The Art of Extending Families by Shanah Ahmadi
A warm and hearty hello from Norman, Oklahoma! In keeping with the theme: “The Many Faces of LifeWays,” I would like to describe our childcare center, Rose Rock School. At Rose Rock, we are not a center or a home, we are both a center and a home. This means that Monday – Friday, 25 sparkly children ages 2-6, play, laugh, storm, grow, and explore at 1515 W. Main St, the address of our center. The very same address is also home to a lovely family of five–where baths are taken, Sunday pancakes are prepared, sibling squabbles are heard, and evening prayers are said. It is a dynamic, sometimes complicated, ecosystem that we have created, and a wonderful one that I would like to share with you.
Not all homes are large enough to accommodate a childcare center, but we have been blessed with a 5,000 sq. ft. home sitting on 4 acres–located in the middle of town. The house is divided into three levels, with the lower level dedicated to offices and meeting spaces, the middle level serving as the LifeWays center, and the upper level housing the Moore family. Since the house was originally a single family residence, we were required to rezone before opening as a child care center. So, by being “blessed” with this property, I mean that through a couple of years of continual fundraising, tireless work, positive envisioning, and the occasional temper tantrum, we were able to rezone the house into a property with dual purposes: residence and business.
During the prolonged rezoning process, the question arose many times as to whether having a residence on site was worth all of the trouble and expense. Now that we are nearly through our second year at 1515 W. Main St., I can tell you definitively that having a family live at our child care center is worth every bit of struggle and expense that our organization encountered. Rose Rock School is community-oriented and familial, in large part due to the Moore family residing at our center.
Acacia Moore is a lead caregiver at Rose Rock, and she lives upstairs with her husband, Erik, and their three sons, Everett (10), Kellan (7), and Quinn (2). The members of the Moore family gently fold our school into the surrounding neighborhood. Everett and Kellan go to the Elementary school just around the corner, and they bring their friends to Rose Rock to play. Erik coaches little league baseball, and he invites the teams over for cookouts. Acacia networks with neighborhood moms and dads to organize after school care, sleepovers, and birthday parties. All of this family activity engages the surrounding community and inadvertently keeps LifeWays relevant to that community.
While neighborhood communities greatly impact our children, homes are the primary places in which young children are growing, changing, and learning. Creating a home-away-from-home for the children in our care is a cornerstone of LifeWays, but it is more challenging to maintain a home-like space in a center. This challenge exists primarily due to more stringent and institutionalizing regulations being placed on facilities with larger numbers of children–like fire-rated doors, integrated fire alarm/sprinkler system, specific “classroom” designations, and other non-homelike requirements. However, the Moore family living in our center seems to overcome these challenges, simply by making the center a home. You sort of forget about the fire-rated door as you watch Erik hold it open for the older boys, as they head off to ride their bikes to school. When it’s dinner time and Acacia accidentally overheats some coconut oil, leading it to smoke, and the fire department is automatically called, this comical happening is more of a family event than a child care center event–just ask the family! Every weekday by 5:30 pm, the property at 1515 W. Main St. puts its house pants on, so to speak. The rooms lose much of their daytime designations, and the sounds of the Moore family fill its halls. Rose Rock is as much a home for a family, as it is a childcare space, and that familial quality can be delicately perceived by the children and their families who spend time there.
Now, I don’t want to give the idea that I am wearing Rose Rock colored glasses (pun intended!), as I am discussing the beauty of a family sharing its living space with a childcare center. Of course, this arrangement can also be a source of strain. Rose Rock hosts festivals, parent nights, and fundraisers, which can happen on weekday evenings or on the weekends. These events aren’t held in their living quarters upstairs, but they do impact the shared living space in the middle floor and the yard. This strain manifests with instances like the Moore’s having to hustle their dinner and clean-up, so that parents can serve themselves tea and cookies before sitting down for an evening meeting about child guidance. Having a Rose Rock festival at your house? Well, that looks something like 75 people coming over for 3 hours on a Saturday. It is a super fun time, unless perhaps you aren’t in the mood for having a LOT of company at your house. These challenges, along with other trifling complications, definitely exist in our arrangement, but they give texture and beauty to our lives, too. There is something very satisfying about pulling together to overcome adversity–whether it be a nasty strain of the stomach flu or just a lingering case of the grumps. Sharing burdens (and joy, or course!) is part of living in close proximity and part of being a family.
These days, many children are quite distanced from their extended families. A lot of children in our care only see their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins 1-2 times a year. Without care and attention, these nuclear families could become increasingly insular, separated from the benefits of caring for and receiving care from numerous people. Happily, the bustling life of our Rose Rock community fosters the feeling and benefits of an extended family. We come together to install multiple garden beds in just a few hours, to organize a food train for a family with a newborn baby, and to care for each other when we are ill. Community burdens and joys are shared among 75+ people, dividing the weight of burdens and multiplying the resonance of joy. Plus, by living at Rose Rock, the Moore family gives heart to the house and to our community. Their presence in our center both demonstrates and firmly roots our devotion to fostering a healthy extended family.
About Shanah Ahmadi: Shanah completed her LifeWays training in 2007, the same year she began a home-based program named The Purple House. In 2010, The Purple House became a non-profit organization, which was renamed Rose Rock School. Rose Rock School became a center in 2015, when it relocated, outside of Shanah’s home, to a much larger property. Currently, Shanah is a lead caregiver and the administrator at Rose Rock.