Today’s post is from guest blogger, Christopher Lee. We welcome his contribution and hope you enjoy what he has to share! To find out more about Chris and his work, go to www.potluckprojects.ca.
In the field of social innovation one analogy for ‘complex’ challenges is that of raising a child. There’s no recipe to follow. No precise set of expertise, knowledge, and rules that will ensure a child will turn out according to your predictions (though many will say they have the answer). Parenting, I am learning, is an intricate practice of being in relationship with the uniqueness of your child. This analogy is close to my heart, not only because I’m a father, but also because of a special place called Dandelion Daycare, where a group of people comes together to engage in the complex and mysterious challenge of raising their kids.
When my partner, Vanessa, our daughter, Anabel and I moved back to Toronto in 2010, one of the things on our mind was how we were going to provide care for Anabel while we were at work and school. We were fortunate to have both sets of willing and able grandparents nearby who were eager to spend some time with their granddaughter, but some form of paid care was going to be a necessity. The options to us seemed limited: get on a waiting list for an institutional daycare that would require a 5 day-a-week commitment (part-time daycare seems to be a rarity in Toronto), or hire a part-time nanny (which we couldn’t afford). There was also a strong urge to remain involved in Anabel’s care. For the first year-and-a-half of her life, she was almost exclusively by our sides (and especially Vanessa’s), and we cherished being able to have this type of involvement.
A few months after returning, we ran into an old college classmate of mine, Jackie. She was with her son, Alexander, who happened to be a few days older than Anabel and we quickly learned their family lived in the same neighbourhood. As conversations between parents with young kids often seem to follow, we ended up talking about childcare and she told us that she was part of a family-run co-operative daycare called Dandelion Daycare. We were intrigued.
We were familiar with co-operative models through our experience of having lived in a co-op housing building in Vancouver and loved the idea of people intentionally coming together to create change around an issue they care about. In practice, however, we knew that co-operatives are not necessarily the ‘easiest ‘option. One of the key learnings from our experiences was that they required a commitment to finding ways to navigate the differences that exist in every group. So, the idea of how we might come together with nine other families to collectively care for our kids was both exciting and daunting, especially considering the emotionally charged nature of parenting and all the societal pressures that come at you from every which direction.
Still, the prospects looked promising. It was hard for us not to be inspired by the group of parents who came together five years ago to address their need for childcare. It was more than about ‘need’, however: They wanted to raise their kids with ideals of social justice and environmental awareness, as well as have an active role in their kids’ daily lives. Over a span of 6 months, a core group formed, they found a location, developed some working policies, hired a caregiver, and came up with a care model that remains the backbone of the co-op today – every day, a rotating ‘duty parent’ would team up with a paid caregiver to look after the kids. Dandelion was born.
As with all complex challenges, navigating them requires a delicate balance between chaos and order. I’ve certainly felt this with Dandelion. Keeping up with the emails and meetings, balancing interpersonal dynamics, ensuring the nitty gritty work of scheduling, budgeting, cleaning and all that goes into creating the daycare structure sometimes feels like we’re teetering along oblivion, striving to hold onto some semblance of balance.
And then there are the days spent with the kids, which can indeed be viscerally and mentally chaotic… and full of transcendent moments. These moments are often hinted at in the nightly story the duty parent sends out about the day’s adventures. They detail the highs and lows, the little moments and the grand themes of the day and offer a glimpse into the sacred space of relationships our families create and nurture on a daily basis. They raise questions about our responsibility for one another, our roles as stewards for our children, and how we can support each other in this messy thing we call parenthood. And they remind me that there is no recipe to follow, no instruction manual to implement, just simply that these stories are a good place to start.
To learn more about Dandelion Daycare Co-op, check out http://www.dandelioncoop.ca/