February 20, 2017

Our childcare and costs: Winter 2017 update

2017 winter update: the costs of childcare Childcare was a scary thing for us well before having JuggerBaby. Culturally, I should have been able to “expect” my parents to be our live-in babysitters. Multigenerational living is what we’ve always done. But much like  the rest of my life, when the time came, our reality was totally different from what I was told to expect. Mom was long buried, and Dad was utterly disinterested. While I regret what JuggerBaby loses as a result, a richer life with interesting and strange grandparents, there was no use dwelling on what “should” have been. It’s a good thing I’d gotten used to adversity by now!

We went through a long and fruitless search for a good nanny, and finally had to take advantage of my flexible work schedule to be a work from home mom.

I kind of miss my #BabyCoworker, but before age 1, ze was just too social and active for our old arrangements to work for us anymore. The daycares in this area range from the at-home care situations to very commercial operations, and the wait lists were miles long. Naturally, by this time last year, I was pretty stressed about what we were doing with JuggerBaby. We had a huge flash of luck when one of the daycares on our approved list had a few unexpected openings earlier than our requested start date, and we went for it.

It’s expensive, but they’re certified, they’re a big enough operation to really pay attention to all the rules and regulations and gives me confidence that they’re not as likely to have problems with abuse as smaller operations that perhaps have less oversight or employ family members. On the one hand, I love a family operation. On the other hand, if a family member of the daycare provider abuses a child, I simply have no faith that the welfare of the child is going to be put above the provider’s livelihood and natural urge to protect their family.

We expected a tough start but JuggerBaby was PSYCHED. Ze has exactly zero compunctions about diving into the new environment and immediately adored zir adoring caretakers. We only started part-time because of my worries, to ease into it, but that worry was allayed immediately. We continued part-time to save money.

Almost a year after that, we settled into a full time routine at daycare. Verdict: mostly good. The germs streaming home from that place had me more sick in 6 months than I’ve been in ten years, but ze has been largely unfazed. Which has been, as you might imagine, nothing but good for me.

Ze has been through three classrooms and we really miss the first one. There were 5 caretakers in the classroom, they were all loving and attentive and calm personalities, and they were very good at redirecting JuggerBaby when frustration with communication reared. The biting started there but it was only at times of great frustration. Ze was remarkably tolerant of all the small babies using zir as a jungle gym as they learned to stand and walk.

When ze was moved to the next classroom (they’re moved around by age group) the transition was downright horrible. It had me doubting our choice, constantly.

JuggerBaby was crying every day, saying “no-no no-no” and trying to go (RUN) back to zir old classroom. The main thing, and it was SUCH an easy fix, was that 2 of those 5 teachers were standoffish and not at all involved in the children’s care. The other 3 teachers were great but they couldn’t completely negate the negativity from the two bad teachers. We had been told so many times that transitions are always hard and that the kids are always upset that we gave it more time than we should have.  I should have listened to my gut.

After observing the class one morning, we gave the teachers feedback – say hello to JuggerBaby when ze comes in! All they had to do was say good morning to zir, and acknowledge that ze was coming in. Ze just wanted to know that ze was wanted, and every cold morning drop-off was more frigid by the morning teachers who sucked. Lo and behold, within 36 hours of asking for this specific change, ze was happy again.

I know my child – ze is temperamentally inclined to getting on with people but ze is also very attuned to being unwelcomed, by adults at least. And zir unhappiness was wholly unnecessary.

We reported this experience to the directors of the daycare, who were mortified and also grateful that we’d brought it to their attention, and assured us that steps would be taken to ensure this didn’t happen again, and that this was not at all the daycare’s policy to be standoffish when transitioning children to new classrooms.

I later discovered that other parents had the same experience, and had also reported it. It’s a great reminder that we have to be our children’s first advocates, no matter how uncomfortable it might make us, or how we might doubt ourselves.

Ze had a second transition recently, and that one was much more smooth. Unfortunately, we don’t love the classroom set-up because they drop the caretaker to student ratio by 2 caretakers for this age group. Now there are only 3 caretakers for 12 rambunctious toddlers and there’s quite a lot more chaos. Mostly controlled chaos, or directed chaos, but I think it’s also difficult because toddlers are loving and jerks at the same time. It’s not that they’re jerk-jerks, they can’t communicate well with each other using words yet so they still revert to slapping, hitting, and biting. I know it’s developmentally normal but it’s frustrating nonetheless.

We’ll be in this class until the end of the year barring any problems, so this is who we have: JerkFace is back. He was in zir first classroom and left us with a bad impression that he’s just renewed. He bullied JB, hitting zir with his jackets, kicking zir, standing over zir so ze couldn’t get up to defend zirself. Any time you walk in, he’s hitting kids, climbing on things he’s been told repeatedly are dangerous, and generally just getting his kicks out of causing harm or dismay. So he sucks.

Zir bestie is there, now, and the two of them are bounding with joy together.

The money part

Year 0

Partway through 2014, I realized the smart thing to do was to start saving for daycare, so we started salting away $2000 a month.

Year 0-1

We spent $1500 on childcare as we tried nannies, sitters, quit for several months, then finally part-time daycare. We continued to save $2000 a month. Between gifts and saving, zir saving account reached a whopping $49,000.

Year 1-2

We stopped saving the full $2000 a month because we couldn’t save that in addition to our 25% savings rate and cash flow the full monthly daycare bill. We spent $19,977 on part-time, then full-time, daycare. Zir savings remain untouched, moderately augmented, even: $66,000.

It’s really scary seeing those numbers. Really scary. At the same time, it helps to see that our savings haven’t been materially diminished, we haven’t lost anything significant in our lifestyle or any true stressors on our marriage, and we’ve been able to truly appreciate the immense joy that JuggerBaby adds to our lives. Even if it does cost many pretty pennies.

*Part of Financially Savvy Saturdays on brokeGIRLrich and Super Saving Tips*

February 24, 2016

Our childcare situation: Winter update

I know you were all dying to know what we do with LB all day.

once mobility was achieved, productivity took a nosedive.

Over several months, we’ve tried nannies, sitters, and daycare. Some were ok, some were most decidedly not.

We haven’t tried in-home daycare yet, we’re considering a few, but I’ve gotta tell ya, none of them have felt quite right. The smaller size overall seems like a good thing, especially during this period when every possible disease is being shared across several different age groups.  Truly, I didn’t expect this ambivalence to apply to everyone, our hope was we’d find the right place and it’d feel right. But the closest we’ve gotten is the brand-name daycare.

What we like about it

LB loves it. I’m not talking about any low level of interest or joy, here, it’s an intense level of happiness. Ze was all about this place: new toys? YES. new infant sized furniture? YES. new people? YES! The first day was the total opposite of what we braced for: instead of a scared, nervous or even indifferent child, LB went all in. Pulled up a seat at the table, sat down and helped hirself to some food, grinning at a brand new carer like they were best friends. (IN YOUR FACE, well meaning but totally annoying father who lectured me about separation anxiety.)

Subsequent drop-offs were the same for weeks: a mad cackle and dash-crawl to hir brand new teachers, or pull up a chair at the snack bar and never leave. Ze would see me at pick-up, and go right back to playing with hir carer because Mom, it’s bubbles time, just hang on, ok? Again, nothing like the picture of separation anxiety I’d slightly dreaded.

The carers seem to be fond of hir, despite hir well known defiance and horrible diaper changing etiquette.

PiC is the designated primary person to contact and they always try to contact him first. Any time they call me, they apologize and explain that they did try him first but couldn’t reach him.

What’s not awesome

The place is a damn viral incubator. It’s to be expected that kids will share germs but because this is a larger facility, there are that many more multiples of infectious disease vectors. You guys. SO MANY GERMS.

Ze has been sick at least half hir enrolled time, and sick enough to be sent home. Which means we’re paying a full month’s fees for half a month’s care, plus taking time away from work to care for LB myself. Well, both of us. PiC and I have started splitting the sick days. The first couple of times, I just took care of hir myself because we were frazzled by the surprise at-home days and it was easiest for me to just be home with hir.

We settled into a better routine once we got a handle on it. He does pick-up and drop-off, and I cover the mornings so he can work, and he comes home early to take over in the afternoon so I can work.

They don’t provide meals so I have to pack a lunch for school days. We split that too: I do lunches and he does bottles. It’s one more task for our evening routine, and I don’t love having to remember yet another thing.

$$$$: It’s really expensive. It’s been budgeted for since before ze was born but MAN it’s still a lot of money.

Status: Holding pattern

We have regular email updates from the daycare center but PiC also reports back. His latest update left me feeling a little less enamoured with hir current group. (We’ve nicknamed all the kids for their anonymity.)

***

PiC: Patient Zero’s transferred to a different group now, so it just leaves a handful of the older kids. LB loved watching the infants but I get the feeling that they need lots of staff time so the older kids aren’t getting much attention anymore. They’re kind of just left to entertain themselves.

Me: Who’s left?

PiC: Bruiser isn’t always the first and last kid there anymore, but he still always looks like he’s on the verge of tears.

Me: Bruiser’s so cute. But so sad. And looks like the model for Hitler’s Youth: perfect blonde, blue eyes, built like a tank.

PiC: Yeah, he looks like he has a destiny. He has an older brother.

Me: Mega-Bruiser?

PiC: I think Bruiser could take his brother.

Me: Cruiser, then.

PiC: Yeah. Precious Moments Puppy is still there. Also always looks on the verge of tears but I think he’s just channeling the atmosphere. It’s a shame that Vale of Tears isn’t there anymore.

Me: Why? She cried all the time. She made LB sympathy cry. She was the saddest of them all.

PiC: Yeah but she was like the walking emotional outlet for the entire group. She was The Giver, feeling all the feelings, so the rest of them could be happy.

Me: That’s true. Also messed up. Also it sounds like they’ve turned into the room of infinite sadness.

PiC: Sort of, yeah. It makes me feel like there’s pressure on LB. Whenever ze’s sick, they’re like, “Where’s our LB? Ze is so quiet and detached!” And I’m like, shit, lady, LB can’t carry the happiness for a whole group! That’s so much pressure!

Me: I dunno. Builds character.

***

We’re looking into other daycare options, mainly because of the cost, but now also in case the group composition changes so much that LB isn’t having the time of hir life anymore. We have totally reasonable standards, yes.

The thing is, I’m not comfortable with the in-home set-ups that I’ve seen so far. They *sound* nice, some are bilingual, they’re all much smaller and theoretically more hands on. But I’m just not comfortable with the feeling that there’s not as much accountability.

Facilities have standard regulations and background checks they’re expected to present, whereas the in-home daycares where I don’t know anyone and don’t necessarily do those things makes me nervous. Particularly in the case of more family-style care groups – how do I just trust that no one in the family is a predator? How do I trust that if they do harm LB in ways that aren’t immediately obvious, they won’t just cover it up? It’s not that I think larger facilities are infallible, but there are more controls in place, and I don’t feel awkward saying: do you have background checks for all employees?

I’m not sure what the answer is yet, but this has worked for now. We may just suck it up and keep paying the price for the peace of mind. Well, we will for now while we keep looking.

August 25, 2012

Parenting, a dog as toddler, and come what may

Someone said his Daddy skills were going to waste on a dog.

I asked if he meant the skills that enabled him to ignore the dancing, sniffing, persistent nudging at his elbow who was nearly perishing of thirst every night for a week at 2 am when we were having a slightly warm spell so that I was getting up instead?

Oh yes. Yes, those – well, apparently Daddy skills like feeding, diapering, taking them out to play, etc., are best practiced in the daytime. They also mean Best Sleep Ever.

Cue the biggest eyeroll of the century, please.  I am not amused.

All kidding aside, we’re back on the subject.  And with some other life changes going on, it warrants the consideration of whether or when this is something we’re going to do. Mostly me. I’m going to say, mostly me if he’s pawning off pregnancy and night duty. Plus, my blog. Nyeh nyeh. (Yes, we are totally mature.)

I’m more at peace with the ideas of kids eventually, all of my worries are not gone, of course, but I have accepted that they, in fact, are part of life and no, I can’t have my mom back to make this less scary.

It’s when I focus on the pregnancy bit that it all falls apart. There is just nothing appealing about it. Not just because I’ve only heard a million and one truth stories about it, but because for the first time in nearly twenty years, I’m starting to see a chance to repair my health and I’m thinking erm? Pregnancy?  That … doesn’t so much sound like a step toward better. And healthier. And less broken. Kids are fun and fulfilling and all that but you know what else? They are hard work. They are responsibility, late nights, long days, lifting and hauling, racing after them, praying to anyone who will listen you can keep up with them this time, keeping them engaged and entertained, teaching them and oh-so-much. But that’s all after surviving a pregnancy, unbroken.

Lauren’s Insta-Grammy #6 triggered this sense that I’d be taking a long jump off a short cliff.

Not that her announcement post  didn’t get me in the gut a bit too, but that was in a different, rueful laugh, oh-my-friend, my-suffering-pregnant-friend, let’s get chocolate because there’s a lot of time left on this clock and yes almost every mother I have known well IRL has told me that the GlowyPregnancy was a myth kind of way.

And her update post was simply: Yes. This needs to be a CHOICE. Because it’s too damn painful, difficult, sacrificial or much, at any given point not to be something you want for yourselves. And it’s not something I’ve seen most people regret when it was their active choice. In the long run.

It was this bit, from the first post that made me breathe deeply for a minute:

“Traveling and not feeling 100% always sucks, but we also had a lot of fun. I mostly felt guilty for not being my usual yes yes yes self. Having to leave events before they were finished, having to take breaks and rest in our hotel room during the day, having to start the days a little later than usual in order to pull it together. It all made me feel guilty. Not because other people were at all difficult about it, but because this weekend was about family, and even then I had to take time out just for me and that’s really difficult for me to assert or admit to.”

That description is so apt, and so incredibly familiar, that I wilted a little. I can generally take on the world in so many ways but this? Is me. And this is me on a normal day, much less on a travel day (-5), much less with the addition of family(-20), or the addition of family events (-30), forget the idea of having all the side effects of carrying a childling around in my belly.

My normal has been starting out the day, any day, always at less than 100%. Getting up takes 10%, getting ready takes 15%. Then it’s a 10-12 hour day ahead. Typically with no food, water or bathroom breaks. One if I’m lucky. Home to prep dinner or mewl weakly on the sofa for a while (60/40 which kind of day it’ll be), while PiC takes care of the evening necessities and dinner before collapse.

The imagination quails at the thought of taking a version of that and adding a new, totally unpredictable, factor to it.

There are certainly other plans on the horizon to deal with the insanity of my current life but the health and related energy issue piece when most people don’t really know or understand what’s “wrong” with me, especially when I’ve learned to hide it so well because:
Most people don’t need to know my “weakness”,
I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired, it’s nice to pretend I’m fine sometimes,
and frankly, I’m tired of hearing uninformed criticisms and advice from people who should know better,
and yet I still feel guilty or judged for taking the breaks I desperately need when I am around the people who, again, know and should understand (but don’t care).

That’s a different level of discomfort I’m now working through.

It doesn’t help having heard how I should “avoid becoming a burden” to others.  I already knew not to lean on people anyway, that statement reminded me, again, that I am considered “less than” and that those who might naturally have been thought to offer support will not, in fact, be anywhere but in the Talking Head Category (and now, I hope, geographically very far away) if this proves a difficult journey.

I’m not the person to ask for help or support. I give it, and I take care of others. And if I can’t, then I simply go away, but the last thing I’m comfortable with is asking for assistance, having been so independent for so long. It’s a good thing my sense of self esteem is rather well established by now or these little but consistent zingers would be rather destructive.

Without borrowing trouble, I’m now preparing for the eventuality that in some people’s* eyes, any needs, anything that happens if we choose to do this, any problems, they will all be “my fault” and down to my “weakness.” As I write this, I realize that I can deal with that if I expect it and I will have some support from my own, even if just in spirit.

I hope for the best, that my imagination is more creative than reality should we commit to this, and plan to deal with whatever happens. As usual. Guilt be damned.

*Specific people. But I don’t feel like naming names, though it may make more sense why I’ve bothered addressing it at all if I did. Just not worth it.

September 28, 2011

Familial Childcare, Cultural Expectations and Assumptions

It was a family truism that when I finally had kids, “Grandma” was going to pay me back for every sin I committed as a youngun, even the ones I couldn’t remember, with 10% interest.

“Just wait until you have kids of your own,” she would mutter after I’d upset her, the dire threat implicit enough.  Sometimes she’d follow up with, “and if they’re not creative enough, I’ll tell them how you messed with me to start them off!”

She was going to get away with it, too, because she knew I wanted a career as much as she wanted grandkids. Since it wasn’t likely that I’d have a house-husband (though really, that’d be awesome), her babysitting availability was the best way to practically guarantee I’d be willing to take on that responsibility.

All joking aside, it was secretly a huge comfort to me knowing that my mom was fully committed to my future family and was excited about helping to care for them so that my spouse and I could work.

That was her dream plan for retirement: raising small children. Never let it be said that we understand how to relax in my family.

I had to, with much sadness, let go of that shared expectation and daydream some years ago when her health began its downward spiral.  And I’ll always be a little sad that the person who bore the standard for me won’t be there in mind or body, though always in spirit, for my children if I have them.

It wouldn’t be safe or right for me to leave  prospective children with my ailing mother in charge of them.  Certainly she’d want to visit with them, but that would always have to be supervised.  And so I haven’t really had the heart to think about that in a long while, until now.

In our culture, the idea that grandparents are available for long-term babysitting and practically take on the raising of the grandchildren is almost taken for granted.  It’s doesn’t always happen in cases where grandparents were less nurturing or too busy or the math doesn’t work out.  One set of grandparents to multiple sets of children and grandchildren requires a fair amount of logistics if everyone wants Grandma and Grandpa in residence.

But in general, there’s often a sense of expectation that first generation parents can rely on their parents for free childcare when the time comes to bring up the next generation.  Some of that expectation is fostered by the prospective grandparents, some of it spins out of the understanding that “that’s how we do it.”

*************

I’ve recently started hearing a mismatch of expectations in families and started thinking about what the cultural and societal norms are now.  If anything, my expectation was that more frequently, with the greater separation of families due to schools and jobs and kids moving further away, families would rely on technology to nuture relationships between generations.  I also supposed that ethnic grandparents would be disappointed by parents who didn’t necessarily want their Traditional Parents rearing the grandkids.

Instead, I’m seeing a combination of adherence to the traditional grandparents-as-babysitters paradigm, as well as a parallel track where the new grandparents don’t necessarily want the caretaking or the raising of their grandkids.  And the desire and trend toward more visitation-rights-only is more in line with what I’d expect from the American norm.

My maternal grandfather, for example, isn’t in the least bit interested in raising any of his seventeen grandchildren.  He prefers to bide in peace and visit.  His wife is all about the raising of them so she moves about, house to house, spending as much time as possible with the various nuclear families.  One of my aunties helped raise her grandchildren for a period of time but because her idea of discipline (strict) wasn’t aligned with her kids’ (let them run rampant), she declined to continue babysitting the hooligans (my description, not hers) after they became too much for her to handle.  As far as I know, the relevant family members found ways to manage their childcare without the grandparents in question.

My personal opinion is that if you have parents and family members who are willing to give of their time and energy to do your parenting, that’s an enormous gift.  But that’s a gift and that’s their choice. At the end of the day, your children were your choice to have, and your responsibility.

Of late, I’ve been hearing statements that strike me as less than gracious even though I come from a culture that actually does “expect” grandparents to substitute for new parents.  I’m hearing things that, perhaps especially as they begin to directly affect me and my health issues, are, I feel, less than considerate and it bothers me.

Stating “Well, the nanny learned how to do it!”, “it” being some part of the more specialized health care your child requires doesn’t sit right with me. In what ways does it make sense to suggest that a family member get equated with a trained-in-special-health-care, vetted, interviewed, and paid employee?

I can absolutely understand that parents want grandparents to be involved with the grandchildren, even highly involved.  You certainly want that bond to form and for any other important people to be part of your kids’ lives. But if the grandparents aren’t comfortable with fulfilling all the needs, particularly any specific or special needs, of the kids, does it not cross a line to insist that they take on those responsibilities?   What about other family members?  Are they also asking for a babysitting assignment when they want to spend time with your kids, regardless of their feelings or capabilities in the matter?

And for the health and proper care of your child: when should you simply know better than to ask if that is the case?

Again, I come from a cultural place where it’s normal to just assume that Grandma and/or Grandpa can and will help out.  Or will help out any way that they’re capable. So I would normally understand that, but at the same time, I come from a personal place where you take care of your own to the best of your ability first, so being taken for granted as free labor, particularly when my energy is so dear, strikes a few nerves.  It’s hard for me not to feel like I’m judging when I’m asking these questions but it seems rather inconsiderate. And even if it weren’t me being taken for granted, I think my head would still be tilted forty five degrees to one side, wondering.

While I do, on occasion, happily help certain friends with their kids, I’m either asked or offering a set amount of assistance within my abilities and energy levels.  They aren’t taking for granted that I’ll be available, and they’re making sure that they’re not putting me out or expending all my energy, or putting me in a difficult position by planning all their activities first and asking me last so that I feel guilty for ruining their plans if I have to say no.

I’m not a fan of this trend but I wonder if I’m the only one who sees this sort of thing.

::: Is there a prevalent assumption that family are fair game as childcare providers or is that coming from a dissonance when one of two parties doesn’t want to participate in the traditional exchange?  


::: Am I overcomplicating the question?  Is it just that there’s an assumption that it’s your familial duty to babysit if you are childless, no matter who you are, unless you’re a professed baby-hater like one of my girlfriends?  (She’s my example because while chatting with her, she pointed out that no one in their right mind would ask her to ‘sit, she’s made it plain she hates babies. She tolerates children.) 

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