When one makes the choice to be a two-working-parent home, one brings a big and scary term into the home. A term that makes grown women quake in their very fashionable boots. A term that strikes fear into the hearts of parents everywhere: Child Care.
There are many facets to the horror of child care. First is the cost. We spend more on childcare for our two rugrats in a month than we spend on our mortgage. That's right, our single largest line item in the monthly budget is babysitting.
Except that it's so much more than babysitting. I spend 40 hours a week at my job, which means that my kids spend about 45 hours a week with someone else. That's over one quarter of their week, and nearly half of their waking week. That means that my kids spend as much time in childcare awake in a week as they spend with me awake in a week. And I've got it easy (not much overtime, shortish commute, etc.).
Choosing a childcare hinges on so many factors that it's mind-numbing. Money has to count, even though you don't want it too. In Georgetown, childcare ranges from about $100/week to about $200/week. And, yes, the more expensive places often offer things that the less expensive places just can't: more educational opportunities, web cams, better food, etc.
In addition to money, we all want someplace that isn't going to park our kids in front of a TV all day. A place where they will learn something, be challenged. A place where they will encounter the same sort of learning environment we would give them at home if we could be at home with them.
Then, there's safety. And that covers so much, from good staff to good facilities to good food. Are the procedures there? How close are they to a fire station? Are the staff CPR trained? What's the staff turnover look like? How long are the staff's days? Etc. Etc. Etc.
And then, well. There's love. When your kids are going to be in a place as much as they are in their homes, you want them to love it. And you want it to love them. You want there to be love. And that is a hard thing to measure.
Brynna started out in an in-home daycare setting with an old friend of the family. She was loved. She was safe. She was educated. And I could afford it. It was perfect. Then the family friend blew out her back (from keeping kids for almost 30 years) and we had to find another place. After some flailing around, we landed.
The new place was educational, shiney. There were webcams and lots of staff education. Brynna's teacher adored her. The food was good and the procedures were nice. I was comfortable there and Brynna loved it. Then, she stopped loving it. Her teacher had moved on and there was a new teacher and at first I thought that was it. Then, I thought maybe we were dealing with some separation anxiety. I ignored it.
Then came the bites. I found bite marks on her and I talked to the director. The director told me that she would take care of it. A few days passed and the anxiety got worse and we started seeing behavioral changes. Our angel had obviously hit the terrible twos. Right? No other explanation.
The bite marks continued. The webcams weren't working. The kid who was biting her was the teacher's son. The teacher's creepy boyfriend was hanging around in the parking lot and sometimes in the reception area. Things just became worse, somehow.
Eventually, we hit critical mass. I went to pick her up one day and this other kid, the teacher's kid hit Brynna. Hard. In the face. And the teacher... did nothing. I got Brynna's coat, and everything I could without making it obvious we were never coming back and I left. I took some time off work and interviewed new places and found her a spot.
And that's when I realized what had been going on. Those behavioral changes weren't the terrible twos, they were symptoms of abuse. The disturbing habit she had picked up of begging us not to lock her in the dark when we put her in time out didn't come from nowhere. The biting that she was doing to us when she was angry (which was most of the time) was because no one ever stopped it from happening to her.
The anger. God. I can't describe the anger. The rage that ripped through me. And then the fear. And then the anger. And then the fear. I was terrorized. It's a miracle I ever let that child out of my sight again. And to this day when she says she doesn't want to go somewhere, I have to fight the urge to promise her that she doens't have to. Because I didn't listen once and it hurt her.
So, when I went looking the second time, I didn't care about webcams. I didn't care about education. I didn't care about money (although I still had to have limits). All I cared about was staff. And love. And I found a place that loved her. I hated it. I hated how much they watched TV. And I hated that most of the kids there were on childcare assistance and looked at Brynna like the rich kid. Which is sooo funny compared to Montessori. And I hated how dirty they got. And I hated the junk food. And I hated Spongebob. But it didn't matter what I hated because they loved her and they wouldn't let anything happen to her.
Now, she's in Montessori and their afterschool program, and I'm mostly done for her. Next year, she'll be in public school, which will come with YMCA afterschool, or maybe something else, but it won't be as much. It'll never be like daycare again.
So, when I started looking for a place for Maren, I had a brand new terror. Now, I understood just what could happen to a kid. And I understood that this new kid wouldn't be able to talk and tell me about it. And I understood just how freakin' big this decision is.
I didn't even look at daycares. Frankly, when Brynna left her in-home situation, I felt like daycare was safer. There were lots of people there. Multiple teachers. Who would be watching each other. It seemed like abuse was less likely in a place where there were adults to tell as well as the kids. It seemed better.
But it wasn't.
What I learned is that centers have the problem of turnover. Their staff that you and your kid love will leave for a different job with healcare benefits or more money or to move away and they will be replaced. Without even talking to you about it. They will be replaced and the new person may be fabulous. Or they may be a serial killer and you just don't know. And you don't have any control. You are subject.
And the adults aren't watching each other. They are too busy. Too afraid. Too us-against-them. They don't watch and even if they do, they don't tell.
So, we went with in-home. And I love my babysitter. Can I say that again? I love my babysitter. She is funny and smart and quipy and she treats the kids the way I would. With humor and tolerance and she's not above saying "Whatever." She talks to me about Maren's issues. And there aren't webcams or checklists, but there is "circle time" where the kids learn sign language and how to count and their ABC's. There is free time to play and they do go outside. And the TV is always on, but it's always on in my house and that doesn't mean that anyone is actually watching it. But, mostly, there is love. This woman loves my kid. Yeah, she doesn't love her like I do. I know that. And I will never forget that because I learned that lesson the hard way. But she loves her all the same. Her kids love her and her husband (who is a little something, but not creepy) loves her.
But there are problems with in-home care. Right now, the problem is flu. The babysitter and her two sons have it so there is no babysitter. For the rest of the week. And I am scrambling around like a crazy person trying to fill that gap. Trying to find someone to watch the kid. Trying to work it out. And I still owe the babysitter for the week, even though the kid isn't there, so I'm trying to find someone FREE so I don't have to double pay.
Because there is no RIGHT solution. There is no this-is-the-way. Everything has it's downside. There is no best. There is best-fit and right-for-my-kid. But even those are filled with anxiety and worry and what ifs. Even those are filled with sleepless nights and anxiety ridden days.
Child care sucks. But that's like saying money sucks. It doesn't matter, you have to have it. You have to work it out. You have to worry and stress and cobble things together and make a plan and stick to it. You have to figure it out. For better or worse, you have to decide. And you don't have to live with the consequences of your decision. Your kids do, and that's much, much worse.
I'm happy where I am. And I will gladly put up with flu weeks to avoid abuse or neglect. There are so many things I don't worry about when she's there. And that's worth a lot.