Why we’re not ready to send our toddler back to day care

Just because businesses are reopening doesn’t mean we’re ready to re-enter their doors during the coronavirus pandemic.
This stop sign tells our 3-year-old it's not time to enter the home office because Mommy/Daddy is on an important work call.
This stop sign tells our 3-year-old it's not time to enter the home office because Mommy/Daddy is on an important work call. [ MATT BAKER | Matt Baker | Times ]
Published May 4, 2020|Updated May 4, 2020

My family’s first invitation to post-pandemic normalcy came when our toddler’s day care reopened on April 27.

It was great news. The day care has been wonderful to us and our 3-year-old, and we want its business to succeed. We want the teachers to be able to return to work and the children to be able to play with each other again.

On a grander scale, the labor market can’t recover until people have somewhere to send their sons and daughters during the workday.

“If we’re going to open up our economy, child care plays a vital role,” education department senior chancellor Eric Hall said recently.

And the state is reopening by lifting stay-at-home orders. But that doesn’t address the coronavirus question all of us must answer: Now that businesses’ doors are opening again, are you ready to re-enter them?

We’re not. Our day care dilemma taught us that.

Related: Florida’s reopening. Will you stay home or will you go?

In the face of the biggest public health and economic crisis of our lifetimes, it feels frivolous to even acknowledge something this small. My wife and I, thankfully, remain employed and can both work remotely. If one of our biggest issues of the pandemic is balancing work with a healthy, energetic threenager who has unplugged my laptop four times in the last three paragraphs, then we’ll be fortunate and grateful.

But just because it’s not a hardship doesn’t mean it’s not hard.

If I’m working, then I feel guilty for not being a better father. If I’m taking care of my son, then I feel guilty for not being a better employee. I have no idea how this experience will shape his childhood or whether we’ve been doing the right things.

The easiest solution, day care, is finally available again. After seven weeks of being stuck at home, my son could resume socializing with his friends and learning from his teachers. My wife and I would be more focused employees during working hours and more focused parents the rest of the time.

But it still doesn’t feel right. Not yet.

Our center installed a hand sanitizer outside before everything shut down, and they promise to be vigilant on cleaning and enforcing sick policies. I believe them, and if I didn’t trust them, we wouldn’t have sent our kid there at all. But there’s only so much teachers can do about drooling infants and messy toddlers.

Although my son probably isn’t susceptible to the novel coronavirus — less than 1 percent of the state’s documented COVID-19 cases are in young children — there’s still a risk involved with any extra contact. One of us could inadvertently carry the virus to his teachers or bring it home. Even if we didn’t become ill, we could still spread it to others, with potentially fatal consequences.

Keep up with Tampa Bay’s top headlines

Keep up with Tampa Bay’s top headlines

Subscribe to our free DayStarter newsletter

We’ll deliver the latest news and information you need to know every morning.
Subscribers Only

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

So we’re not yet comfortable entering the new normal, despite how much stress it would relieve. Day care is important, but it’s not essential for us right now. I don’t know how much risk it would add to ourselves and everyone else, but it’s more than our current, socially distanced life.

Related: Lessons from one Tampa Bay “mommy school” during the work-from-home era

If restaurants are limiting capacity, grade schools are shut down and shoppers are wearing masks at Publix, does it make sense to do anything that could bend the curve we’ve spent the last month and a half trying to flatten?

For some, especially those who can’t work from home, the answer will be yes, and that’s fine. Every family is different. No judgment here.

And eventually, we’ll be ready to rejoin them in the dropoff line. Maybe when testing is better and more readily available. Or when the number of new cases stops. Or when all other schools return in the fall.

But not now. Even though this business’ doors have opened again, we’re not ready to re-enter.

Not yet.

• • •

Tampa Bay Times coronavirus coverage

HAVE YOU LOST SOMEONE YOU LOVE TO COVID-19?: Help us remember them

UNEMPLOYMENT Q&A: We answer your questions about Florida unemployment benefits

CONTRIBUTE TO THE SCRAPBOOK: Help us tell the story of life under coronavirus

BRIGHT SPOTS IN DARK TIMES: The world is hard right now, but there’s still good news out there

LISTEN TO THE CORONAVIRUS PODCAST: New episodes every week, including interviews with experts and reporters

HAVE A TIP?: Send us confidential news tips

GET THE DAYSTARTER MORNING UPDATE: Sign up to receive the most up-to-date information, six days a week

WATCH VIDEO: How some in Tampa Bay are finding light amid isolation

We’re working hard to bring you the latest news on the coronavirus in Florida. This effort takes a lot of resources to gather and update. If you haven’t already subscribed, please consider buying a print or digital subscription.