Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Smokey and the Child Care Bear

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.


ShellSpann said...

I am so thankful that I've never had to use a daycare "center". I've had the mother of one of my high school friends watching my kids since birth and I hope to God that she never decides to stop babysitting. Not only is she much more reasonable, she loves my kids and I don't worry about them at all while they are there.

Jessi said...

That is a luxury that I wish I still had. It's just rough out there. Glad you've got it, though!

Strangeite said...

Childcare is also the largest line item in our monthly budget and we only have one (granted our mortgage payment is absurdly low).

It really sucks that finding good child care is such a crap shoot. When Anna was pregnant with Sophie we began day-care shopping. We looked all over Lexington and it was either (i) going to require a second mortgage to afford it or (ii) felt we needed to provide our baby with self-defence classes before we could send her.

About the same time, a daycare center opened at the end of our block but neither of us really considered it because... well it just looked a little jankey. However, in the end we felt we should at least check it out (seemed like the neighborly thing to do).

We instantly fell in love with the day care and the people running it. I don't know what we would do without this place. My cousin (who lives in Gtown) brings her son to the daycare because of how amazing these people are. And it is an added bonus that when her class walks to the park, our neighbors come out and wave hi to her as she passes.

Don't tell my granddad, but I have felt for a long time, that we should have publically run child care centers. It is too important an issue and too much of a strain on families.

Suze said...

A friend of mine just told me today about when her older son was in daycare, she went to pick him up early one day and he was across the street playing at a fire hydrant. The daycare workers had no idea he'd gotten out. She didn't take him back there. (He's making big bucks as an engineer in Boston now, so he turned out all right...) There are a lot of shady places out there, which is too bad since there aren't enough to go around, either.

Jessi said...

Roy and Suze - You are right that there are a lot of crappy places and not enough places in general. I'm not sure that publicly run daycares are the answer (not sure they're not either) but I do think that there should be more oversight. The system is too easy to take advantage of and abuse. And when we are talking about our very most defenseless children, that's just too much risk. When we left the abusive place, I called social services, mainly because there was a little boy there who was autistic and non-verbal and I didn't know if he could communicate it to his parents if they hurt him. It was an incredibly stressful time and I don't wish it on anyone, but I know that thousands of parents fight that battle every day.

Strangeite said...

Oh, I don't think publically run day cares would be the perfect panacea, but could be part of a multi-tiered solution.

When we have another kid, we will be looking at spending over $1000 a month on just child care. That is a whole lot of money. When you look at the math, it becomes pretty clear that families making minimum wage just can't afford to work. The have to work over 20 hours a week, just to have child care in order to go into work. If they have 2 kids.... well, good luck with that.

The high cost of child care shouldn't just be a concern for families but society as a whole. It is yoke upon the poor that all of us are paying for.

Sage said...

I'll make a plug... my cousin does inhome child care... if anyone wants her number, I'm on FaceBook

Becca said...

CJ had two in-home sitters before going to daycare center. The first sitter was nice--AF wife with 4 kids, only one of which was home with CJ. Husband got reassigned and I had to search. Second sitter was nice, had references, rules, CPR and first aid certifications. CJ went there for four months, and I pulled him because she gave him nilla wafers.

I know, it seems stupid, but it was principle. I'd had to fill out a food list for her use at her request. She him wafers, and I asked her not to because I thought he was too young and they were too porous for his age (8 months). After the second time, I couldn't trust her.

I lucked out with the center I found near work. It was older, but the woman who runs it has been there over 20 years and the staff was incredible. He was there almost 4 years until Tom lost his job in July. I wept on his last day, not because i was glad it was his last but because I was so relieved that they had loved him so much and kept him so safe.

You hear so many horror stories in the Big City.

Now, Tom is CJ's daycare, full time. We looked at the budget and decided, based on childcare costs, to go single income. I make more so I work and Tom became Mr. Mom. It's taken adjustment and I've gotten a few odd comments about bucking gender expectations, but it works for us. He starts Kindergarten next year and Tom is trying to get his antiques/collectibles business off the ground; I don't see us going traditional dual income anytime soon.

Jamie Roberts said...

I was very lucky during the time that the kids were younger...but it was only because i was a single mom going back to school. i only had to pay around 10 dollars a week for two children under 6 to go to daycare. the system is great for those who don't take advantage of it. but i saw so many "parents" pop out more kids just to get more assistance-the lovely bonus of living in almost government housing. :) but anyhow, we found a wonderful daycare within walking distance to our house. the kids loved being there. they restructured everything in order to get state certification and no longer take children over the age of 5, so i had to get todd into ymca after school. the ymca program in scott co. is great. the summer program was equally wonderful. todd got to go swimming and see movies and just interact with other kids in general. erin still loved her daycare, but she missed her big brother. it's terrible that the economy is at a place where both parents have to would be so nice for a parent to be able to stay home and be a parent. i think tom and becky are much happier now that cj can stay home. there is something to be said for knowing who you kid is around and what they are doing 24/7. i'm lucky that i have my mom. especially now that's she's retired cause now if the kids are sick, she can stay home with them. and it helps that they are much older now-almost to an age where they could be left alone, but in this day and age, i'm afraid to. during the school day, my mom works with a young man at the hospital (she still continues her love of working with 'disabled' kids -i hate that word, but i don't know a better one to use) but then she is home in time for when they walk home. it would be even more difficult to find childcare with my job since i work 12 hour days-most daycares close at 6 and i don't get off work until 730pm.

jessi-i will email you the name of the daycare, but keep in mind, it's been 5 years since erin has been there. good luck with your search :)

OhSweetSara said...

I have always been against daycare centers. My parents had us in a home daycare, and even though she was terrifying, there was still love in that home and I always wanted that for my son. I've picked up cousins from centers and was appalled at the state of the children there. They were always dirty and sticky and running around with no structure what so ever.

As a mother with a semi special needs child, a center was not an option. I needed to make sure he was in an environment where he would be looked after, and paid attention to and not lost in the masses. If there are centers in my area that offer these things, I haven't found one yet. Also, the daycare centers around me are way too expensive. There is no way I would pay someone $250 a week to not pay attention to my child.

We found a fabulous home daycare when my son was 3 and it was perfect for him. She has a son that is his age and all the kids loved him. They did projects, she read stories to them, there was play time and she always made sure to let the children know that she cared about them.

My son is now 8 and only goes to daycare to catch the bus to school in the mornings, but I know that if we ever needed her more than that, she would be happy to take him.