Last week my husband, Jason, shared a post about us hosting a literal zoo at our house. In the post, he gives a great recap of how that relates to what he’s seeing with his customers. I realized a couple of things: 1. We both are living a life that would have been incomprehensible to us 3 years ago and 2. I don’t think I’ve talked about “the pod” in the newsletter and thought the end of the “school year” would be a good time to reflect on, essentially, being part of yet another business that operates out of our home.
It’s funny that I haven’t written about the pod because it’s been a hot topic of conversation with me since we began hosting it at our house in September of 2020. At the beginning of the pandemic, we were focused on staying home and staying healthy. We didn’t have much time for reflection while managing child care for two young kids and keeping our businesses alive. We did see that what we were doing – working a few hours a day in between keeping the kids occupied and inside – was not working for anyone. We slogged through it in the summer, which was a bit easier because by then we were quarantining with siblings and cousins who could mind the kids for a few hours. We had the outdoors and a Lake as built in activities.
We managed to stay safe and healthy and were just so, so lucky.
We were never more lucky than when a fellow parent called and asked if we would like to be part of a pod. Pods sprung up during the pandemic as a way for parents to spread out the burdens of child care. One of our kids’ treasured pre-school teachers was not returning to work because she had family at home she didn’t want to expose to COVID. We had willing families and our risk tolerance for COVID aligned, so the stars did too.
It was important that we formalized our arrangement. After all, we planned to employ a professional teacher and while caring for others has historically been wildly undervalued, we had just spent 5 months learning just how valuable that care was for us and our kids. We formed an LLC with one parent from each family as a member and hired our teacher. The pod started out moving from house to house but after a couple of weeks, it made more sense to have one location so we settled on our house.
We were doing extra sanitizing and cleaning but aside from that, and the general weirdness of life in 2020, we were able to have a typical workday. We did not have any COVID outbreaks in the pod. Our teacher was able to work, create curriculum and, though I confess it was not my primary motive – our kids thrived.
But not everyone was happy with our arrangement. Last year at this time we received a cease and desist letter from the State of Maryland for operating an unlicensed child care. While the details they received from a disgruntled…someone were not entirely accurate (the State doesn’t tell you where the reports come from), we found out our arrangement, that we had taken so much care to make above board, wasn’t.
We needed to immediately stop the child care or become licensed. At this point, I salute all of you who run licensed businesses – the hair salons, fellow child care spaces, restaurants and bars, architects. The rules and regulations are necessary and exist for a reason – but that reason is not to help small business owners succeed. Our contacts at the State were marvelous, but the process was onerous and because of the nature of what we’re doing, perhaps rightly so.
The licensing crisis allowed us to do a couple of things.
One, we re-committed to our fellow parents and the pod. We could have folded but we had been through too much together. We were the only socialization our families had for months. The dangers that faced us in September 2020 looked different in May but they were not gone. We had also just seen each other through once in a generation (fingers crossed) catastrophe. A licensing snafu couldn’t stop us.
Two, we revisited the nature of our arrangement and recognized that the pod was no longer our business, but our teacher’s. She was the one who was making all this work. God bless her. She was coaching restless kindergarteners who attended zoom school for half the day while developing the skills for the pre-schoolers in the group. Simultaneously.
Our teacher started her own LLC that would operate from here. We proceeded with licensing our space for child care and completed the requisite hours of training and inspections. And last Tuesday we had a zoo in the backyard.
There were other bumps in the road which I’m happy to discuss at length when we see each other in person. But for the most part, this often how massive changes take place – with steps here and there that lead us to an entirely unexpected – and sometimes wonderful – place.
The day of the zoo, I was talking to one of my business partners about a project we’re working on (more on that in the coming months!) and off handedly mentioned how our house was a literal zoo. I realized that I hadn’t told him about the pod that we have in the basement. What was once one of the biggest challenges my family faced was now a successful business run by a dynamic woman that runs in the basement of our house but the background of our thoughts. At least until pick up time. Or when a baby goat is bleating adorably surrounded by squealing children.
There are a few things I learned as a business owner, which I’ll probably get into in other posts but overall, the whole thing made me treasure my community, the caregivers I rely on, and our ability to collectively get through a crisis, or several.
PS. When I tell this story people ask me if I have any idea who reported us to the State and why. We have some suspects but we don’t know for sure and we never will. When I’m feeling generous, I can thank that person for providing an opportunity for our teacher, our kids, and for us to go to the next level. And, I take comfort in knowing that if a bunch of happy kids learning at my house ticked them off, seeing alpacas and goats in the back yard probably ruined their day 😉
PPS. The company that our teacher hired to come is Squeals on Wheels and they are great. A+ for the name, A+ for the service.