I always took childcare for granted growing up, always just assumed that the amazing babysitters my mom found for the couple days a week that she worked were just plucked easily from the vast reserves of the Good Childcare Providers, a place that most surely existed where mothers can find quality care at good rates with a single phone call.
Which is proof that a) I was delusional and b) The Babysitters Club books really shaped my view on reality.
When we were a couple months pregnant, we went to add our name to the list for the well-respected childcare available through James’ work. It wasn’t cheap, but it was a better deal than many options and it would be convenient. We assumed that we were on the ball, signing up when I was a mere 10 weeks pregnant…until we found out that the waitlist was 2.5 years long. You are already 10 weeks along?!?!? Most people sign up when they consider trying to get pregnant, James was told, You’re behind!
And thus we were thrust into the neurotic subculture of DC childcare.
I started doing my research, calling and learning about waist lists that lasted years, lotteries that decided elite playgroup participation (and have, I am sure, a direct correlation to future earning potential), and rigorous curriculum for 2 year olds. I learned about “Boogie Babes” and baby yoga and the fine points of DC nanny laws. I did math and stared bug eyed at numbers I calculated, remembering when I was paid $5/hr for babysitting. I spiraled into total despair about the cost of childcare, praying every night that we could actually find someone who would keep our kid alive — even if they didn’t have an advanced degree in Essential Oil Based Baby Meditation and Inspiration Soothing Techniques.
Several things crystallized during my hours of stress-googling.
- Being a mom who works outside of the home means that you spend at least half your time and potentially more of your income trying to arrange childcare.
- DC is a seller’s market, where there are 5 families clamoring for every spot/nanny/sitter that exists.
- I am not willing to be away from my baby full-time, even if that means putting up with all sorts of obstacles to arrange the part-time yet amazing childcare of my dreams. As my friend Bekah wrote, there is no parent who does not sacrifice, and I think moms feel this acutely, whether they are staying at home full-time, working full time, or some combination of both. No mom escapes the childcare stress, even if she is the one giving all of it herself. Researching childcare helped me to assess what sacrifices I am willing and able to make in terms of finances, mental sanity, time at home, etc.
- If possible, it was not my preference to have Henry in a large group childcare at a young age. I have zero judgement for anyone who puts their kid in daycare. If anything, being a mom has taught me that we are all just doing the best we can and finding what works for our own families, and I know that daycares can be so wonderful and often the only financially viable option. But given our part time, academic calendar needs and my desires for Henry, it was not my first option. (Plus they all have forever long waiting lists, even if it was my wish.)
In the fall, we got lucky. I was only back to work about 10 hours a week, and a single posting on a church forum had a single applicant who was singularly perfect for our family. Susan watched Henry all fall, putting up with my first-time parent neurosis and constant theorizing about what we should do to make him __________ (eat/sleep/play) better. I had a different system practically every day and she flowed with all of them, allowing me to scribble suggestions on post its all over the house and not judge my crazy. She would wander all over Capitol Hill with Henry in a bear suit and text me excitedly when he actually pooped, as he was a once-a-week-pooper back then and it was an EVENT. Susan was the perfect nanny to teach us how to have childcare. She loved our boy so well and allowed us to know that he has having one-on-one care at a time when we (even more than him perhaps) needed it.
But for the spring semester, Susan was leaving DC and I needed more hours per week given my work schedule. I started searching again, imagining that it would be similar to last time. I placed ads… and got nothing. I cast the net wider, posting ads on various childcare sites, calling any and all possibilities, questioning everyone I knew about potential if their cousin’s sister’s ex-boyfriend’s neighbor might be able and interested. No one wanted us. No one wanted to care for my absolutely perfect ginger baby, with the finally perfected sleep skills, multiple bear suits, and the deep laugh. At least, no one wanted to do that on our limited budget and very part-time hours.
Sometimes I imagined what a perfect scenario would be. Cloning was my first fantasy, a second Hannah to stay home and mom it up 24/7. Home Hannah would organize museum outings and park dates. She would have diaper bags full of healthy snacks and toys and endless bottles of bubbles to dole out to children at the park, earning the love of all little people in the Lincoln Park neighborhood. She would speak French to Henry at home and keep the house clean, the baby happy, the fridge stocked. Because of her, Work Hannah could focus on teaching and finishing her dissertation with the full knowledge that her baby was also getting all of her.
But as it seems like you folks over in Science World (a world so far from Humanities Kingdom that I’m not even sure where you are) haven’t figured out cloning yet, my dream was to find another mom to include my kid in her life a couple days a week. She didn’t need a fancy house. I didn’t care if she went to Baby Yoga or boogie babes or served up organic chia seed pudding. I wanted her to be willing to crawl on the ground at the park and hug him when I couldn’t.
I found Cassandra’s name and number on a Capitol Hill mom listserve, and we clicked when we first talked. She watches 1-2 kids along with her own toddler, and after 4 interviews with her (I know- I’m rolling my eyes at me too), I found myself begging her to take us, to choose Henry from several kids whose parents were also vying for a spot. Please love my kid. Please keep him safe and make him laugh. And give him vegetables instead of crackers and pick him up when he face-plants on the playground.
She picked him, in spite of my neurotic questions and James’ intensity in drilling her about her homeowner’s insurance. And I count Cassandra as one of the biggest blessings in our life. Henry is obsessed with the two toddlers he is with. He is exhausted when I pick him up, and so happy. She texts me videos every day of Henry on the swings, dancing in the living room, whacking happily on a tambourine. One day I arrived and found a giant furniture box on her porch and she proudly informed me that her neighbor was throwing it out but she saved it so the kids could turn it into a fort. If I can’t be with him all the time, than I am happy knowing he’s with her.
I see people looking for childcare on the mom list serve all the time, and the diversity in families is great. Some have several kids, others just one. Some need part time, others full time. Some want specific languages spoken around their kids, others want a caregiver who focuses on activities around the city. But under all the requests, we are all just asking for the same thing, from the corporate DC lawyer who hires a private nanny to speak Italian with their toddler daughter, to the hourly wage earner who drops their baby boy off at a large daycare center.
Please love my kid. Please keep them safe and make them laugh.
I imagine I will spend a lot of my life thinking that, though now I can actually say it aloud. I can request that of the people that I pay to have around Henry. But someday he will go off to school, to camp, to sleepovers, to college, to jobs and life and people far away. I will watch him walk off into crowds of humans who can be so cruel to each other, so dangerous, so callous. I will breathe it like a prayer every time he goes out.
Please love my kid. Please keep him safe and make him laugh.