By Wendy Powell (Estimated reading time: 5 mins)
I have been a PEPS supporter for more than 10 years and the reasons I remain committed to supporting new families have been amplified during the Covid-19 pandemic: lifelines, connections, community. Becoming a new parent can be an isolating experience, at a time when we need social connection and shared experience for the benefit of our mental health the most. As the moments in time for daily connection were gradually stripped away due to social distancing restrictions, it has likely become abundantly clear to many who maybe took this for granted, how important even the simplest daily interactions matter.
My memories dating back to March of this year are blurry and jumbled. The day PEPS decided to cancel their luncheon stands out. As I watched organizations around the city cancel event after event, I recognized the impact this would have on their ability to fulfill their missions. This was serious.
Then schools closed – or did our store close before schools did? I don’t remember. What I do recall is moving forward, day-by-day, trying to make logical decisions in an illogical time. Within a week, all my staff was gone, from a need to cut hours balanced with their desire to feel safe at home. I found myself at the store each day, alone, behind locked doors. Just like that. A business I had built over 12 years – closed. What?!
I continued to go into the store every day, working behind locked doors, attempting to eek out some online sales. It felt even more isolating, masking up, and dropping a bag into a bin outside for pick-up with a wave. What kind of world had this become? Weird, right? Being a business owner is a lonely job which is both a blessing and a curse. You get to make your own choices AND you HAVE to make your own choices. When I opened in 2008, I underestimated how much joy this job would bring. Our community shares a very important time in their lives with us.
While the sudden business closure was challenging for obvious financial reasons, the things that weighed on me most was not seeing the toddlers toddle, the babies smile, the laughter, the joy, and the excitement of customers finding exactly what they were looking for or finding great surprises, like credit on their account to spend. Every day for three months, I walked into my empty store that was once full of joy and it was gone. The sparkly dresses, the dapper suits, the soft Jellycat stuffies, the bookshelves full of stories… all sitting untouched. Things need to be touched, they need to be read, they need to be twirled, and they need to be stomped through puddles of mud. They belong with kids, not behind locked doors.
Even for us introverts, this level of aloneness is hard. By the month of May, I yearned for the stories, however brief. I realized just how many other people I regularly interacted with in a typical day and how much it mattered. That it has been hard is an understatement. Am I alone? Are you talking about it? Are we really talking about it?
While some of us personally grieved losses of family members, we collectively grieved for George Floyd as his murder opened up a national wound of racial injustice. We watched and participated in the ensuing outrage on our streets. Tragically, it continues, seemingly unabated and many of us search our souls to recognize our own part in injustice and how to do better. We must do better.
There feels as though there is a visceral tearing open of our hearts, an opening to receive the reality of struggle that we may have been too distracted to fully recognize. If we walk through this year learning nothing, then I suspect we never will.
At times like this, I am truly grateful for organizations that have been doing important work for so long, like PEPS. They need our support more than ever as their traditional fundraising strategies are no longer workable.
As we head into the fall, like most small businesses, it is slow going at Childish Things. Back-to-school shopping isn’t a big need when you don’t leave home to go to school. Right now, my heart is with the teachers, the school-age kids, and the parents of school-age kids. This is rough. I don’t know how you are all doing it. There is so much unknown and such a need for patience and grace during this time.
Running a small business has never been for the faint of heart. Our community has always been very supportive, and this time is challenging like no other. For the customers who have shown intent and support during this time, I see you, your kindness, and truly appreciate you. Every act of kindness is touching and reminds me of ways to pay it forward. I continue to be committed to get to the other side of this; to see the store once again filled with joy. I look forward to shopping for our new and improved play area, seeing your smiles, hearing the laughter, rebuilding our staff, smiling at babies, appreciating you sharing small bits of the amazing time in your lives; be it being expectant, new or experienced parents or grandparents, aunts, nieces or friends. We will be here for you.
Someday this will all be a memory. This much we know. Until then if you can’t see the sunshine, be the sunshine and share it with someone.
Owner, Childish Things