Thursday, November 30, 2006

Kids Coop Cambridge

A big part of my life in Cambridge since September has the Kids Cambridge Coop. We heard about it while we were still in Oakland, and got a spot off the waiting list in August. It's been an incredible experience that, of course, also has had its share of frustrating moments.

The Coop is a true coop. It is run by the 15 families who are members. There is no full time staff, or director. Everyone gets to send their kid three mornings each week, from 9 a.m. to noon. As a member, you work one of those mornings as a caregiver, taking turns either bringing a snack, planning a craft, or cleaning the space. Each day, there are 10 to 12 kids there, with ages ranging from 15 months to 3.5 years. It's given me immense respect and insight into the lives of people who do this kind of work for a living.

In addition to working once a week, every member has a job. My job is to be a member of the coop's board and its secretary, which means I take the minutes for each monthly meeting. Fitting, I guess, given my background, though the jobs are more or less randomly assigned. Since every decision either needs to be made by consensus, majority, or two-thirds vote, depending on the topic, the meetings can often be a tribute to the excesses of democracy. After three hours debating whether CPR training should be mandatory or voluntary, I was longing for a dictator to make swift decisions for me.

The coop is located in the basement of the St. James Church, a big sprawling space that dominates Porter Square, about 5 minutes drive from out apartment. Now at this point, I'm going to show you a little video I shot of the space, I'm still trying to learn how to do this, so bear with me if it doesn't work. Feel free to shout at me, or give me a feedback. I've tried YouTube, but the quality is crummy. So I'm trying it on my own.

In any case, here's a little tour of the space:

 











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So there it is. We spend the first two hours in there, doing free play, then a snack, circle time, craft. And then march outside to a playground behind the church for the last hour. I'm usually totally exhausted by the end of the day. And on a purely economic basis, Coop probably doesn't make a lot of sense. If all goes according to plan, I get about 5.5 hours of free time each week. When I add up the time I spend attending meetings, writing up minutes, working at coop, well, I'm sure I could hire someone to watch Kalian a couple mornings each week.

On the other hand, at least this way, we're not spending any money on daycare. And on the plus side of the ledger, the Coop folks are a wonderful community. Without stereotyping, they are probably a lot closer in spirit and outlook (and economic status) to our friends back in the Bay Area. Not Berkeley crunchy, but certainly at a different spot along the spectrum from the folks who we've met through Liam's elite preschool. (Though those folks are wonderful, too.)

Beyond that, it's been a great thing for Kalian. She is at that age where she is just starting to play with other kids. Most of her life has been being dragged around to hang with kids that her brother plays with. But Coop is her thing, and her friends. And it's unbelievably cute to see some of the younger kids, who are just learning to talk, shouting her name across the room or playground: Kay-nan! Kay-nan!

Here's a clip (probably too long) of Kalian playing with her friend, Freya:


 











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As for me, I've learned quite a bit about the kids, and myself. Getting 12 kids to sit still for 10 minutes of circle time ("Heads, shoulders, knees and toes...knees and toes, etc.") can be a Herculean task. And when you succeed, it feels like an epic achievement, even if it is just a small triumph in the scheme of life.

This may be the only time in my life when I have opportunity to do something like this with the kids (unless that Lotto ticket pays off). So for now, I'm going to cherish it.

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