Village Life: Pierce Preschool connected us to our “Pandemic Village”
By Melodee Mabbitt
Before the pandemic hit, I was the kind of parent who relied heavily on my village to help raise our child.
Pre-pandemic, I was lucky to have a flexible schedule with the ability to work remotely. I even got away without needing a babysitter much of the time by going places where our three-year-old could socialize with other kids while I worked from my laptop.
We had dance class on Thursdays, but the rest of the week we found places to play that are free to Flint kids. I worked from playgrounds and parks in nice weather, and passed endless hours of bad weather inside the children’s area at the Sloan or the children’s room of the Flint Public Library.
In February of 2020, I panicked during the celebrations of the last day we could play at the library before they closed for renovations. How could I find new ways to occupy her until they opened again in Courtland Center later that spring?
Little did I know that two weeks later, my partner would also be sent home to work for the foreseeable future while the entire village on which we depended also closed up indefinitely.
That spring was hard and lonely. My partner is immune compromised, so we were cautious. We were immersed in the full pandemic experience: isolation, grocery delivery, masks, Zoom holidays, unemployment, death of dear family and friends, grief without funerals. Seemingly endless hours trying to maintain schedules and calm for our child, while my partner and I struggled through the COVID-19 fallout in our lives without anyone to relieve us.
Those first few weeks, our daughter watched more kids and dogs walk by our house than we had ever seen in this neighborhood. For the first time ever, we didn’t feel safe letting her interact with any of them. She would spot passersby out the window, run to the door to shout greetings and wave, only satisfied once they saw her and responded. She’s madly in love with our neighbors and cried every couple of days when she’d see them outside and realize she couldn’t go within six feet of them.
One day in April, I asked if she wanted anything else after lunch, and she said, “Yeah, a friend!” Then she cried a little.
Drawing and painting occupied much of our time. I found a pandemic craft idea where you trace your kid’s silhouette onto paper, cut it out in the shape of “a hug,” and mail it to your loved one. I offered to help her make them for her grandparents, but she wanted to make one for her friend instead. So we did. When she painted the face, she made the mouth frown.
We arranged porch trades with her grandma, exchanging some artwork for some of grandma’s chicken nuggets or more art supplies, sending our love through the screen door.
I drove her past the places we missed; Meijer, downtown Flint, her dad’s old work and its pool, and the torn up library. One day on a drive, she yelled, “Go away, virus!” the way one of her favorite books yells, “Go away, big green monster!” So, I encouraged that spirit and we rode for a while singing, “Go away, virus!” I like to think we did some good toward the global effort.
“Tell me what we did before the virus,” she said one day. Then we started telling stories about our favorite places we’d been, what we did there, and who was there with us. She is comforted by repeating the same stories of Life Before The Virus.
Summer weather offered some reprieve as we were able to spend time outside with masked family and friends, but as fall set in we stared into the coming cold weather with more than a little chill.
That’s when Flint Community Schools called and said we qualified for preschool at Pierce because we’ve lived here through the water crisis.
Send our child to optional preschool in the middle of a pandemic? Learn for the first time from an iPad in her room? Is that a good idea?
As it turns out, yes. Preschool at Pierce has become the pinnacle of our pandemic days.
Our child became the only member of our household responsible for keeping a schedule with people outside of our home. Monday through Thursday, she’d eat breakfast, brush her teeth, get dressed, and report to her room to meet with her teachers and ten other four-year-olds for Zoom preschool.
It was amazing to sit in the next room and listen as her two teachers engaged each child and developed rapport with 10 little four-year-olds all sitting in their own homes at dining room tables and on couches. We were amazed at how the initial chaos formed into predictable patterns of greetings, lessons, and music.
On her first day of “preschool meetings,” she sat at her desk listening to her teachers read Brown Bear, Brown Bear to her over Zoom. When asked if she had questions, she said, “Yes. How do noses breathe?” Then she asked if she could read Chica Chica Boom Boom to them because it was a gift from Flint Community Schools in our welcome packet. When they asked her to read it out loud, she said, “I need help with the language.” Then she taught them to play charades, introduced them to her cat, and counted to 14. Only got to E in the alphabet, though.
By Halloween, she felt close enough to her teachers to complain to them during class that Crossroads Village wasn’t handing out her favorite candy, gummy burgers, at their drive-thru trick-or-treat this year. Her sweet teachers picked up on this one child’s wish over the internet, went all over town until they found them at Jo-Ann’s, and made our daughter’s Halloween by presenting her with gummy burgers at the school’s drive-thru trunk or treat that night.
Every morning, the teachers start Zoom preschool by saying good morning to each kid individually. Our outgoing child caught on to that pattern pretty quickly and started also greeting each classmate by name. One morning, her classmate said good morning back to her and then asked her to come over to his house to play.
This was the sort of social interaction we hoped for, but we had to explain that we can’t do that right now, because of the virus. We can only talk on Zoom.
The next day, she and her friend got in good trouble for trying to tell each other their moms’ phone numbers and set up a Zoom playdate. I guess I should be proud that she correctly gave my phone number to her entire class, twice. At the end of class, they told each other, “Goodbye! I’ll miss you!”
This March, we had our first day with the option for students to be in-person, so there now are kids in class with the teachers when our child logs on each morning. These amazing teachers manage to maintain their typical Zoom class routine, with kids in-person and online, all at the same time. The transition was not completely flawless, but it has been quite impressive.
Our daughter was excited and comforted to see kids on the other end of Zoom in the classroom with their teachers. She no longer fears going into school or being in class.
Just a bit longer, we tell her. Just a bit longer until we will be vaccinated. Just a bit longer and we’ll finally be together, at last, with all of the new friends we made in our virtual village.
EVM Reporter, Melodee Mabbitt, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.