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:



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:



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.

Monday, November 27, 2006


I'm worried that I may be falling into the trap that I had hoped to avoid when we came out here this summer. Namely, letting myself be seduced into non-kid work projects. When I would tell folks that I was taking a year off from being a reporter, their immediate reaction would be, "Oh, are going to do some freelancing?" This made me bristle, because the implication seemed to be that staying at home with two kids wouldn't be enough to occupy me, or be a worthy enough endeavor.

Given the way things went this summer, I'm glad that I avoided career-related work. As some of you know, I was a finalist for a journalism fellowship. And while I was disappointed not to get it, I can't imagine life out here if Jen and I had both been in school full-time together. The transition was tough enough the kids, especially with Liam missing his friends, and us missing out community. But if the kids had been stuck in a new place AND been in full-time school/daycare this fall, I think it would have been a truly miserable experience for them, and for us.

In general, I've been trying to focus my energy on being present, and calm with the kiddies. And really trying to celebrate this incredible time I've been given with them. It is a time and opportunity I may never have again, as frustrating as it can be sometimes. And it's made me realize that as involved as I tried to be back in Oakland, working outside the house full-time meant that I missed so many great moments in their lives. This is my chance to do things like working in day care coop with Kalian, learning how to keep the house running, getting dinner on the table, keeping the floors picked up.

But the mind is never still. In my quiet moments, I've found myself contemplating the various directions my career could take when I resume it, whenever I resume it. For now, I've been writing a column once a week for the San Jose Mercury News about Silicon Valley insiders selling stock. I've started keeping track of the columns here.

Beyond that, there's an idea for a business-related blog that I've been mulling over. And the Nieman conference inspired me to focus on writing. There are the ever-present book idea floating around. And now, I've improbably volunteered to write a grant for The Chronicle, the college newspaper where I had worked at Duke University. The latter is manageable, I hope, and something that has been stuck in my mind ever since I attended a Chronicle alumni event in Durham, N.C. in mid-October. An idea struck me, that I haven't been able to shake, and so I've jumped right in. With the Chronicle possibly building a new home, the question is: What should a newsroom built for the next 50 years of journalism look like? It's a great opportunity for Duke and The Chronicle, and hopefully the funding will work out.

The problem is that these become the things that are foremost in my mind, rather than the kids. That if I'm obsessed about writing a blog posting, or grant, or book proposal, and I become attached to things like needing Kalian to nap at a certain time, or Liam to do something in a particular way so I can get "work" done, then I'm just creating more tension and stress for them.

And I don't really need to be reminded how much they need my attention right now. I spent an hour today answering questions from yet another caseworker who wanted to take a history of Liam's developmental issues. All stuff we've answered a hundred times, but everyone insists on doing their own history. She was part of the new team at Cambridge schools who are reassessing Liam's therapy needs. We have a formal meeting with that group next week, on the same day Liam is seeing a stuttering expert for an evaluation. He's also got a vision screening, hearing check, and a neurology exam all coming up in December. With all that coming down the pike at him, he certainly doesn't need me adding my stress over "work" stuff to his life.