Flashback Friday Moment of The Week: 8/20/2021

by Juan Thomas
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A couple of nights ago, I was reading through entries I wrote in Triumphs & Tribulations and I came across the entry I wrote 3 years back in Volume XVIII. It was 1 of 2 that I wrote on August 17, 2018. This particular entry was lunchtime writing while in one of the many kitchenettes at the Stewart Lee Udall Department of the Interior Building. I wrote about how happy my then 4-month-old son was with his experience at daycare. That brings me to this week’s moment in the Flashback Friday series: the Fingerprints Child Development Center experience.

How I first came across this moment? Though my first overall experience with the Fingerprints Child Development Center came in my first week at DOI—on July 28, 2016—when I watched a fire emergency drill. The Fingerprints Child Development Center is the Department of the Interior’s location of the Bright Horizons child care center franchise. My first experience as a parent occurred in early July 2018. Mercedes was winding down on her maternity leave and she had plans to send the infant version of Ashton to Blandi’s Child Learning Center in Northwest DC, close to where she worked at the Children’s Hospital. The caveat to that was that she would be due back in the office a week before Ashton’s slot opened up at Blandi’s. Of course, this caused some consternation in the new mother and we sought out a few different contingencies. One of the contingencies was asking family to stay with us in Maryland to look after Ashton in our home. My sister took on that ask without hesitation. The other contingency involved me asking a favor from the director of Fingerprints CDC, with whom I forged a great relationship in attending to the facility issues that occurred in one of the more delicate spaces in the building. The director (her name was Terri Harding-Campbell) offered to take in Ashton for a week as a bridge between Mercedes going back to work and Ashton’s slot at Blandi’s coming open. Mercedes, of course, wasn’t exactly sold though I pretty much told her about all of the fantastic things that they did at Fingerprints…not to mention the greatest benefit of them all: I worked in the building. After talking to Terri about Mercedes’ nervousness, she offered a tour. Mercedes did the tour and she was absolutely amazed…so much so that she wanted Ashton to attend full-time, so much so that she was willing to throw away the deposit for his slot at Blandi’s. In a bit of good fortune, it just so happened there was an open full-time slot and as a DOI employee, I had preference for it. So instead of Ashton starting a weeklong drop-in on July 30, 2018, he started his 1st day in the infant program. The three of us arrived that morning and I did my quick intro with Ashton’s provider—a very pleasant woman named Mrs. Judy—and went about my work as a Building Manager. Mercedes stayed back and got Ashton situated. The rest is history.

What it meant to me then? At the time, it was an incredible boon for me. For the first 4 months of Ashton’s life, Mercedes spent the bulk of the day with him and I only was able to spend 2-3 hours with him in the early evenings after I got home from work and before he went to sleep. With the youngster attending the child care center at my job, it meant that he would travel into Downtown Washington with me. We didn’t go by train as I wouldn’t dare endanger his life by putting him on the MARC or the WMATA Metro. We traveled via The Red Wolf as I traded in the $255 transit subsidy benefit for a parking space in the parking deck of the Federal Reserve Building. Having Ashton with me at DOI meant I was a bit more excited to respond to facility issues at Fingerprints because it was a chance to check in on him, which I did occasionally. I got a chance to participate in a number of events concerning parents like reading to the kids and the end-of-summer block party we had in the DOI courtyard. More than anything, I appreciated the way the staff kept me informed on his progress. There were many pictures of him playing and learning. There was even one of my all-time favorite videos in which he learned how to climb up steps. I formed great relationships with the staff from a parent’s perspective—to go along with the relationships from a professional perspective. It was a great experience for the 5 months Ashton was in the program.

What it means to me now? Ashton did fall victim to sickness a couple of times while at Fingerprints. That was to be expected though from an infant with a developing immune system and the close proximity to other infants. In late December 2018, he came down with RSV and ended up being hospitalized. It’s likely it was passed on from another child but we couldn’t be sure. From my perspective, it was just part of the child care center experience…an unfortunate one but one nonetheless. Mercedes saw it differently. She felt that Fingerprints could’ve done more while Ashton was hospitalized. It was a weird time though. There was the government shutdown that was in progress at the time and the director was out on a long leave and the stand-in director that Bright Horizons didn’t really know any of the kids so she wasn’t making that visit to Children’s Hospital to see Ashton. Mrs. Judy did come to see him and all of the other staff, who grew to adore the young Ashton, showed great concern. Nevertheless, the decision was made to pull him from the child care center. Though I understood Mercedes’ reasons for moving that way (the safety of our child is a top thing for us), I was crushed. Gone were the days I would strap the little guy in and make the drive to and from Downtown Washington. Gone were the moments I’d slip in during the day and feed him. Gone were the moments I’d look in on his classroom during facility visits and see him playing with the other infants. If it was my final call, I would’ve preferred he stayed but I’ve always deferred to Mercedes on these types of decisions regarding child health because she’s a pediatric medical professional by training and trade. Part of me does wonder how it would’ve looked to see him grow in the different programs at Fingerprints.

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