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The Journal of Multimodal Rhetorics

ISSN: 2472-7318

T is for Traci: A Letter to Our Daycare Provider 

Calley Marotta

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Keywords: childcare, day care, anxiety disorder

Categories: Queer Intimacies and Radical Kinship During Isolation; Parenting as (Im)possibility in Impossible Circumstances

Content warning: anxiety

Dear Traci,

We came to you through a series of lucky chances. I’m not sure I ever told you that I got my job a day before the world shut down. It’s incredible to think that I accepted the offer with a naked face. Ella put her tiny hands over Ryan’s and we pushed my desk into the bedroom closet. I defended my dissertation. It was then we began to ask questions. In her two year-old way, Ella wondered aloud what life would be like in our new home: hammocks in Salt Lake City? Ryan and I had questions of our own. Namely: how would we find childcare for Ella during a global pandemic? And how could we trust a stranger to keep her safe? Under Google’s guidance, we began calling: Hello. I’m looking for a daycare for my daughter. Are you open? Do you have space? How are you dealing with COVID? What are your hours? How much do you cost? Can we meet virtually? It was amidst these conditions and over a shaky Facetime call that we turned to one another with relief. You were the only provider we had spoken to who asked Ella’s name.

In our first virtual meeting, you showed us around your home which also doubled as your workplace. You patiently answered our questions. all the while carrying a toddler on one arm and pausing to point to a flower on a child’s drawing. Oh that’s beautiful, you said. Immediately, we knew you were kind. You wore a long ponytail and running pants. I thought but did not say: You have so much energy. How could you possibly be a grandmother? You walked outside and showed us the many COVID procedures and protocols you had invented--the labor you began upon waking and continued as kids in footie pajamas and Spider-Man T-shirts (or a swimsuit and butterfly wings) met you at the door. You sanitized the toys, moved the bins outside, did temperature checks, and put Share Day on hold. You helped the smallest children build up their stamina for masks over the course of the day. It broke your heart to tell long-time families you could not provide after-school care this year. You had to protect the little ones. Yes, you said, it has been difficult.

I was not surprised when your references called you family. Over the next month, you sent us pictures of your smiling granddaughter and emailed updated conditions and protocols. Miraculously, you had an opening. We chose a place to live in walking distance to your home. That first day you waved a thermometer gently across Ella’s hairline and opened the door. We left Ella screaming in your arms, but you hugged her and welcomed her in. You showed her a toy rocket and her eyes lit up. You wrote several reassuring texts: funny quotes and videos of Ella singing lyrics only we could understand. Your writing buoyed me and allowed me to work--to write the feedback to students, administrative emails, papers, grant proposals, tenure plans I needed to keep this new job. Sometimes I broke down and (hating myself) wrote an extra text:  How is Ella doing today? I imagined you receiving these messages amid toddler negotiations--board books and oatmeal, paint, puzzle pieces, and toy dolls looking on. I knew full well I was asking for too much, but you never made me feel that way. If I were you, I would have thrown the phone. But instead, you wrote back describing some special moment from the day: Ella woke in great spirits and asked me to do her hair. You punctuated with a smiley emoji. When I tried to reciprocate and ask how you were doing, you acted like I had done something truly remarkable. You tilted your head and said how kind it was for me to ask. As if there were enough words or massage gift certificates or meals or even paychecks to thank you for my sanity. With you, Ella was safe.

But you provided so much more than safety from the virus. Somehow a pandemic doesn’t stop the other things in life that are hard. For months I had found ways to rationalize away Ella’s anxiety. I repeated the parent mantra: It’s just a phase, only a phase. But since Ella had turned two, she had become increasingly, to use the therapy term, dysregulated. Several times a day I found myself staring at the floor where her arms and legs flailed, and her mouth let out long high-pitched screams. My child was possessed. I froze--wide-eyed at her wild limbs. As you know and have witnessed, this all manifested in Ella’s strong preference for her dad. Now that she had the language to express it, she called urgently, desperately, Daaaaad as soon as he moved out of sight. She followed these cries with the phrase: No Mommy; I don’t want Mommy! Ella reserved most of these episodes for home, but when they happened in your care, you lovingly provided a description instead of a label. Sometimes, Ella throws herself down, you said. On your doorstep, we told you, nervously, that we had started talking to a therapist. You nodded knowingly and encouragingly. You said it was great to get resources and asked what you could do to help. Facing you at the doorway, you helped us feel a little less strange.

This is about the time Ella stopped sleeping. She woke with a holler 4, 5, 6 times a night---so much so that I began regularly resting my head on her shag carpeting only to wake with the rising sun. Upon opening her eyes, Ella found her voice: “Daaaadd!” She ran toward our bedroom--sometimes stepping on my head. But every morning, you greeted me at the door with carpet marks on my face and asked how the night had gone. I shook my head. With such warmth, you said you were sorry. I found myself explaining. It’s one of the few times Ella will let me comfort her. You listened. I gripped the doorway to the house I had never entered (a COVID precaution) and felt myself lingering. I longed for you to make things okay as you always did for Ella--to provide a neon bandage, a shiny rocket ship, or just the right words that would make the pain go away. Thank you for standing with me on the doorstep, six feet apart, so I didn’t feel so alone.

To ease Ella’s anxiety, Ryan and I did daycare pick-ups and drop-offs together. Ryan was there because Ella wanted him and I was there because I thought, if I could just be there enough, Ella would eventually remember that I was her Mom. I tried to control my impulse to reach for her. But on days I wasn’t strong enough and lunged to pull her toward me, I always regretted it. She dug into Ryan’s shoulder and gripped him with every finger and toe. You witnessed all this and still you had the grace to look on warmly without ever asking the obvious question: Why doesn’t Ella want you?

One day I went to pick up Ella without Ryan. She opened the door and looked through me--rushing past and frantically searching: Where’s Dadddy?!! She ran toward the street. I caught her by the waist and she only grew more frantic. Mortified, I knew I needed to stay calm and strategize, but it felt impossible. My heart slowly moved down my torso into the empty spot where Ella once lay beneath my skin. Daddy’s at home. We’ll be with him soon. You came up behind us. It’ll be okay, you said. You spoke so calmly and so sure. These words were for Ella, but I breathed them in. I folded Ella into her car seat screaming and rocking while I tried to focus on the road. We made it home. When we stepped in the door, my phone was already ringing. It was a Friday evening, and your day should have been long over. Thank you for calling to make sure we were alright.

Somewhere during this year, you began to teach Ella to write. She formed M-O-M on my birthday card and began to sign her drawings with an E and an L. She explained, Traci writes the letters, and we go over them. She plopped down on her belly and formed the letters of her name in bright chalk on the pavement. E was her favorite. She moved her purple chalk in lines down and across and across and across. Pausing for a moment, she carefully lifted the center of her mask up over her nose, she wrote all the letters she knew from memory. E is for Ella she recited to herself. And T…. T is for Traci. T is for Traci right, Mom? She looked over at me. I nodded and repeated the words: Yes, Ella. T is definitely for Traci.

Thank you is never enough. With all our love and gratitude,



Acknowledgments: Thank you to the editors for honoring carework in process and practice. Thank you to Ryan and Ella, Traci Salazar, Fernanda Leporace, Elena Garcia, and Kate Vieira for their sustaining support and community.


Calley Marotta is a mother, teacher, writer, partner, and friend. Her teaching and research focus on writing and linguistic justice; and she uses participatory and ethnographic methods to value essential workers’ literacies and knowledges. She is Teaching Assistant Professor at the University of Denver on Arapaho and Cheyenne land. 

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