I was catching up on Kendi Everyday this morning and am belated in my congrats on her new-ish babe. Didn't even know she had added to her family, so absent from the blogosphere neighborhood have I been. I was interested in her recent post about Overcoming Mom Guilt Whilst Finding a Childcare Solution. I could write a long treatise on why childcare is one of the branches of the Stink Tree that is maternal care, postpartum care, healthcare, family supports, etc. etc. in these United States of America, but I will leave that to keener policy wonks. Suffice it to say, it's not just the lack of affordable care, it's our whole model of care that deserves a whole row of poop emoji. Thusly, the attitude toward childcare providers and their compensation is all kinds of wrong, and I am only one woman but I've tried to do right by everyone who has cared for our child. I COULD GO ON but what I thought I would offer today is to share our dossier of childcare solutions. Note: Loverpants and I have never lived less than a 10-hour drive from family, so family as backup has never been an option. I have a number of friends in the throes of employing different childcare models and I think it's sometimes nice to know that the model is often subject to renegotiation as the family dynamics change.
Ahem. Without further ado:
A Truthful History of Childcare for the Wee Lees: Winter 2009: Still pregnant with daughter, my boss and I agree that I will probably not return to work full-time in the same role. My performance has not been that illustrious for the past six months (largely on account of having a 2 hour-roundtrip commute and being in night school part-time THE HELL DID I THINK I WAS?!). So it's probably best that we part ways after I have the babe. But we leave it sort of open-ended, to be determined once the babe arrives.
One Child Help from visiting grandparents
Jan 2010 - Babe arrives by emergency c-section. I spend 5 days in the hospital to recover. Loverpants returns to work even while I am in the hospital, because, I have support from the nurses. He is working 3 jobs, because we have a mortgage to pay in a city with a high cost of living. This is not sustainable but for now it is necessary. Once we return home, my mom visits for a week and my in-laws visit the week after that. These are difficult weeks for me - recovering from surgery, becoming a mom for the first time, learning to accept help - but I am so, so appreciative of the grandparents for taking this time as they are invaluable forces of love and food preparation. Short-term disability is a help for six weeks time, in addition to John working 6 days/week.
One day/week nanny
I do not return to my full-time job. When Baby Girl is six weeks-old, I start my graduate internship. This is one of the last requirements before I can work on my portfolio as I prepare to obtain my master's degree. I want to finish this degree as soon as possible as it will (I hope) enable me to teach college journalism. My internship allows me to work from home one day--which is awesome--and I do plenty of work from home for this internship between the hours of 10p-1a. Through a church friend network, we find a recent college graduate, Diana, who is able to help us one day/week. (Sidebar: In a perfect world, I would have been in the business of checking that our childcare provider for our infant babe was CPR certified and checked a couple of references. But most childcare providers don't want to take one baby for one day a week, so I was in a bit of a bind.) In the end, Diana was a huge blessing and a great fit and became part of the fabric of our family. Baby Girl cried for most of the day when Diana came and never took a bottle. That was maddening. But our pediatrician assured me that Baby Girl would make up for it. I also loved my internship - despite having to shlep my breast pump on the train every Wednesday - and found the one-day reentry into the workplace a wonderful experience.
One day/week morning care
Once my grad internship ended, I was sort of bummed out. I was glad to be able to stay home with Baby Girl, but I also needed to work on my grad work. I started a little part-time hustle selling cosmetics which was not very lucrative but was fun. Loverpants agreed that we could employ some kind of few hours/week babysitter situation so I would have time to get a little work done. I was glad when a mother in our neighborhood said she could bring her 18 month-old daughter over to watch Baby Girl. I was a little too loosy-goosy with this time, though. I was so happy to get out of the house without Baby Girl that I would sometimes just sit on my laptop and write a blog post for funsies. This worked for a few months but then I decided that I was paying for a sanity save rather than a productivity boost. So I needed to figure something else out.
One day/week Mom's Morning Out
When Baby Girl was 9 months-old, I joined a gym with daycare. It took 2 weeks for her to not cry when I dropped her off at the gym daycare. Those first two weeks, I would use the allotted "15 minutes to let your kid cry and then you have to come claim them" to take a shower at the gym. It was pathetic. I was paying for a gym membership in order to shower. I kept at it, every day, for 2 weeks, though, and this was enough time for Baby Girl to realize that she was better off just playing with the McDonald's hamburger playset at the gym than crying. Victory was mine! The gym daycare was a complete boost to stay-at-home motherhood. I got to work out, Baby Girl got to play with some rad toys, and I started to feel better about life in general. I was still needing to stay up when Baby Girl went to sleep to work on my grad school stuff, though.
At the gym, I saw a flier for a Mom's Morning Out at the home of a woman around the corner from the gym. Every Tuesday, I would drop off Baby Girl there for 3 hours where she would "play" with 3 other kids her age and I could get my grad stuff done. This time, I was really committed to getting my stuff completed. The 3 hours zoomed by but it was a help and it fit our budget.
Three Days/Week of All-Day Care
When Baby Girl was just over a year-old, I finished grad school and got my diploma --hurrah! A few months later, I was hired for an adjunct teaching spot teaching community college. I was so pumped! I also was able to score a few part-time hours with a neighborhood newspaper, as well. Baby Girl was 18 months-old now so she was eligible for an in-home childcare provider in our neighborhood for three days/week. This was probably the best experience in all of our childcare solutions. The childcare provider was very committed to children's early education and hired very loving co-teachers. She was open to cloth diapering which helped our family economy, as well. Also, three days in a row helped our family rhythm. I was able to get my work done, run errands, and still have time with my daughter.
Daddy Day Off Once I started teaching, Loverpants was able to take Mondays off to spend with Baby Girl. It was so special since for the first 18 months of her life, he barely saw her, he was working so much. He really bonded with her on Madi/Daddy Mondays--they went to a kindergarten readiness program in the mornings and went to the park after her nap. This also allowed me to get some work done, as well.
Two Children When our Little Man arrived, Baby Girl was 2 years-old. My recovery after my son was much more painful than with my daughter because I had lost a lot of blood in delivering him (another emergency c-section). I had a hematoma that took many weeks to clear. During this time, my parents and in-laws visited and this was, again, such a big help. Once they left, though, Loverpants got double-pneumonia and was literally on his back for two weeks. This was by far the hardest month of my life. Little Man nursed around the clock and Baby Girl was a sibling rivalry rageball. It was a lot of adjustment.
I tried to teach a summer intensive for a little bit of money, while Loverpants watched both kids. It was a disaster. There was no time for me to pump during the four hour class so I was lactating everywhere whilst teaching. Hot mess. One thing that did help was that Loverpants, instead of taking paternity leave all at once, took every Friday of the summer off. It was easier to get through 4 days parenting solo and to have Friday to look forward to as a family. We went on outings and just enjoyed our time as a family of four.
Two Days/Babysitter's House
Although we would have loved to have put both of our children back in the in-home childcare provider as we had with Baby Girl, we couldn't afford it and Little Man was still too young. We found another in-home provider who could take both kids along with her granddaughter in their home. This was a good match but it was in this season that I realized that our life situation was just not sustainable at all.
Loverpants was still working 3 jobs, and after he got pneumonia, I realized this was just becoming too much for one man. I needed to find something full-time. Teaching was agreeing with me, so I applied for a full-time teaching position with one of our denominational universities in Tennessee. In a strange and providential turn of events, I was hired and given six months to move our lives down to Tennessee.
By the time we arrived in TN, I was already being paid full-time. We blithely assumed that Loverpants would build a private therapy practice in Tennessee and it would take a few months to get up and running. We enrolled Baby Girl in a full-time Montessori preschool. Loverpants was able to watch the kids most of the time. It also took some time for the therapy practice to take off. It was a huge save-our-butts help, though, that Loverpants could be with the kids as much as possible because I was over my head trying to ramp up my syllabus prep, teaching, etc. etc. We sometimes had babysitters (my students or recent grads) watch Little Man in the mornings if Loverpants had to teach (he taught part-time, as well) or attend a meeting.
It was a stressful time financially because of our real estate holdings back in Mass. but for the most part, Tennessee was the perfect place for our family to live off of one salary and to rent a home with some land.
Both Kids in School
The day finally arrived when both kids were full-time students and when that day arrived, Loverpants and I were ready for it. Little Man enrolled in the Montessori preschool when he was 5. We were not sentimental about this heave-ho--probably because we both had been so fortunate to have gotten to spend a lot of time with our young children.
As I reflect back on these shifting choices, I think how different the balance was between what I had thought would be best and what actually was the best option for our family at that time, factoring in cost and provider and access. I think being able to change your mind is a very important part of claiming adulthood. It also speaks to privilege, though. I wish and vote and rally for more affordable, accessible options for families of every income level, and for there to be better compensation overall for childcare providers. This is not a country that prioritizes childcare, like France and Canada do, and that's a shame. I am most grateful for all the wonderful people who came into our lives as a result of caring for our children. Our family was shaped and enriched by them, and I never want to stop thanking them for the gift of care they provide.