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Yes, I am talking to you.  Have you reached your limit?  Has your “get up and go” got up and gone?  If so, read on, my friend. You are not alone.

I was reading through a post on an ECE Network that I belong to and, one, in particular, caught my eye this week. This early learning educator is about to quit.  It is not because of the children. It is not because of work demands. It is not because of the remuneration or lack thereof.    The straw, or in this case, straws that were breaking the proverbial camel’s back: COVID, winter, and neighbours complaining about her day home children being outside and being noisy.  Yes, really! You may be thinking, “I can relate to that. I am done with COVID. I am not ready for the long, cold, and dark days of winter AND I am tired of not being respected, by others, for what I have chosen to do for a profession.”  What to do?

Well, let’s look at our options. Yes, quitting is one of them and it may seem viable and enticing. Say goodbye to COVID protocols around cleaning and toys. Yes, please! Say goodbye to low wages. Definitely! Say goodbye to spending those low wages on supplies and materials for your early learning environment.   Yippee! Enough, you say. Good riddance! We say yes to fewer hassles and aggravations. Hooray! I am dusting off my resume.

BUT – and there always is a but – what else do you say goodbye to? Are you ready to say goodbye to sweet smiles from children? To say goodbye to those rewarding little moments? You know the ones; a child happily separating from a parent after months of separation anxiety. A child who comes to you for comfort instead of your colleague. A parent who confides in you that they appreciated your advice.  These, and more, are the moments you find yourself telling your family and friends about and they hear the pride and enthusiasm in your voice. They may be rolling their eyes because they don’t quite understand but they smile and nod because they can tell this is an important moment to you.  Say goodbye to all of that? Hmmm….wait a minute…let’s think about that…

Meanwhile, we all want to say goodbye to COVID. It has rocked all of our worlds; some of us more than others; but there is rocking in one way or another.  If you are like me, there are days when you comfortably stare COVID down and are thankful for all that you have and all that you do.  If you are like me, there are days when you don’t want to get out of bed and if one more person tells you to “be safe” you are going to SCREAM!  Hopefully, the “can-do” days outweigh the “can’t do” days. If not, you need to seek support and help from friends, family, and mental health professionals.

The days that I feel I have got this are the days that I see joy in what I am doing. I enjoy hearing the chatter of the children. I enjoy oohing and aahing over a leaf rubbing. I laugh at a cute expression. I beam when I am asked to help.  Those moments fill my bucket and I am so glad I am an early learning educator.  These are the moments that I draw upon to boost myself up when I cannot see my way.

With winter around the corner, we need to prepare ourselves to see our way.  Just like we have COVID protocols and self-care, we need to have winter protocols and self-care. What do those look like? To be honest, I am not sure but I have some ideas. Winter protocols involve being safe, being outside, and being connected to others. This means we get out and enjoy the fresh air when we can and marvel in the beauty of that fresh air.  This means we put on our comfy boots, favourite scarf, and warm mittens and prepare ourselves to be outside and smiling, without masks, and marvelling in the joy that is around us.   I always remind myself that, when I lived overseas in a tropical climate for three years, what I missed most was the changing of seasons.  Yes, believe it or not, I got tired of sunny skies and a high of 30 degrees every day. Talk about sameness! Talk about feeling like I was caught in a time trap!  These are feelings that I also associate with COVID so I am working hard to remember the positives associated with the impending winter months.

My winter self-care involves catching up on books I haven’t had time to read. It involves baking some of my favourite treats.  It involves drinking a cup of red rose tea out of a favourite mug in a sunny spot in my house.  It means exercising whether it is a brisk walk with my dog or twenty minutes on the treadmill watching some mindless TV.  It also means be gentle with myself and remembering that whatever I bring to the day is “good enough”. Don’t compare with yesterday and don’t worry about tomorrow. Just meet yourself where you are… just like you do with the children. You meet them where they are – emotionally, spiritually, physically, mentally – so give yourself the same respect.

Which brings me to my last point: R-E-S-P-E-C-T.   How do we get it? Well, not by telling those neighbours, and other naysayers, to just shut it (!!!), as much as you would like to.  You don’t gain respect by giving up. By giving up, you are giving in to those who don’t value or understand the value of quality experiences, quality environments, and quality care to the little ones in our world.  Giving in to the naysayers, as much as it can be desirable on those “can’t do” days, is akin to giving up on yourself. 

We all have those days we want to give up and give in but we need to rally. We need to sit back and just absorb the moment and then revisit it on a “can-do” day. This way there is clarity and perspective on decisions.  For those “can’t do” days, let off steam.  Find someone supportive – a fellow early learning educator, for instance – and rant. Find the active listener in your life and let ‘em have it.   For those “can’t do” days, take a deep breathe and – remember – be kind to yourself.  Take inventory of why you chose this profession; revisit those reasons. Are they still valid? Then soldier on. Do they need updating? Then update them. Are they no longer applicable? Then time to reflect and re-purpose but do so intentionally and mindfully.

As for that ECE who inspired this blog, my heart breaks for her. It breaks because I have been there.  I hear her sadness. I feel her despair.  It breaks because I know she cares about what she does and the children she supports. It breaks because I know we need more ECEs like her… not less! 

BUT (yep, there it is again) I also have HOPE.  Why? Because she is reaching out to her network. She knows she cannot do this alone. She wants to be convinced to stay.  She asks for motivation to stay strong.  I am encouraged by her request. I know she’s got this even though she wants to quit.  She needs us to share our collective experiences and offer support.   To her, and to all of us, I say stay strong! We are in this together and we will prevail so no quitting today!

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