and Finals, and we would end up buying the canned fruit because that's all we could find to give the kids. So you know, we would mix it up with some of the fruits that we were able to find and some of the canned fruit, because we didn't have the supplies that we would normally have during the week. So that was another thing. Then it got to the point where there was no toilet paper and there were no paper towels. When we were in our group of discussions, a couple of providers said, “Oh, I have this vendor that I ordered from”, so everybody would go to that vendor for literally, I don't know, 90 rolls of toilet paper. I paid almost $200 for toilet paper, and it took a month and a half for it to get to me, same thing with paper towels. I paid almost $200 for paper towels, it took a very long time to get to me.

I always try to be proactive. So as soon as I knew about it, I would order it that way, when the time would come. I would have it and I was very close to not getting what I needed because they were taking way too long in the shipment, but then we heard, boats were kind of stopping people. They we're not bringing things into the Oakland port. We were trying to scramble from various places, like a lot of them, “we would say okay, it's on Amazon order”. I even told my parents the same thing because they couldn't find diapers, they couldn't find wipes. So they were asking me and I would constantly be on Amazon and saying okay, there are size four diapers. Then I would put it on a group text and my parents would literally buy the box. If the other one took too long, it means they couldn't find it. So we had to wait probably another week and it was just a hot mess. It was very stressful, my hair would fall off. I mean, literally, I would take a shower, and my hair would start to fall off. I was taking vitamins and I mean I have a lot of hair. I think with all this stress, every day, I couldn't sleep. I would fall asleep at midnight, and I was up at four because you don't know what the next day is going to be like. You kept hearing from family friends in New York, family friends in Florida, family friends across South America, in Europe, people were dying, people that were perfectly healthy, were dying. So you're like, oh, my goodness, you know, what happened? You know, I'm a single mom, I have two grown daughters. Yeah, they can take care of themselves, but, I mean, what are they going to do if something were to happen to me, and then you’d think of all these things that you're unsure about. So, what I would do is we would talk again about self care, and I'm a very resilient person. No, you gotta keep moving, you got to tell yourself, no, everything's gonna be okay, you're gonna be fine. That positive energy, that positive vibe, and even with your friends, you tell them everything's gonna be okay. We just have to take every day with a grain of salt and just keep moving forward and just be positive.

We try to do various things to make ourselves, you know, feel a little bit more comforted. While we were going through all this, because there was a lot of anxiety, there was a lot of stress of not finding things, of losing families to financial need that they couldn't come because they were at home. They couldn't pay, they didn't want to pay, and they didn't need to pay because they were home. They were home working from home. Then it got to the point where they weren't able to handle it anymore, so I got a couple back that they weren't able to handle working from home and doing distance learning, while keeping the children busy. In a few months in the summer, I got a few back. Then I lost a few at the end of the summer. So it was just a very up and down. We weren't getting any phone calls for new children or for new families, so that was really scary. People have changes in jobs and changes in living situations and they move and they come and they go, but you're getting phone calls and you're getting recommendations and you're getting word of mouth, but nobody was doing that. So you're like okay, How is this working? Then you've got, of course, that EDD was going to do for the private people. People that had their own business were going to provide some kind of support. Nobody knew how to fill those forms out. People were on the phone for hours and hours trying to get ahold of someone, they didn't even know very much to give us correct information. I mean, there were people that we never got to. Some people took, three or four to six months later. So everybody was just stressed, because it was very unknown. There wasn't a lot of information. We just had to take what we had and run with it, and hopefully thought that it was the right thing to do and we were being safe. That was very stressful. You have no idea how happy we were when we started hearing that people were getting vaccinated.

Then having a president that did not support the country, the nation, and so that even made it worse. Then we had the fires, so then we couldn’t have the children be outside, because we brought them out a lot because it was during summer. So we brought a lot of the things that we do indoors to outdoors. So we were doing storytime outdoors, we were doing circle time outdoors, we were doing sensory, and we were playing games and water activities. They were all outdoors because it was all through the summer and then we got the fires. The fires actually came early, usually between September and October, and this was in August, so it was still hot. We couldn't be outside. We had to be inside because of the smoke and in Concord, it was really bad. I mean, I would measure the air quality every day, and I would post it on my door, so that my parents would know that I was unable to take them out, so we had to reinvent the wheel. We befriended a bunch of people, a bunch of organizations; first five of Minnesota, first five of Washington, first five of all these different states, so that we could read and get ideas of what they were doing. We were just running out of ideas on what to do, especially indoors. So we had all that happen in August and September. Then, it was like coming and going and things were getting better.

Then in the beginning of the summer things got worse and my scares were really during the holidays. I was getting parents that wanted to travel and I said, “Okay, these are my rules”. I was getting a lot of providers that were frustrated, because, you know, you can't control what other families are doing outside of your care. But you can control only what's inside of your business with your other children. So you have to post it, you have to remind them, and I had to remind my families almost at least once or twice a month, “okay, you know, we got to wash hands before coming, we got to sign the children in and we got to take temperatures, we have to take off shoes.” We had to throw away the show and tell completely, because we didn't want any of those germs to come in. We didn't know if the virus was in toys. We didn't know if the germs of the virus were in shoes. I mean, all of that. We had to, wash everything and clean everything. I was getting dry skin, my skin was peeling, because we were using so many different things, constantly to keep everything sanitized and cleaned for everybody's sake.

I personally added something in my handbook for our new families. I did a newsletter every month and in that newsletter were reminders based on CDC. There's a quarantine with which you're going to travel when you come back. If you have a test you have to wait three days. You got to test and even with all that, I did get a couple of families that tested positive. It was like I guess they were exposed on a Friday after they came here, then they went somewhere. By the time Sunday came or Monday morning, they felt symptoms and because we were always reminding them. They said, ``Okay, “I'm just going to be cautious. I'm going to go get tested and then one of them tested positive and the whole family got it”. But luckily, we weren't directly exposed, because of the weekend kind of thing. So that was Thanksgiving. But we didn't know until I think, the following week, because by then it was taking, I think, five days, no three, for the results to come back. They were taking forever. We were all on pins and needles during the Thanksgiving holiday, so I didn't enjoy my holiday because I was waiting for this family. Because, you know, apart from them being positive, you don't know what the outcome is going to be. Then to lose a family like that would have been detrimental, and it just is not a good thing. So you know, that was a stressor.

Then the same thing for Christmas, I usually have a Christmas program. I said, you know, we really can't do it, we're gonna do it virtually. I was only going to have two families, the ones that were going to be leaving because this was going to be their last Christmas presentation. One of them, the dad, got tested and he got a positive. He was at the door with me and I always had a shield and a mask. I always told them to keep a six feet distance. He picked up the baby and the next day, the mom said, you know, I'm not bringing the kids in, because he just got tested, and he's positive. I tested the kids and they weren't positive. So I think it was just the universe, or God watching over me because nothing happened. I called my doctor, I went in, got a test and everything was fine. But, during Christmas, I had to shut down today early, so the presentation was off. We couldn't do anything. I had to text all my families. I think that was the saddest day in the history of my work as a provider of family childcare, because we spent many, many months from like September, all the way through December, practicing our Christmas songs, to do a performance. Then for something like that to happen because of covid was sad. I mean, we have no control over that. We didn't have a presentation, so that was a real sad moment for me. That was the only time that I had to close, that day.

Yes, it was just one day because I actually had Christmas. I think it was the following week. Everybody was gone. So then when everybody came back, during New Year's, everybody was fine. Everything was good to go. My family and my kids are so close. I've had other providers that tested positive. They had to close for 15 days, but it wasn't during the holiday or anything. At that time, you don't get paid, nobody gets paid. It was a time where families had to scramble to get other care if possible or not. They had to all stay home. I mean, it was just a variety of different things, and emotions and actions that everybody had to take, because of just one family.


Can you tell me more about the change in your enrollment during the pandemic?


I don't know if you remember, but they said the first two weeks. So everybody kept telling us, after the two weeks, then they said after four weeks, and then they said, you know, until the beginning of June. Everybody goes that way until the beginning of June, and so I think that's what made things the way they did. Then in June, when things started opening up, people came back and then also I think through the Fourth of July weekend because they saw things during Memorial weekend got really bad. So by July they didn't want the same thing to happen. So everything shut down and that's when I lost, like financially, a few of my families, so they didn't come back. So it was really like a roller coaster. They left, but they were still paying because of all these things. Okay, it's gonna open up, it's gonna open up and then June burst open up and everybody physically came back. Then in July, it was ridiculous, so we are all going to have to stay home. Then they didn't come back. I lost like three families. It's weird, because I lost and then three came back. Then I got a couple of months of distance learners. Then, I think at the time, cocoa kids were only paying for a certain time, I think like the end of September. So then after September, they left again. So then I lost two more. Then I gained like two back, and then they left and they moved away. I guess different entities were paying for things and qualifying families that maybe hadn't qualified before, so they were coming. But then once that was done they left. So that's where we were, it wasn't the same families, it was just a roller coaster of different families. Right now I have nine. So at the beginning of the year, I lost families as well because I got parents where they were getting laid off or their hours got cut, because there wasn't a lot of work. So then I am at nine.


Can you tell me a little more on how that impacted you financially, were you still able to pay your bills and everything?


I luckily had a little bit of money saved, so that kind of saved me, but you don't want to tap into a lot of things. I had to tap into my credit card, because of the supplies and stuff. I know that I got to a point at some time, where the internet was kind of, always a month behind because it was double the payment. Then pg&e got really, really high because since we were indoors in the summer, that AC was on like 24/7. Then, during the wintertime, we would have the heater on extensively from before. Then of course with all the computers and all the electronic things that were on constantly. The electricity was way up higher, and so was the internet. SBA did a grant, I think it was like I don't remember what month it was, but I think it was in June. Then the PPE one. We applied to all those and we kind of waited out and we got that help. I've gotten the first PPE and the second one. I'm still waiting for the first one to be forgiven. I've had friends that have already gotten forgiven, but I've got both the SBA, which they gave me as a part of a grant. Then I think there was another grant through another company. I got that one as well. So every grant opportunity that we were able to apply for we applied and and out of I don't know maybe three or four, I think maybe one or two I didn't get, but all the other ones I did.


What would you say was the hardest part about being a childcare provider during the pandemic?


I think the most difficult part was getting sick because it was very unknown. Even to this day, I think my daughter is a therapist. She's a family and marriage therapist and she and I talk a lot about, you know, even to this day with a vaccine about masks, when you're in close corners with people, you know, in a restaurant or in a place, where you feel very unsafe. I mean, even though you're vaccinated, you don't know if you'll get it, and you don't know how your body is going to react. Just like the vaccine, everybody has reacted differently with the various vaccines. So I think it's just the unknown of your health, and how that's going to impact your business, your family, and just your life in general. I mean, you could die, and you wouldn't even know, and how sad that a lot of people are, we're not even there to hold your family's hand because of this virus. So to me, I think, the anxiety of getting it, and not knowing if you're going to survive or not is the most stressful thing. When you think more towards your family, because I know, even though you give lots of love and affection to these children, they have their families, but you, it impacts you, your business, your everything, everything that surrounds you as a person.


What during the past year has been most helpful for you?


I think just being able to have the emotional and physical support from your friends, like in the same field, like your colleagues, your providers. I think that as a family child care provider, we're not recognized sometimes. The President of my association, and myself, brought this idea to many, many different people from different organizations much bigger than ours with much more money. I mean, we barely have any money but, you know, they got the idea from us, of touching base with every provider in our county, every week to see how we're doing and if we can help in any way. Because it was so unknown, you're isolated in your house with maybe one other adult, and maybe if you had that one other adult helping assist you. And if you're small, it's just you and maybe the family that you live with and they don't know unless they're working with you and they don't know what you go through. I think the emotional support of the association that I'm a board member of really helped because everybody looked forward and we vented, and we talked. There was a point where we had almost 100 providers online on zoom, asking questions and listening and just being there and sharing some things and feedback and all that. So I think zoom was the best thing that could have happened to all of us because that was a way of communicating with everyone, not just you know, work but family as well.