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Education

Child Care In Shifts: Texas Relatives, Neighbors Step Up In The Age Of COVID-19

Clockwise from left: Rowan Bingaman takes a break from his kid-sized desk to sit in a cat tower; Alex, Gaby and Liam Garcia; Scout Stern helps her daughter Cora with an anatomy activity.
Provided
Clockwise from left: Rowan Bingaman takes a break from his kid-sized desk to sit in a cat tower; Alex, Gaby and Liam Garcia; Scout Stern helps her daughter Cora with an anatomy activity.

As the number of Texas COVID-19 cases grew during the second week of March, nearby schools began extending spring breaks and announcing campus closures.

Hours after city officials announced San Antonio’s first travel-related case on March 13, Bexar County schools followed suit. Public health declarations and mandates to avoid public gatherings with more than 10 people soon followed, leaving parents in San Antonio and across Texas scrambling to either find a way to watch their kids while they work, or figure out some sort of alternative for child care.

Working from Home

Scout Stern worked from her home in San Antonio last week with her two daughters, even though their daycare center was still open.

“Since my company has been flexible, I thought it would be best if I kept them home, even though it wasn't the ideal solution from a productivity standpoint,” Stern said.

Scout Stern helps her daughter Cora with an anatomy activity while schools are closed to limit  the spread of the coronavirus.
Credit Provided | Scout Stern
Scout Stern helps her daughter Cora with an anatomy activity while schools are closed to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

In between tasks for her job at a medical device company, Stern kept her kindergartner busy with hands-on activities, like pinning bones onto a poster of a human body.

“I need help,” 6-year-old Cora told her mom, trying to get the bones “in exactly the right spot.”

Stern said her 2-year-old, Arden, especially needs a lot of attention, and there’s no hiding that from her coworkers when it’s her turn to talk on a conference call.

“Suddenly, my kid needs a snack or a diaper change, you know, and that gets communicated loudly because kids don't quite understand volume,” Stern said.

Her husband Ben’s company recently implemented shifts so that fewer people would be working at the same time. Ben took a late shift, which lets her focus on work in the mornings while he takes care of their daughters.

Stern said the silver lining is they get to spend more time together as a family.

Going Alone

Taking a break from caring for her son isn’t an option for single mom Meagan Bingaman.

“I'm a unique situation. I'm immunocompromised, so I'm trying to keep the two of us together,” Bingaman said.

Rowan, 8, takes a break from his kid-sized desk to sit on a cat tower while his mom, Meagan Bingaman works from home.
Credit Provided | Meagan Bingaman
Rowan, 8, takes a break from his kid-sized desk to sit on a cat tower while his mom, Meagan Bingaman works from home.

She’s been alone at her San Antonio apartment with 8-year-old Rowan for two weeks. Her son has his own, kid-sized desk next to hers. While she works, Rowan plays online math games, which he can’t help sharing with her.

“Mommy, should I get this fish tank or this fish tank?” He asks, while electronic music accompanies her typing.

She is very excited for his school’s remote learning to start this week, and plans to be one of the first in line to pick up Rowan’s packet of assignments. 

“It's going to be tricky, because teachers are like superheroes and they can get these kids to do things that they don't want to do for parents,” Bingaman said.

She said she considers herself lucky, though, because her job with a financial services company is encouraging folks to telecommute.

“My kid is home. He's safe. He's with me,” Bingaman said. “I have faith that we'll make it through.”

Relatives, Neighbors

For many Texas parents — and parents around the country — working remotely isn’t an option.

Gaby Garcia and her husband Alex are relying on relatives and neighbors to watch their son Liam while they're at work. Alex is an electrician; Gaby is a nurse.
Credit Provided | Gaby Garcia
Gaby Garcia and her husband Alex are relying on relatives and neighbors to watch their son Liam while they're at work. Alex is an electrician; Gaby is a nurse.

Licensed Vocational Nurse Gaby Garcia had to drop one of her shifts this week to keep an eye on her 1st grader, Liam.

Her husband Alex is an electrician, another job you can’t do from your couch. Garcia said when they’re both working her sister-in-law and father-in-law help out.

“I didn't want to burden my father-in-law too much — he is older. And I also kind of need some regularity for my son, because I know with Grandpa… he's just going to be hanging out and eating Oreos all day,” Garcia said with a chuckle.

Garcia’s also juggling her own schoolwork. She’s studying to become a registered nurse. Last week she prepared for an at-home exam in between lots of interruptions from her son.

“He's 6, he — it’s adorable. He comes in, ‘Hey, Mom, let me tell you, blah, blah, blah.’ And I'm just like, ‘OK, but I really got to focus,’” Garcia said.

The sign outside San Antonio ISD's Lamar Elementary directs parents to Facebook for the latest coronavirus updates.
Credit Camille Phillips | Texas Public Radio
The sign outside Lamar Elementary, where Liam goes to school, directs parents to Facebook for the latest coronavirus updates.

She was supposed to start clinicals in ERs and ICUs soon, but that’s all been canceled because of the coronavirus.

“It is definitely stressful,” Garcia said. “We got something from our HR department wanting to know if we were going to be needing assistance with child care… I was like, ‘Well, maybe?’ I don't know. I haven't thought that far ahead.”

Garcia said if things get really crazy at the hospital and she’s needed for more shifts, she’ll ask other parents at Liam’s school to help. They’ve banded together to create an ad-hoc child care network.

Parents at home with their kids have volunteered to watch the kids of parents who, like Garcia, have to go in to work.

Camille Phillips can be reached at Camille@tpr.org or on Twitter at @cmpcamille.