Opinion

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Reporter's Notebook

The Value of Childcare

Sending our sons back to a place we cherish after two months of quarantine at home

My two boys return to childcare this week, which is a triumphant breakthrough on numerous levels, even if the strict safety precautions are a reminder of the concerns hovering over the occasion. Indeed, as with everything right now, daycare will look different, but my wife and I are thrilled to send our sons back to a place we cherish: Discovery Developmental Center in Kalispell.

Fisher and Gus, who are nearly 4 years and 20 months old, respectively, have now been quarantined at home for slightly over two months, except for frequent excursions into the outdoors. They haven’t interacted with friends in person, nor have they hugged their grandparents or seen many human faces outside of FaceTime and Zoom. They haven’t been in a grocery store. They have incessantly heard about “germs” and absorbed strange lessons in forced impersonality that we hope don’t seep permanently into their developing minds.

Two months constitute a veritable era in their short lives, particularly without the benefit of decades of life experience informing them that this isn’t actually how the world is, or how it will always be. I can assure them that this all will pass, but I can’t prove it.

Nor can I predict what exactly my sons will encounter as they grow and venture deeper into life, but I do know I want them to be armed with compassion and curiosity. I want them to mature into genuinely decent men, good men, of which there aren’t enough. But it’s difficult to foster diverse curiosity when much of the world is off limits, and it’s likewise hard to promote sincere compassion in the absence of human interaction.

Those concerns and others are among the reasons we’re so excited for our boys to start at Discovery, which is far more than simply a safe haven to leave our kids while we’re at work. While it is that, it’s also a highly professional operation with big-hearted staff who help children learn to navigate life in ways that we as parents can’t do alone.

Discovery does remarkable work in laying sturdy foundations for our kids’ development on all the fronts that matter: cognitive, social, physical, their entire beings. Obviously, we contribute greatly to that as parents as well, but we don’t have an experienced team of dedicated childcare advocates at home, nor do we have a lineup of similarly aged companions to socialize with our boys. Discovery has all of that and more.

Childcare, of course, also provides other nitty-gritty practical benefits, not the least of which is allowing parents to commit to work without juggling full-time caregiving duties at home. The pandemic has laid bare both the sheer necessity of childcare in the U.S. and the country’s unstable childcare system, which doesn’t have a coherent or consistent public-funding model for a service that is indisputably essential for the broader workforce and individual family units. If it’s so vital, we should treat it as such.

Which brings me to another celebratory aspect of Discovery reopening after an extended shutdown: it can begin generating revenue again and bring staff back into employment. Operating within the constraints of precautionary guidelines, at less than full capacity, Discovery won’t be humming at pre-pandemic levels. Even at peak numbers, the nonprofit had to fundraise to make ends meet.

But hopefully the tuition provides a sufficiently robust ballast for Discovery to trek toward a sunnier horizon: its future and our children’s future. One of the great joys of my life is picking up my smiling boys from a sanctuary that is as important and comforting as any I’ll ever know. That joy is back.