In Praise of Childcare
I feel like I could write this entire blog post in one sentence, and that sentence goes like this:
I am so effing grateful for childcare.
But since you’ve all come to know me as a bit more, well, verbose, hear me out.
When L was born, I proudly stayed home from work for almost a year. It was a complicated year, to be sure, mostly because, though we didn’t exactly plan for this, his dad was home too. L was born in Norway at the height of the recession, and when we returned to the States when he was four months old, I had my part-time adjunct teaching gig on hold until I was ready to come back (talk about gratitude! My boss and department, you know who you are), and Ben had…a law degree, a Masters in law, and no promising leads on a job. So that entire first year of L’s life was spent floating between free living arrangements in various places, L’s mom “home” with him and L’s dad depressedly applying for jobs in the attic at my parents’ house (and then less depressedly doing a few consulting gigs and a summer internship).
You know, in life, you look back on times like that and you remember them fondly? But in the moment, it felt really demoralizing.
When Baby S was born, our lives were just different: I had my full-time teaching gig, with a full course load and benefits, so I went back to work at four months, toting my breast pump with me on the train and trying not to cry during my breaks, when I disappeared into a former broom closet to empty my boobs. With Baby S, I started with three days of childcare, then moved to four, and when he went to his current daycare situation, she told me four was no longer possible: full-time or nothing, baby. I remember the promise I made to myself and to her that I’d keep him home on Wednesdays anyway, do my online class work when he napped, make up for it on the weekends.
But, um, well, I mostly haven’t. Mostly, I send him off to childcare every day like he has a job, and pick him up at the end of the day. And probably because of my two X chromosomes, I’ve felt pretty guilty and conflicted about this over the last year.
Yes, I have the kind of job where I could, conceivably, not have five days of childcare. I’m lucky in this regard. I work some weekends no matter how much I work during the week; I work from home a lot. So the standard of 9-5 care out of my house isn’t always what I need, but it’s what I’ve got. Sometimes?gasp!?I drop off the baby and then go to yoga before getting online. I also do a ton of unpaid work (read: marketing a small-press book). And at times, I have felt this guilt about sending S to “Nonny’s” when I have things on my to-do list like self-care and grocery shopping and schlepping my book to bookstores and sending out promo postcards. Why? I guess because much as I would like to pretend I don’t, I fall prey to The Voices as much as any other woman does: you should, you should, you should. And one of The Voices goes, you should be with your child whenever you can be, at the expense of all else.
And another of The Voices goes: you spent a lot more time with L at this age than you do with S now.
Ouch, Voice. True or not, that feels like a low blow.
But here’s the honest, naked truth: I adore Baby S. Like, he is the cutest thing since cute sliced bread these days. His language is exploding; everything is “no mine!” as it’s clutched to his chest. He calls the dudes he sleeps with his “tuffies.” L is “Weo.” Sometimes the first thing he says in the morning, his hot little cheeks scented with delicious baby-drool smell (trust me, it’s the best), is “Wheah Daddy go?” He likes to pick up things like the TV remote, pretend they’re the phone, and say “Nanaaaa?”
He’s a total riot.
And he’s also the most active baby I’ve ever met. In twenty minutes the kid can stop the washing machine right before the spin cycle, call Australia on my phone, screw up the microwave, and tip an entire box of cereal onto the floor. The stroller can’t contain him; he’s learned how to turn on the hose; and when he says “all done” after dinner, we’ve got about thirty seconds to let him out of his high chair (God forbid he sit still for longer than fifteen minutes!) before he starts throwing stuff. I’m telling you, he’s the cutest menace to society you’ve ever seen.
And so oh, how I love bringing him to daycare. At daycare, they play at the park until they’re exhausted. They play at the water table until they’re exhausted. There are eight little terrors for him to compete with. They exhaust each other. He has a great day, every day. It’s so much more than I could give him on my own. And his caregivers? They love him. One day, worried that he was just too much, Nonny told me: “He’s a little ray of sunshine, and I love him.” I nearly cried, she’s so kind. (She even meant it, you guys.)
You know what I love about childcare? It’s having another trusted, loving adult in S’s life. Not so many of us in America are lucky enough to have a true village anymore, extended family and friends all living close by and raising each other’s kids. So I have to pay for mine.
But oh, how worth it it is.
P.S. You might also like:
Reflections on a First Birthday
Feeling Vulnerable and Holding Things Close
P.P.S. I’m in the midst of my mini-book tour! To see dates and locations I’ll be reading from Little Prayers, check out my Little Prayers Book Tour page. Portland, Maine, and Portland, Oregon, here I come. Can’t wait.