My community is full of families I have served over the last 20 plus years. I see folks in the grocery store or at the recreation center all the time. It’s nice and allows me to maintain those connections.
Well, my husband won an award at Middlebury College last year, and with covid subsiding, they were finally able to host a reception for all award winners over the last couple of years.
We park the car and begin to walk to the Axinn building. Along the sidewalk comes a mom and dad whose 2 kids were with me just before covid. We chat and then bump into another couple whose son was in my class so long ago that he’s almost finished college. We continue to the building and along comes another woman whose daughter was in the same class.
Upon entering the reception, I see another parent from that same class, as well as a parent of a child from the class just the year after. And then in walks yet another mom who had two of her children go through my classroom…almost all of these families were with me when I worked at a center, just one family was from my time in my own home program.
There were hugs and smiles and surprises and stories of their children who have all flourished in their schooling and are having all kinds of adventures.
And the recurring theme: thank you! We couldn’t have done it without you! And there were tears from one mom who expressed such appreciation for my reassurance that her child was safe and loved in my care.
Wow. Just wow! It was just so special and wonderful for me, and to see the connections that are still going so stronh between them all! And to hear that their children, though grown, are still very much who they have always been…I left the reception with a heart full of joy and gratitude. I’m so pleased to have had this surprise reunion!
Jennifer Cyr has been a childcare provider for two decades in many different settings, but working during a pandemic is a first.
MiniBury: Tell me about yourself.
Jennifer: When I was a kid, my mom would play her favorite music while she worked around the house. Whitney Houston’s “The Greatest Love of All” resonated with me. It wasn’t until years later, and lots of self discovery that I realized why: As a child with a baby brother and a strong-willed twin sister, I often did not feel heard and seen. I wanted to make sure children didn’t have to feel that way.
I’ve been working with young children for many years in a variety of settings — as a summer camp counselor, a nanny, in an afterschool program. After I got my BA in psychology and human services, I continued to work with children in a preschool, parent/child center, and finally at Otter Creek Child Center here in Middlebury. I did a lot of learning and growing in my decade at OCCC.
Eventually, I found that I was spending a lot of time on paperwork and training students, staff meetings and reports. I needed to be able to focus on the kids again, so I switched to family childcare about eight years ago. And in the last few years I have become a mentor, leader and instructor for our early childhood network.
MiniBury: Before the pandemic, how many kids were in your care? Are they all at home with their parents now?
Jennifer: Prior to the pandemic, I typically had 5 children each day, 6 occasionally. These days, I have one child 3 days a week consistently. I have one family with 2 children that have come a day here and there only as needed. The rest are all at home with their families.
MiniBury: What is it like?
Jennifer: I had a few days off in the beginning, which I must confess, I enjoyed. I had not realized just how stressed I had been feeling with each sniffle, cough, and each turn of the doorknob. I gave myself some time to rest, physically, but mostly mentally. I also spent the beginning working on a letter of advocacy with the Addison County Early Childhood Education Community and some other community members which I found incredibly comforting and empowering.
MiniBury: What are you doing to stay connected to your children/families during the shutdown?
Jennifer: I have checked in with families individually via text, helped out a single parent a couple times go to appointments without her child. I also have been recording myself reading stories for the kids. I have actually gotten permission from some authors and share the stories publicly, along with my own published stories.
MiniBury: How are you being paid?
Jennifer: At this time, my families are paying 50 percent tuition and the state of VT is reimbursing the other 50 percent. I also receive an incentive payment for providing care for children of essential personnel. Vermont has been extremely supportive — they know how important it is to our communities and economy to have high quality affordable childcare available now and when this is over.
MiniBury: What have been the biggest challenges for you so far as an educator/care-provider during this uncertain time?
Jennifer: Honestly…staying focused on work…I wish I could just think of this as vacation and just go kayaking or hiking or plant my garden…because mentally, that’s what I need. I have been a little relaxed with just one kid here (we may perhaps watch an old episode of Mr Rogers Neighborhood occasionally.)
MiniBury: Any unexpected bright spots in all this?
Jennifer: Thankfully so many!! Here a list!
*I was tasked by Katherine Torres, Su White, Donna Bailey, Cheryl Mitchell to help write a beautiful letter of advocacy in late March.
* DCF’s Child Development Division deputy commissioner Steven Berbeco and I spoke about how best to support family child care providers, and I also had a lengthy conversation with Lorraine Vernet of Let’s Grow Kids about how to support providers as well. (Even better…they heard me and I’ve seen the result.)
*Yale is offering an online class for free: “The Science of Well-being” and I’m taking it since I have a more relaxed schedule. I view it as practice for when I begin my masters program The Policies and Practices of Nurturing Care!
The United States is home to so many wonderful things…and also, sadly, school shootings. In the wake of this latest school shooting in Uvalde Texas, I want to address my wish…
I’m listening to Governor Greg Abbott discussing the lack of mental health services in the area, gun laws that are inadequate on their own, and various strategies when an event like this happens. Asking why, what, how can’t hurt, but how can we prevent future shooters?
My thoughts are all over the place…warning signs as they look back NOW include: anger, isolation, truancy, animal abuse, social media statements. Did they see any of this prior to the event? Sounds like his grandfather noticed some, but he didn’t recognize them for what they were. Reporters are saying that he was labeled a troubled kid, a bully. Children like this, adolescents especially, are the ones who need our kindness, attention, support the most.
I keep coming back to the early years…if a child has a secure predictable start, with as few adverse childhood experiences(ACES)as possible, they are more resilient in the future. What that means is they can suffer loss, failure, or rejection and have the skills and supportive environment to weather the storm. They are more capable of seeing the perspective of another, seeing what they can learn from a situation, and moving through it to live and learn another day.
And we need to think about the families of children as well. Resiliency, or lack thereof, can be a pattern passed down from each generation. It’s up to all of us to come together with compassion, empathy, and kindness to grow a more resilient tomorrow, and hopefully school shootings will eventually be part of the past…
Please know that one smile, one compliment, one kind gesture can make a difference in the life of another. You could be preventing a tragedy just by being kind…
They wanted to know what we think of when we hear “self-care”. For me, that’s an easy one…at least it is now. I grew up feeling like it was my job to be a people pleaser, boat steadier, and peace keeper (most of you know this already), so self-care wasn’t on my radar at all.
And it’s funny, when I thought about self-care, I figured an evening out with friends after a tough week would suffice. And for some folks, maybe that would be enough. Buy a new outfit or get your nails done, and you feel wonderful for a few days…right?
Nope. I’ve discovered that people like me (sorta anyway, because there is only 1 of me)…we need lots of self-care built into our lives in order to feel like ourselves for more than just an evening or a weekend. and so I say, self-care is an attitude, a disposition, a way of living.
For me, this means (almost) daily exercise, a weekly scheduled day of rest, dedicated friend time, and saying a guilt-free NO when I need to. I had to give myself permission to put my own needs first.
To me, self-care used to be a list of special things to do when I felt stressed. Now, self-care has become a list of things to keep me feeling mentally healthy, happy and capable of coping with stress that may arise, a tool of resilience that I never knew I needed.
My hope is that you will think about your own self-care… i actually created a self-care action plan for a workshop awhile back. If you’re interested, send me an email and I’d be happy to share it with you.
Stories that nurture the hearts and minds of young children, and that strengthen the spirit of the adults who love them.
You can purchase them on Amazon…including the latest story Honu and Kiyaya Grieve.
To purchase my books locally, please visit Vermont Book Shop either in person or online.
And get your Honu and Kiyaya tees and hoodies here! Super soft, adult and youth sizes delivered right to your door!
And finally, you can always contact me directly for local pickup: click here to send me an email for my books as well as Jessie Marony’s An Alphabet Book of Dogs!
Honu Meets Kiyaya: Honu Meets Kiyaya is an uplifting story about an unlikely friendship between a sea turtle and wolf. The characters learn about each other, and in doing so, forge a special bond. With lush illustrations and wonderful characters, Honu and Kiyaya is a beautiful story that young children will love to hear, and their caregivers will appreciate the thoughtful conversations that will be sparked by the timeless story.
Honu Helps Kiyaya: In Honu Helps Kiyaya, we follow Honu the sea turtle as she works to help her friend Kiyaya the wolf who is not feeling like himself. Both characters listen to their inner voices to find what they need- for Honu to find the strength to support her friend, and Kiyaya to be reflective about what he needs to help him when he is feeling overwhelmed. Honu Helps Kiyaya is a much-needed story that encourages children to trust their “inner voice” and helps to cultivate empathy for others by being present and a compassionate listener. The story helps facilitate important conversations and gives voice to the complicated experiences of children. In addition to being a lovely story, it is also an invaluable resource for families, care-givers, teachers, and guidance counselors.
Honu and Kiyaya Play a Game: This third book in the Honu and Kiyaya series finds the friends enjoying a thoughtful scavenger hunt at day’s end. Children will enjoy playing “seek and find” with the book’s stunning images, and caregivers will find value in the thought-provoking “Rules for Life” that accompany each treasure. As with all of the books in the series, the story invites the reader to enjoy the fun story, vibrant illustrations, and to use the book’s message as a way to engage in thoughtful and meaningful conversations between child and caregiver.
Honu and Kiyaya Grieve: Honu and Kiyaya Grieve is a powerful story of friendship and empathy. When Honu the Sea Turtle experiences the loss of her eggs, she confides in her trusted friend Kiyaya the Wolf. Kiyaya shares his own experience with loss and the ways that focusing on “routine, remember, and move” helped his pack work through their sadness. This story is beautiful in how it talks about grief and loss in ways that are accessible and relatable to children. Caregivers can use the story as an access point through which to talk about feelings and loss with children, and it provides a helpful framework for helping children begin to explore the complex feelings around grief in a way that universalizes the experience and comforts readers both young and old.
An Alphabet Book of Dogs: An Alphabet Book of Dogs is a complete collection of colorful canine characters — from A to Z! Can you find all 26 names hidden in the illustrations?