• Tinka Kemptner

An overlooked category of essential workers: daycare workers

Updated: May 6, 2020

Isabelle is a home daycare worker in a small town near Grenoble, in southeastern France. She's looking after the children of several essential workers, including the son of a nurse at the local hospital.

The government provides daycare workers with three masks per week - to help them be able to safely take care of kids of healthcare workers.

Every night, Isabelle speaks to her boyfriend, who is stuck in Turkey due to Covid-19 travel restrictions. She has three grown children - two sons in France, and a daughter in Barcelona.

Out for a social-distance walk with the kids

HOW ARE YOU GETTING BY? By sharing. When I have too much of anything, I give it to others. When I have two masks, I give one away. If I have too much food, I share that, too. We are dependent on one another - now more than ever.

I also try to stay in touch with my loved ones as much as possible. And I try to make their daily lives better. I brought a small table and a chair to my son, to put on his balcony. I made waffles for my neighbor’s son, who is depressed. I did the grocery shopping for an elderly friend.

If I have a meltdown, that’s not going to help me get through this.

I have to stay optimistic. I don’t really have any other choice. When I think about others, it keeps me from focusing on my own problems.

I need to feel useful. That’s my way of feeling good. Being able to still work helps me a lot. I’m trying to avoid games where the kids are playing together closely. I’m having them play outside in the fresh air.

My income hasn’t gone down since the lock-down started. I get partial unemployment, which helps.

One of the kids I look after is the son of a nurse at the local hospital. I don’t make her pay for his meals, and I don’t charge her the usual extra fees for Sundays and holidays since she has no choice but to work on those days.

The nurse told me that at the hospital, they’re getting a lot of free food from local businesses - Monday it’s pizza, Tuesday it’s sushi… Free meals every night!

These days, people are bartering a lot of things. The father of a little boy I look after has started paying me with fruit and vegetables. He runs a supermarket. I feel like what I’m getting from him now is more valuable than the check I used to get.

Yesterday I spoke with my aunt in Lorraine [in northeastern France]. She has also started trading things - she gave knitting wool to a neighbor who in turn gave her a dozen eggs!

As for me, in the evenings, I dance and sing. Every evening, my building and two neighboring buildings have a disco contest, singing and dancing. My building has been winning! In just twenty minutes we have more fun than we’d have in a full evening out at a nightclub. We have also been doing “quiz nights.” We’re getting to know each other’s first names, for the first time.

It’s the birthday of one of my sons, in a few days. I’m hoping that we all celebrate it together, from our yards and balconies. That would cheer me up.

At night, I take bubble baths. When I realized that we were going into lock-down, I stocked up on bubble bath.

I also always need to learn. I read, and I listen to music.

Isabelle tries to get a daily dose of time in nature

Nature also helps. I feel the need to breathe in fresh air, to watch the cherry tree in my yard grow. I take hour-long walks every day. I did try to plant some seeds, but I don’t have a green thumb. So I gave my seeds to my neighbor. He has managed to do something with them!

It’s not easy to think about the future, right now. I do try to make some plans, in my head. I try to live as simply as possible.

I’m not made for living alone. I cry every day - out of frustration. But I pull it together quickly - that’s when I go for my walks. Then party with the neighbors.

What’s sad is that it takes difficult times like this to feel solidarity with those around us. I wish we had that feeling of solidarity, all the time.

* Interview by Tinka Kemptner, a polyglot journalist who currently lives in Barcelona.

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