One Day I Will Rule the World

World Domination, Babies and Middle Eastern Dance

August 10, 2010

There’s no such thing as stable when you’re raising three kids

We’re moving Hannah to a new daycare next month. I guess we’ve always had little reservations about the woman running Hannah’s current daycare, but we stayed because the young woman who actually worked with the kids was so great.

The woman running the daycare, we’ll call her Sunny, is one of those thin, blonde, outspoken women with a bizarre worldview.

Her employee, whom we’ll call Duckling, is somewhere in her early twenties. I’d bet that when Hannah started going there, she was no more than twenty-two or twenty-three. She was very, very softspoken and unassertive. Sunny told me “you won’t hear much out of her but the kids just love her,” and I thought, “but will they walk all over her?” But they didn’t seem to.

Once Hannah started at the daycare it was Duckling whom we dealt with on a daily basis.

She really was very quiet. Some days trying to make conversation with her was almost painful. But Hannah loved her to extremes and was always happy to be dropped off with her in the morning. She kept track of all the kids’ birthdays and would bake them cupcakes and have little parties for them when their birthdays came up. She was always making crafts with them and took them outside every day and she did plenty of non-birthday baking to give the kids little treats at snack-time, like home-baked cookies.

Sunny ran another daycare in another house, but she wasn’t getting the business she expected, so she decided to consolidate kids in one house and so Duckling and her kids got moved to the other house. Unfortunately, Sunny didn’t tell me this, so I showed up at the first house on Monday morning and Duckling, looking startled, said, “Oh, she’s supposed to go to the other house today.” And then I looked startled and was like, “buh-? Pardon?” And she shrugged helplessly and gave me an address.

I was supposed to be at work in fifteen minutes, so naturally I was irritated not just at having to run Hannah to another house, but at being asked to leave my daughter in a completely foreign environment with no notice.

When Sunny called me that afternoon because Duckling had told her about my showing up at the old house and being irritated, so far from making me feel better, Sunny compounded the issue by saying, “Oh I told her she should have just taken Hannah and we would have driven her over to the new house. I told her moms don’t have time in their mornings to drive around, but she’s just socially retarded, you know. She’s so quiet, I don’t think she has a clue.”

WTF? I repeated that one to Ian and we both were all, omg, who says shit like that?. “Well I think one of them has social issues,” Ian said.

But shortly it was back to us just dealing with Duckling every day. Most of the other families seemed to have part-time working moms who didn’t work Fridays, so occasionally, when it was just a few kids on Fridays or even down to just Hannah, Duckling wouldn’t work a Friday and we’d see Sunny then.

Duckling changed a lot over the course of the last two years. At first, Ian would drop Hannah off and I would pick her up at the end of the day, and we’d compare notes. “She seems so nice, but are you able to make any small talk with her?” “Nope. Sometimes the scared looks and one word replies are so painful that I feel guilty that I even attempted it. Like, maybe it would be nicer of me to just leave her alone.”

Over time she moved into a level confidence and would talk easily with us about Hannah’s day, showing us the crafts or talking about the challenges in Hannah’s temperament. She even got to the point where, one day, when Hannah started to throw a fit about how I wasn’t to put her shoes on and then Ethan and Rachel fell all over themselves to offer her highness some pleasant alternatives, Duckling cocked an eye at me and laughed, “someone gets her own way a lot.”

But then Sunny lost the lease on the house, and while debating where to move everything to, Duckling said, “well, there is this geriatric care program back in my home town that I’d like to go back to school for,” and so Sunny figured she was going to move the daycare into her house and would hire someone new but part-time.

I went into it with an open mind. I mean, Sunny had the good sense to love Duckling. And Duckling was such an abiding girl that I had to think that most of how she worked must have agreed with Sunny’s philosophies because otherwise Sunny would have terrorized it out of her.

Then the Sunday night before the first day at her house, she phoned me at about 8:30 and over the course of a half hour phone conversation poured out her heart, in what seemed to me to be a slightly inebriated manner, about the string of bad luck that had led her to not be ready to start daycaring the next day and could I possibly, possibly keep Hannah home for a week and she felt just awful about it because she knows her other moms have backup but I don’t but if I could make it work then she would be able to tell the other moms she was closed for the week and she could get things together.

I stayed open-minded. Even if she did drunk-dial me, I was certain she would never drink ‘on-duty’ and being unreliable to me is a separate issue from the level of care that she’d give to Hannah or how happy Hannah would be with her. But I did start thinking, “we should check into the waiting lists for other daycares just in case this all falls apart.”

So the first woman she hired, she let go after a day. “Didn’t do nothing but carry her own baby around all day and that doesn’t fly with me.”

The second woman was prefaced with, “I really, really like her. But I gotta warn you, she’s really big.” To which I replied, “uh… does that matter?” And Sunny said, “Oh no-no-no-no. It doesn’t matter to me. I’m just worried about the other parents. …And I mean it, you’ll be surprised how big she is.”

Needless to say, she wasn’t really. Not that it did matter.

That woman lasted about two weeks. I don’t recall if there was an explanation for her departure.

The third woman just appeared one day when I came to pick Hannah up. So I introduced myself, but I said to Ian that night, “I don’t even know if I should bother committing her name to memory.”

“Well, maybe we can’t blame Sunny for being a little picky,” Ian said, “Duckling was pretty great. And maybe hiring for a home daycare you find a lot of people who think it’s just going to be ‘being present’ all day and don’t think about taking the initiative to do crafts and activities.”

The third woman lasted longer than the rest. I don’t know how long – four weeks? But then one afternoon I walked in and there was someone new there, and she said, “Oh is this one yours?” And I said, “er, no. I’m Hannah’s mom.”

That night, I happened to go to Facebook as I do about once a month and I saw one of my fellow dancers had posted, “this is some luck. I’ve had three families reserve daycare space for December, make deposits, and then fall through.”

And I said, “do you still have space? I want to talk to you about space for Hannah.” And within half an hour we were on the phone. and I went to her place to check it out and sign stuff that Friday.

I think Ian was a little dubious about the whirlwind nature of the engagement. I outlined to him how confident I am in her character. I pointed out how excited Hannah was about hearing “belly dance music” at her house, and how this woman has a little girl just younger than Hannah and how her older boys go to the same school as Ethan and Rachel – so presumably when Hannah is kindergarten age, so will their daughter be and so when we’re trying to figure out how to get Hannah to school for half days in a couple of years we might be able to come up with something that will work for both families.

Ian pointed out what a good thing we have in Sunny’s general flexibility – mostly that she doesn’t mind taking Ethan and Rachel for a couple weeks in the summer. Which saves us a lot of holidays or the cost of pricey camps.

I agreed, but dismissed the concern with “we’ll figure that out next year,” it’s always hard finding summer care for Ethan and Rachel. Luckily a year passes between each “what are we doing for the summer” crisis and we get a chance to recover and strategize a little for next time. So I went ahead and gave my notice to Sunny.

Ian and I agreed that we would phrase it as, “a friend of the family is able to take Hannah,” and make it about money and convenience and nothing about her. Especially since there wasn’t anything concrete, just a sense of unease and worry about stability.

She took it well.

And then she made things harder by telling me, “I’ve decided to not bother hiring a part-timer. I’m going to sell off my little restaurant and do this full time. I’ve loved having a daycare back in the house. And my husband’s going to cut back his hours and help me out so I’ll have backup. And my [teen] daughters have been helping with the little ones too.” It sounded like stability. And Hannah’s been with this group of kids for two years, so I wondered if I was uprooting her for nothing.

Then last Friday, she called us at 7:00 in the morning and said how her son had been up puking all night and she was just too exhausted to take Hannah. I had to get to work to get a site up for a client to look at, so Ian stayed home and worked from home. “I guess it was easier for her to make that decision because she only has Hannah on Fridays,” Ian said.

“I thought she was going on about how much her daughters and her husband were helping out,” I said.

Yesterday I went to pick Hannah up at the end of the day. “Is Hannah still throwing up?” she asked me. “no. not for a couple weeks now.” “Oh Pip threw up so much on Thursday, din’cha bud,” she said. “And I felt so bad about calling Ian Friday morning, but you know, I was just SO tired. I just wouldn’t have been much use for Hannah, I knew you’d understand.”

I just stared at her.

I kind of hate the whole concept of daycare.

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  1. I can’t bear the way that being a working mother involves so much instability – just when you think you have everything working well something falls through/changes/collapses etc. The mental energy expended in getting everything right for the kids in order to get yourself to work is exhausting.

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  2. You’re right, it’s so exhausting. Sometimes at daycare I watch other moms leaving ten month old babies and my heart aches for how unnatural it feels. Then I remember that’s how old Hannah was when I went back to work. It makes you so vulnerable and it’s psychologically exhausting to steel yourself to be that vulnerable every day or to numb yourself to even thinking about it.

    It’s totally a matter of being pulled in two different directions – by forces that each naturally expect 100% of who you are.

    Which is somehow related to the problem I had with Sunny’s “I was so tired I wouldn’t have been much use for Hannah” – she painted it in idealistic parenting terms as if I obviously would choose no daycare at all over less than 100% quality daycare. But I can’t figure out how to articulate the reality without feeling like I’m saying something more mercenary than I mean.

    I mean that if I want to keep my job I need reliable childcare more than 100% attentive childcare. That I don’t really believe that she gets 100% attentive childcare other days anyway. That if my preference were really so pie-in-the-sky, I’d have chosen not to work at all, wouldn’t I? That in my world, all the working moms I know go into work no matter how sick or tired they are because they can’t afford to give in to one more force that detracts from the 100% work-self. Not that it should be that way. And not that I want to be taking advantage of my daycare providers. But it’s also not feasible for me to take sick days for three children, for my daycare provider and for the daycare provider’s children – even splitting those days between me and Ian. And having someone be able to just call at 7 in the morning and say, “I can’t work today [so you can’t work today]” is just another point of vulnerability.

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