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Closing The Gap

My preschool closed and now I'm looking at schools with tuition over four times what I was paying

This is part of an ongoing series exploring the challenges facing parents and child-care providers during the Covid-19 pandemic. This is the story of Christen Rexing, 41-year-old mother of two and university professor at La Salle University in Philadelphia, as told to Megan Leonhardt.

Just over two weeks ago, my son's preschool set up a call-in for all the parents. And my first thought was that it was going to be about their plans to start sending kids back to school since my county of Pennsylvania was beginning to talk about the second phase of reopening. 

Instead, the call was to tell us they were closing — permanently. I mean, honestly, I cried. 

This preschool is a really special place that I intentionally picked. I was just brokenhearted. And then I immediately thought: Oh, this is not going to be good. Where are all these kids going to go?

So now I'm calling all these schools, and I can't get through. Or I get through, and they tell me they're still trying to figure out how to reopen. I'm being told the guidelines are changing daily and centers don't know what to do. 

At this point, I've called so many centers that it feels like my other full-time job is to find a pre-kindergarten program for my son. And I looked at the schools I'm calling and some charge tuition that's three to four-and-a-half times more than what I paid before for three days a week of child care. That's not going to work, but what am I supposed to do?

'Just keeping your head above water'

I'm a college professor. And it's a double-edged sword because I have a job that is flexible without being flexible at the same time. I have to teach, my students expect that and so I have to block off time to do that. I also need to write articles and research, but that can be done later.

My husband is an engineer, so he's used to a straight 9-to-5 schedule. Even now, while we're all working from home, he does much more of a 6 a.m. to 3 or 4 p.m. day, pretty much uninterrupted.

My daughter is in first grade, and my son is in preschool three days a week. We paid roughly $400 to $500 a month for him to attend. Before the shutdown, on the days my son was not at school, my dad would watch him. But I couldn't have my dad come over at the beginning because my kids are little germ factories. I couldn't put my dad at risk.

So we went from like this larger support system of the school, community and family to just the two of us at home both trying to keep our careers going.

Source: Christen Rexing

Our day typically starts around 5:30 or 6 a.m. My husband and I both go into our basement office and work. Upstairs, I set up iPads, cereal, fruit and milk on the kitchen table. Thankfully, my kids are super chill. I have a free-range chicken mentality, where I'm like, Let's learn how to be self-sufficient. Do not bother Mommy and Daddy until 8:30 unless you're injured

I surface around 9:30 to get my daughter on her Zoom class and create little worksheets for my son to do. My daughter's Zoom class is not really a class, it's more like an optional check-in four days a week. It ends about an hour later, and then we have to start doing the little activities on SeeSaw app, which is a nightmare. I hate that app — it freezes, it erases your work. It's awful. 

By 11:00 a.m., we call it quits whether she's done or not. Mommy is mentally exhausted. Then the kids go outside and play until my husband comes upstairs around noon, and we all have lunch together. 

Depending on our meeting schedules, during the afternoons, I either go back down to the basement, and my husband takes calls upstairs while kind of keeping an eye on the kids, or we both go back into the basement because we both have calls, and they are left to be free range again. Sometimes, the kids even come into the office and pretend to silently work next to us. It's just kind of all over the place.

I'm teaching a summer class, so at night I record my lectures in the basement until 10:00 p.m. or so. At the end of the day, I just pass out. This is literally just keeping your head above water.

'A full-on nervous breakdown'

When the pandemic started, my daughter and I started a prolonged spring break at exactly the same time, while my son's preschool closed temporarily. At the time, I was thinking: I got this, man. We can do this.

But then my daughter's school and my school both started back online on the same day, Monday, March 30. I had a full-on nervous breakdown.

Christen Rexing says her family, including her two kids and dog, are doing more hikes and outdoor activities since the pandemic started.

We have a system going now, but my husband's job is planning to bring him back in a couple weeks. He's said he doesn't have child care, and his employer said they understand that. But they want to bring people back in. 

Higher ed is a whole different beast. I have flexibility to get the necessary work done, but not always time to do the stuff that will advance your career, like researching and publishing. Career-wise, this pandemic has definitely not been good. It's just very hard to do the deep-thought work needed to publish because you're just constantly interrupted.

'Finding a place for your kid can take a year or more'

With La Salle University starting the fall semester two weeks earlier, I have to go back on August 17...and it would be ideal if my son were in preschool by then, too. But every new school that I am calling, they just don't even know if that's possible. It's exhausting. They don't know which families are going to commit to come back. 

And I'm worried. Finding a place for your kid can take a year or more. There are typically wait lists for all the good places. And honestly? I'll take anything. I'm just asking: Are you safe? Can I afford you? And how far do I have to drive? 

I asked all my friends where they send their kids because you can't go visit these places. But even with recommendations, it's still so hard to get through to someone. Almost every place is closed. One school had no spots. Another school is planning to shorten their school day to 9:00 to 3:30, and they're not sure about their before- and after-school programs. Another school is seeing how they can open under the current guidelines. 

Christine Rexing says she's worried about finding a new school for her son after his program shuttered due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Meanwhile, I think there are some of the outdoor summer camps opening up. But honestly, it's such a heavy lift just to find the preschool. So that's not going to happen. They're home for the summer. I'm committed to my children for the summer. We're going to have fun, mommy-led, inadequate summer camp.

It's totally a mixed blessing. It's amazing that we're all together at home for lunch and breakfast and dinner. I've made more Belgian waffles than you could ever imagine. I'm not rushing my kids out the door in the morning. I don't have to feel like this constant rush, which has been just so amazing. Now we go hiking with the dog.

And I have a "quaran-team" in my neighborhood. There are three houses in a row, and we all have worked from home since this started, we all have kids within a couple of years of each other, so they basically run in a pack on our cul-de-sac. 

Plus there's a high school student that finishes classes soon that I'm hoping will help out. I sent her a message that I'd pay her to run an art program for a couple of hours every day outside. I'll give her supplies but please come up with the craft and entertain all the neighborhood children.

It is not ideal, but we'll survive.

Don't miss more in this series: 

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