The Cost of Care
Simon starts work on Monday, and we don't have childcare. Ha ha ha! HA!...Ha?
Okay, I get that this is just daycare, not college or the Manhattan preschool circuit, but it's still kind of a Big Deal, and something that, although we've (I've) done a lot of thinking about (A LOT), we haven't actually acted on in any real, meaningful ways despite having forseen this eventual situation for, oh, seventeen months and three days, not counting the forty weeks of Wombat's gestation.
We hadn't done anything about it until today, that is, when I begged Simon via a look of silent desperation to please do something. To make some phone calls or set up some appointments or do whatever a responsible parent would do at this juncture--anything to metamorphose this nightmare beast of a situation--all fungus-clawed and woolly-legged and halitosis-tongued--into a fluffy white lamb, perhaps one with a master's degree in child development and a repertoire of toddler-appropriate activities (puppet shows? cooking class? folksinging?) deep enough to fill two or three days per week and for a reasonable price at a location near me.
Simon, on the phone: "We're hoping to drop him off next Monday."
Me, fingers in my ears because I can't take rejection: "Lalalalalalala."
What happened was this: The daycare affiliated with his new job turned out to be...oh, $7,000 more per year than we thought it was. (How this happened I don't know. It's been a long time since I took math, but not long enough for the Math People to have restructured the way multiplication works, I don't think.) (Also, is it indelicate to talk about money by using actual numbers? I think it might be, and yet I persist, because, hello! $7,000! That's a lot! I don't want to say $X and have you imagine I mean $250 when I mean SEVEN THOUSAND DOLLARS. It makes a difference.)
What's even more shocking, however, is that without the annual stipend included (supposedly) in Simon's benefits package, we would be paying as much to have someone watch Wombat as my current employer pays me to MAKE LITERATURE. Okay, I may be overstating my role as a grammar wrangler here, and I'm certainly not comparing the work of raising a child to quality-checking punctuation or anything, but I would be lying if I didn't confess that it's practically my worst dream come true to find out that daycare costs almost exactly the same as my salary, although one is a teeny bit higher. (Guess which one?) (*sob*)
It's one thing to leave your kid in someone else's care when you're making enough on top of that to keep the household in shoes and bacon, but it feels a lot different when you're just breaking even whether you're working and using daycare or else not working at all. At that point, everyone knows you're working simply to work--to do something, to get out of the house, to get away from the kid and save your sanity--and even if that isn't entirely true in some cases (although it almost entirely is in my case), it's still not ideal. A coworker once told me that even though her daycare costs were eating up her entire salary, being able to go to work part-time meant a giant savings in therapy bills; now I understand.
But isn't there an inverse of this option? Instead of working a job so I can pay someone to watch my kid, can't I get paid to watch my kid so I can outsource my job? Anyone? Working mother seeks wealthy benefactor. Are you there, god/Oprah? Oh, it's a nice little thought, that, but then again, even in this pre-childcare chaos I'm not delusional enough to think that I have any business whatsoever hanging out with a toddler five days a week, even if it's the toddler of whom I'm most fond.
And thus I must work, for the good of all involved.
So Simon made some calls and I did some (questionable) math (did you know that four weeks times twelve months doesn't equal fifty-two weeks per year? I did not!), and now we're...well, we're exactly where we were last week--with too many comparable options--although now we're also feeling quite poor again. (So soon? Le sigh.)
Here's the thing: the work-affiliated daycare is NOT CHEAP, but it's not cheap because it's highly reputable and well-structured and secure. Further, the kids there are likely to be super-smart nerdlings (which is a good thing), and the place is across from Simon's work, which means no one has to suffer me crying through morning drop-offs. This place also has a looong waiting list, and Simon had to perform some deft acrobatics to secure us a spot--and starting next week at that!--and even though we haven't committed to anything quite yet, I already don't want to turn it down for fear of seeming ungrateful. Getting into this daycare is a bit like getting into Harvard and then going, "Oh, but it's so expensive and I'm sure the state school will be just as good." I'm passionate about saving money, but I'm not stupid.
Our other options are some in-home daycares in more-convenient locations (read: Simon won't have to take Wombat on public transportation) and for lower rates (although not by much), and we really don't know how the quality will match up to Harvard; it could be better than Harvard for all we know, or at least different in a variety of better-for-our-family ways. Are the in-home daycares Swarthmores and Benningtons? Or are they community colleges of the greater Des Moines area? We don't know! (I say this as someone who went to in-home daycares run by unaccredited neighbor ladies well schooled in the Mormon church and not much else, and I also attended public school and then the University of Utah, which isn't a bad place but not exactly Ivy League, and I turned out all right, I think, albeit with a slight deficiency in 'rithmetic.)
If we go with the Great Unknown of an affordable in-home daycare center, we'd be paying pennies a day (okay, maybe not pennies) after the stipend, but I can't help wonder what we'd lose in quality, value, and peace of mind. As a confessed cheapoholic, there are plenty of things I'm willing to skimp on (e.g., wine, shoes, haircuts), but I also know that there are situations in which you absolutely get what you pay for and therefore have to fork it over for quality (e.g., toilet paper must be at least two-ply! no exceptions!). With that in mind, I think childcare is more like toilet paper than it is like wine, yes? Or does it really not matter when the kid is this young and basically just needs to be contained in a cutlery-free room for a handful of hours each week while Mama humps it* for The Man? It's not like this is college-prep daycare, right? OR IS IT?!
We have appointments set up to tour two facilities tomorrow, and I'm crossing my fingers that one of them will blow me away. If we're greeted at the door by a guitar-strumming lamb, I'll know for sure we've found the right place.
*I'm editing a book full of workingman slang. It ain't always purty.Previous Next