Estelle and I were up at 7:00 am on Tuesday May 17th ready to advocate for Montana. I, more than her, because she really didn’t have a clue what was going on. She just wanted to watch cartoons in her pajamas, and it took some convincing to get her into her “Crying out for Change” T-shirt.
I had been preparing and practicing with the Zero to Three team in DC since March. I perfected our family story, started researching policies, and then wrote a speech. During one phone call, the person coaching me asked, “are you nervous at all?” and I responded, “No. If anything, I’m worried I’ll say too much or get too worked up.” He replied, “Well, I’m not going to ask you not to do that.” The Zero to Three team wanted to make sure Estelle was involved in the call, no matter if she was crying or screaming or distracting us. They wanted to highlight what it means to be a parent, especially a working parent, or a parent at home that doesn’t have child care.
My family story was unique because I am a parent struggling to pay for child care, but I am also in the child care industry as a preschool teacher with a low paying wage. I started by saying that I am an early childhood professional with both a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Early Childhood Education but my mom still helps me pay my daycare bill. I went into detail by saying that the first 6 months of my job this year (during a pandemic), I had no benefits, no paid leave, or no sick pay. This meant that every time myself or my daughter had a tiny cold, or even COVID, I didn’t get paid but I still had to pay for child care. Click the link to read our family story: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1nYNA4ChFi_1RAUsqa_RJcAFgOIbWJ47t/edit?usp=sharing&ouid=100603956770764046834&rtpof=true&sd=true.
There were several key policies that Strolling Thunder focused on including: paid family leave, high quality and affordable child care, early head start, more family support, infant and early childhood mental health, and economic security. Read more here: https://www.thinkbabies.org.
For us, we focused on child care, and for me especially, child care providers. My argument is that we cannot have better access to high quality child care without first taking care of the child care workers and other early childhood professionals. Personally, I am stuck between a rock and a hard place deciding whether to work to pay for child care, or to stay home with my child.
The first meeting was scheduled to be with Senator Steve Daines at 10:00 am. We waited for a few minutes and no one showed up. My meeting coordinator, Amanda from Zero to Three, had to phone someone on our end to call their office. Finally, a woman came on. It was one of Senator Daines’ staffers, Rachel Green. She let us know that she thought the meeting was supposed to be face to face. Ms. Green was kind and respectful while I shared my story with Estelle crying in the background. I finally got Estelle to calm down and then she exclaimed that she had to go potty. I whispered, “can you go by yourself?” She usually does, but of course, during this important moment she needed my help. While I was gone, Amanda highlighted our policy ask and the urgency of support and backing for children and their families. When I came back, Rachel explained that Senator Daines also has children and grandchildren so he understands what we are going through. I did feel like I was a little bit frantic because of Estelle and her various meltdowns so I wasn’t completely focused, but that was the majority of the meeting from what I recall.
We had a nice break for lunch before sitting down to meet with Senator Tester at noon. Estelle was getting tired so I was worried about how she would do. She was sitting in the window playing with our cat when the meeting started and we could only see her feet in the zoom square which was pretty silly. Again, Amanda and I sat for about 10 minutes waiting for someone to show up. And again, we had to call someone to call Senator Tester's office. Finally, another staffer jumped on the call, Patrick Antonietti, without the Senator. Mr. Antonietti was very helpful. I told him I was really looking forward to speaking with the senator as I had once met him as a kid when he visited my hometown. He explained how to get on the Senator’s website and find out where he would be so I could go and see him to ask questions. Next, Mr. Antonietti wanted to make sure he had the data and background information from Zero to Three, he made sure we had his email to send him the documents. At the end of the call, Mr. Antonietti said if I want to keep advocating I should come to Helena during legislative sessions. Looks like that’s next up on my agenda!
I ended my time with Zero to Three by sending one final email to the Senator’s offices’. I thanked them for their time and reminded them to “#ThinkBabies” and to invest in children and families to give them a great start in life. If you would like to email, tweet, or call Congress yourself, you can do so here, https://www.thinkbabies.org/take-action-congress/!
Overall, I was happy with how our day went, however, I was disappointed I didn’t get to speak to the Senators themselves. Because of this, though, I’m prompted to keep fighting and advocating. I don’t want families to leave their jobs because of a lack of child care. I don’t want families crying over their child care bill. I don’t want child care workers and teachers working 2 or 3 jobs without health care or other basic benefits. I want all children to be able to go to safe and wonderful early care programs. This is what I will continue to fight for.
Follow this link and click on your state to see who represented you at Strolling Thunder 2022, https://www.thinkbabies.org/strollingthunder!
Meghan is a born and raised Montanan, mama to a rambunctious toddler and a bonus mom to two amazing preteens. She recently earned a Master's degree in Early Childhood Education. In addition to her position as an Early Childhood Specialist at the University of Montana, Meghan enjoys a variety of odd mix of jobs; nannying, creating and selling travel play dough kits, making essential oil blends for kids, providing families with child guidance on Facebook and Instagram, and now providing ideas and tips to child care providers in partnership with Raise Montana! Meghan is also a content contributor for 406 Families, a site dedicated to connecting families to local events and resources.