Some time near the end of February, Nicole Guzman of GooseWorks, our truly extraordinary web designer based in Newburgh NY, and I marveled at how under control everything was as we prepared for the next quarter. We’ve got this, we (so innocently) thought. Baby Botanica’s business model functions in quarterly co-op cycles so that our care professionals can always take breaks for family reasons, to adjust their schedules, to add new services or classes, etc. While this makes for a flexible and positive experience for the professionals in our space, administratively, Nicole and I have a heavy load while we prepare for the next cycle each time. This time though, eh, it was no biggie. Nicole and I had several months under our belt, a solid team of care professionals with more consistent offerings, and a website and scheduling software we had a solid handle on. By the beginning of March, we were well on our way to April’s schedule already inputted and ready to go. In other words, we were kinda crushing the whole internet component of the thing.
Well, you know what happened next.
On Thursday, March 12th, due to Covid-19, I made the decision to close our doors to any group offerings, with only individual services still being provided at our care professional’s and client’s discretion. By one week later, those services had ceased as well, and we officially closed our doors. Our still newly-painted, one-season-old doors.
Now, a mere three weeks later, why and how does a very new, quite small business — centered around growing families connecting in person — go 100% online. If you read my very first blog (what??? you didn’t??), you know that the reason I created Baby Botanica was because I longed for a place where growing families could remove themselves from their little bubbles, cars, and screens, and share a space to truly connect. Here’s what pre-Grand Opening me wrote in a blog about why I was opening a family wellness center :
Back in the days before a pandemic and back before Baby Botanica had even opened.
From the moment my daughter, Michaela, was born 13 years ago, I sensed a deep disturbance in the historical human tendency to raise babies amongst many people. Having spent some time in Southeast Asia, I lamented the vast difference between a village where many women held, nursed, loved, and taught a child and one another, and, well, no village. I had terrific friends and family, yes, and when I was with them, having a newborn felt cozy and manageable. But most everyone was at least a twenty-minute to five-hour drive away, and almost every interaction with the outside world was a seemingly significant effort. Winter bunting, summer sunscreen, timing breastfeeding, car seats, parking, etc., I fluctuated between desperately wanting to be part of something bigger with my baby, and feeling daunted by getting out the door. And where to go? Target? Playground? Coffee? Library? The mall? What I wanted was a place to sit on a soft couch, be surrounded by beauty, breastfeed without judgment, and speak with others who might softly assure me that I was doing OK, smooth my brow and tell me that I would be fine, that my baby would sleep someday, that these days were both infinite and beyond temporary. Oh, and I wanted that all day, everyday….
…So now, with children seven, ten, and thirteen, I am opening Baby Botanica to provide the very things that sustained me through those early parenting years: physical space and community within it. Having been a professional doula to sixty families, and less formally to countless others, I can say confidently we all yearn for this, no matter where you are on your parenting or “child-ing” journey, or simply because you are human: we long to connect, in person, in a comfortable, safe, lovely place.
Right then. So how in goodness’s name does all of this (which was going swimmingly, darn it) translate to an on-line community? And why? The entire point of the thing was to leave your homes and rejoice in one another’s company while learning from and being treated by the best of the best. Have you ever heard of an online wellness space or a virtual community center? Me neither.
To be fully transparent, I have no idea how this will work. When I was vegan, I had this plant-based product called Fakin’ Bacon that I pretended was delish while all my college friends snarfed down the real deal. I convinced my friend, Todd, to try some, marveling that it was just like real bacon! He took one bite, laughed in my face, and goes “what’s even the point??” BTW, this guy as an adult now sends pictures of sandwiches to my husband, and vice versa, so, I mean, he’s kind of just committed to actual meat and wasn’t the best candidate to love a tempeh product. But his point was, why even bother?? Just eat a different food. I’m going somewhere with this, I promise.
I have always loathed FaceTime, Skype, all of it, and now I am having cocktail hour with close friends via Zoom.
Last night our dear friends, Matt & Laura, showed up to our virtual cocktail hour superimposed on a beach, even wearing a fedora. We cooked dinner together, I sipped (nay, gulped) wine, made inappropriate jokes, and caught up. When we hung up, my husband said, “I love those guys. I’m psyched to hang out again,” JUST like he would if we had just said goodbye after a nice dinner out. To be clear, it’s nowhere near the same thing as dinner at McKinney & Doyles, all together, snuggled up on a bench, but it’s a lot better than nothing. Not so sure about the fake bacon — that arguably wasn’t better than nothing — but connecting with other people digitally, yea, it’s still freaking’ great even if not even close to the real thing.
Similarly, Baby Botanica still will nurture, support, and commune, albeit as a somewhat altered facsimile of our beautiful physical space.
So that’s the “why.” In terms of how we’re going to do this all online, well, because Nicole Guzman is a tech star and web genius and a working mom to young kids, so she gets how important this is for new, expecting, more seasoned parents, and their families. Here’s how it’s gone:
- Baby Botanica’s 20+ care professionals submitted descriptions, times, dates and prices for their new or reimagined-for-Zoom offerings;
- I entered all of this in a shared spreadsheet that is literally only decipherable to Nicole and me, with 36 columns, 66 rows, and four ways of color-coding;
- And then Nicole made the magic happen on two platforms: WordPress and MINDBODY.
Mind you, this has all needed to happen in two weeks to get everything up and running by April 1st. And after I committed to only having one glass of wine per evening (and nothing prior!) with three children at home. Just a self-care support tip for all of you: If you are going to open a wellness center, be super mindful about doing it right before a pandemic. And hire a ninja web developer for when you have to put the whole operation on-line. That is all.
So the other part of the “how” to go from a physical space to a virtual space is about women. We have two fantastic men in our care co-operative, two on our stellar Advisory Board, and many men, of course, who have come through our doors as beloved guests at Baby Botanica. But, by and large, this is a business run by, with, and for women. While I do wish it were otherwise at times, I am deeply moved and empowered by the badass female vibe that fuels Baby Botanica. How cool to take everything I’ve ever learned as a woman, institutionally, professionally, personally, and communally, and start afresh, make the rules, hear from other women, and make our business what we want, what works for us and our families, and for one another. Baby Botanica is a co-operative, a give-and-take model that is radically democratic, where everyone is on equal footing. I own a space and manage a co-op but am clear that I don’t want to be anyone’s boss there.
Never has that model been more beautiful than now. Readers, the way this team (whose warm faces and incredible services you can find in the “Directory” or on our Instagram feed) has come together to support one another, to innovate, to reinvent, and to pivot over and over again as we gain more information, humbles and invigorates me. Each step of the way, we have met (on Zoom, obvs, but we light fancy candles), discussed, strategized, and acted as quickly as possible to ensure we could continue to support the Baby Botanica community. Several people involved in this hard work were actually sick with Covid-19, and still voluntarily showed up as best they could.
And this is how we will be able to keep our new business alive and thriving over the next couple months: because I have the most fantastic team in the world, and all they want to do is make life better for all of YOU. (If I could set this blog to a song it would be Beyonce’s “Run the World [Girls].” A link will have to suffice, and you’re spared my dancing, for better or worse.)
So now I have a favor for all of you:
please share the word of our on-line offerings with friends, near and far. Really doesn’t matter where they are in the world, as we have classes, meet-ups, events, and services being offered nearly all of hours of the day, facilitated by an all-star line-up of care professionals. And, really, you have sort of ALL become our team now, by showing up to our virtual space, by sending our virtual schedule to a family who may need some guidance and care, and by being there for one another.
For now, cheers to creative tempeh products, friends with fedoras, and girls who run the world. And, as always, cheers to being and staying healthy in your homes.