Navigating a new job at a preschool during a pandemic

You know it's bad when you start losing your hair. I had just begun a job as Campus Manager at a Montessori preschool. It's a lovely school with children ages 18 months to 5 years old. We were a thriving school with 126 children,

20 staff members, and much to do.

In January, when we began to hear about this pandemic, it seemed so far away and reminded me of the Ebola scare of a few years ago - where the news media was warning of the dangers and everyone was on high alert, and then nothing happened. One of the moms in our program asked me what we were going to do about it and I thought she was a little over-reactive. I said that we weren't going to do anything.

Then we set up a health advisory committee for our 3 campuses to be prepared in case this became worse. Parents and coworkers were telling me of their plans to go to Seattle and California and I remember thinking they probably shouldn't go because we were hearing news of cases ramping up in those states. Then someone asked me about what it would be like after Spring Break and I said we might not be coming back. I still remember the looks on their faces of disbelief and alarm, shock even. One dad came in the day before we closed saying that we were crazy to be open. The next morning we were closed... for months.

That Spring Break was like no other. There was no break. There was a mad rush to figure out something for our families that would work in place of our actual physical school. Preschoolers online is the antithesis of Montessori education so our guides (teachers) and parents were resistant to the notion, and with good reason. It doesn't work well.

We set up an entire online curriculum for preschoolers with lessons for weeks and many of our guides would film themselves working in their gardens, or playing music on instruments, or reading books.

As a campus manager, my focus is on making sure the physical environment supports the work of the students and guides. When they aren't there, my focus had to shift and given that this was a new job, I was learning the structure and rhythm of the year. I started to lose my hair. I noticed my scalp showing through in the front and was alarmed. It was interesting because I wasn't acknowledging the stress to myself - just compartmentalizing and working through it. I would meditate and go for hour-long walks daily, religiously, listening to uplifting podcasts and having conversations with my friends and close relatives. I began regular Zoom calls with my parents, recording them talking about their childhood memories.

In June, I began coming back to campus in person and getting work done on the campus in preparation for reopening. I was mostly alone but it gave me some structure to my day. My two teen children were doing online school mostly by themselves and fortunately are self directed, so they made it work. My husband was working from home and as an introvert, was living his best life.

Somewhere during these months, we have managed to switch places - he an introvert became the neighborhood party planner and contact point - me a half and half wanted no part of seeing anyone or talking to anyone except my closest friends and relatives and taking my long walks and meditating.

As the 4th of 5 children, it was my turn to host the family Christmas party.

My theme (decided last Christmas) was My Favorite Things (nod to John Coltrane and the Sound of Music). I changed it to a family Zoom meeting just before the election (we are divided down the middle politically - the San Antonio branch are all Republicans and the Austin branch are all Democrats).

My parents were upset, even though as Republicans there were following the masking and social distancing and probably should have understood.

So much change in a single year - new job, pandemic, lost holidays, and losing my hair. My hair is back, thanks to an uptick in my thyroid supplement. My sister started taking it, too, because she was losing her hair. Her hair is growing back.