By Renaldo Sanders, Child Care Provider in Compton, California

Renaldo Sanders with some of the books at Sanders Family Day Care in Compton, California.

I’m a licensed quality childcare provider in the wonderful city of Compton, California. I provide teaching and activities that are age and developmentally appropriate for the children in our care, but because of COVID-19, we are only caring for essential workers’ children at this time.

Compton Unified School District closed schools on March 16, and that was when we really started buckling down here, in terms of extra safety and precautions.

Bus drivers, grocery workers, nurses and tax preparers—those are the workers whose children come here to Sanders Family Day Care. Some of the grocery workers’ shifts are now starting even earlier, so we’ve adjusted our times here so that we can work with their schedules. Because without them we all wouldn’t be able to have the supplies and things that we need.

Normally I’d up at 5am to be ready at 6am, but now I’m up at 4am, showering and having my coffee, checking to make sure that things are safe, and doing extra sanitising. Normally our day begins with the children coming in between 6am and 9.30am.

The kids are aged from two to 10-years-old right now. Some days we have two children and other days it might be seven. They’re with us until around 6pm at night.

I love what I do. I am so passionate about providing the best that we can for our children. It doesn’t matter what their economic status is, or what country their parents came from—it’s a big world out here and I want them to be prepared.

Friday is normally our special ‘fun Friday’, but for now, every day is fun Friday.

We’ve altered many of our daily routines. The main thing, along with safety, is to keep the children and their families uplifted. We’re no longer able to hold hands or do circle time, so we’ve learned different ways to show affection. Crossing our arms in front of our bodies, means ‘big hugs’. Waving them up and down across our bodies means ‘hello, and how are you?’

Each child now has their own activities, whereas before they could all play together. Friday is normally our special ‘fun Friday’, but for now, every day is fun Friday. That idea was from our little soon-to-be eleven-year-old. She said, “let’s make every day our happy day!”

We’ve also been using YouTube to take field trips. We put on our T-shirts and we went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and visited the cherry blossoms on the East Coast. As the kids love singing Frère Jacques, we pointed out France on our map, put on our T-shirts, and got ‘on a plane’.

We have little songs like, “Cover your mouth when you cough and you sneeze. Atchoo! Cough, cough.” And we practise hand washing. A parent of twins we have here told us, “oh, my babies are such good hand washers. They’re washing their hands better than me!”

Sometimes I have to go to the bathroom and have a cry, because I’m a little sad that we’re unable to do certain things.

We were going to make COVID-19 hats, and one of kids said “ohh, but I don’t want to get sick.” So I said, “we’re going to put the germs on them, and then you’ll find something to put on them that can chase these germs away.”

They’re happy. That’s the main thing. I’m hearing more of “you make my heart happy!” because that’s what I tell them. So now they’re saying it.

The kids say, “we miss being able to run and give you a hug,” And you have to say, “well, we’re going to do an elbow bump instead.” Of course they want to hug, and you see them reach out. Sometimes I have to go to the bathroom and have a cry, because I’m sad that we’re unable to do certain things. But we’re just figuring out a different way. So I go in, have a cry, and then I come back out and I feel better. Or I say, “these are happy tears,” because they know about my happy tears. The kids are doing better than me!

Renaldo Sanders at Sanders Family Day Care in Compton, California. Flowers and hearts help to keep the children happy and uplifted.

A couple of weeks ago, during the first week of social distancing, we were out on a walk and a neighbour ran out of her house and said, “I’ve been looking for you all!” and gave us gallons of milk. Another neighbour brought food and bread. One of our parents works at a grocery store, and he brought in water, paper towels, toilet paper and sanitising items.

Right now, the only thing that we are in need of is masks. We’ve made masks for the children, but we can’t find any out there. But some other child care providers are not able to find supplies they need—milk, paper goods, cleaning goods or certain foods. Especially our brothers and sisters that are in rural areas, it’s very hard for them.

But here, we’re just totally overwhelmed with gifts, and it’s such a blessing.

It seems like even though parents were appreciative in the past, now they are even more so. We’re sharing information via social media with the families that aren’t here at the moment. And we’ll do FaceTime or send texts with pictures of things we’re doing, and the parents are doing the same back.

I live in and run Sanders Family Day Care from my home in a housing development, we first moved here 34 years ago. Many of the people would normally be working, so they wouldn’t see us out walking during the day.

But now, everybody’s waving, and so happy to see each other. If people in the neighbourhood see me without the children, they’ll say “where are your kids? Are you closed? Are you safe? Do you need anything?” That’s such a blessing. Just the outpouring and sharing of that love and concern. I’ve loved living here all these years, but it’s even better now.

I feel that I’m safe and I love what I do, and my families need me and I also need them. It’s good for all of us. I’m not concerned at this moment about catching anything from anyone, because everyone’s practicing their safety. If you haven’t attended here within the last two weeks you won’t be admitted, if you have symptoms of flu, or your eyes aren’t clear then you can’t come in.

I don’t have anyone else come in our home, even my granddaughter. That’s really sad for me. She’s 14-years-old and she’s home with her family. I’m missing her but we’re talking and able to use all these new technologies.

I love to dance, and to go out dancing with my sister. So with social distancing, it was like “woah, no dancing?” So I figured out how to do social distance dancing with YouTube. I have other friends who are doing it too, everybody’s dancing and having fun. In the evenings when the kids aren’t here or on the weekend.

I was thinking actually, if this had happened lets say 10, 20, 30 years ago, I’d be so kooky! No extra music? But this way, we’re staying in touch.

At Sanders Family Care, we’ve all been together since the beginning of this, so we’re aware and we’re safe, but we’re not going to let it take over us. We will rise, and that’s what I tell them, and we will.

Renaldo Sanders runs Sanders Family Day Care and has been a licensed quality child care provider since 1993. She is a member of Child Care Providers United – SEIU Local 99, a union founded to improve the profession and ensure every child has access to quality early learning and care.

This story was originally published on Newsweek on 4/18/20