By Lindsey Smith as told to Jennifer Clopton
I hadn’t been too worried about school starting. Our school district had offered a hybrid option, so for 2 days a week my 5-year-old daughter, Layla, would be in the classroom while I work my job at the front counter of Bialy’s Bagels.
But then, just before the start of the school year, our district made the announcement that everything was going 100% virtual instead.
My first thought was, Oh God! What am I going to do? Do I just quit my job and stay home to help my daughter? I didn’t want to do that. I really like my job, and I can’t afford to lose it. But I just didn’t know how I was going to juggle all of this as a single mom.
When I shared my problem with the owners of the bagel shop, twin sisters Sarah and Rachel Gross, they said, ‘Well, what if we put a desk in the shop for her so she can do schooling here while you work?’
I was shocked that they’d be willing to offer something like that. And I felt so grateful. My bosses are really great people who adore my daughter and deeply value education. Their mother taught preschool for more than 20 years, they both studied education, and Rachel was a teacher. I am just so thankful to work for people like them.
I was overcome with doubts about their offer, though. Could this actually work? I wasn’t sure. In my job I cover the front counter, so I have to answer the phone, take orders, and assist customers immediately. People aren’t coming into the store yet because of COVID-19 restrictions so they pick up orders at the door, and I didn’t want my co-workers to think I wasn’t doing my job or leaving them in the lurch if a customer needed our attention at the same time my daughter did.
I so appreciated the offer, though, and didn’t have a lot of other great options, so we decided to try it. My bosses set up a desk for my daughter and bought her some supplies. The school provided a computer, and in early September, Layla started coming to work with me Wednesday-Friday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. (The shop is closed Monday and Tuesday, so we work from home on those days.)
I’m not going to lie -- the first day was a little stressful. I have to set her up on the computer, and she logs in and out three different times a day. In between, she has breaks where she needs to do independent work and eat lunch. But you know what? All in all, it’s going much better than I expected. We have had some tech issues, but having her at work with me really hasn’t been a problem at all. Layla is doing so well. I don’t know if I could have gone to school virtually at her age, but she has transitioned so well and she is really learning. She’s especially excited about numbers. She’s doing well wearing a mask while in the shop, too. I am really proud of her.
My bosses are very hands on and supportive, which is a big help. They read to Layla on her breaks and jump in to help whenever either of us needs it. I really don’t want to seem like I am just focused on my child because I am there to do my job, but so far I haven’t had a moment where I had to choose between a customer and her. There is a lot of balancing, for sure, but everyone has been very understanding.
There have been some surprising benefits from our arrangement, too. Layla spent 2 years in a classroom in preschool, and I thought she would miss that environment, but she says she’s enjoying this more. She loves seeing her friends on screen and she adores also getting to see Rachel and Sarah, so she has a wonderful time in the bakery. Having other adults around makes it fun for her.
She’s also become a bit of a celebrity. Customers can see Layla working through the windows and doors when they come to pick up food, and when they heard our story, a local mom’s group asked if they could post a picture of her working on their Facebook page and share our story. It quickly went viral. Layla was even on the news! Now people recognize her and can look through the window and see her a bit from the front door. We’ve gotten a lot of supportive comments and compliments. One woman called and said she wanted to buy her a more comfortable school chair. Another wants to set up a college fund for her. We’re grateful for all of this kindness.
This pandemic is hard and worrisome as a parent. There’s so much that is so nerve wracking, so I’m really proud and grateful that we’ve figured out a way to keep my daughter safe and still get an education. It’s also empowering to be able to work and have her see me do my job. That teaches a really important life lesson and work ethic that I think she will remember for a long time.
I hope our story inspires other parents dealing with the same struggle to find supportive workplaces. I also hope it encourages other employers to realize that you can take unconventional approaches to assist the parents that work for you, and that can actually be good for those families -- and for your reputation, business, and brand.
For now, this is working for us, and it’s our plan to continue this way for the whole school year. If the school decides to offer in-person school, I will consider it, but it will depend on rates of COVID-19 here, especially if it’s flu and cold season.
There’s just one thing I’m still working on: getting Layla to try a bagel. Our store serves the best, but my girl is a picky eater and keeps saying she is more of a cereal girl. I’ve got the whole school year to try to change her mind.