Here’s the craziness that is daycare in DC (punctuated by silly pictures of the baby for comic relief):
-First, you have to get on waitlists. Most waitlists are about a year long. Which means that you need to put yourself on a waitlist BEFORE YOU ARE PREGNANT. But you don’t get started on this until your second trimester because you don’t want to jinx anything.
-Oh, and also, you have to pay a fee to get on the waitlist. Give them money for them to NOT guarantee you a spot. You spend hundreds of dollars this way.
-Then you figure, hey, I should go tour some of these places. But you don’t know what to ask. All the kids look happy, if a little sticky and glazed-over, and there’s lots of colorful art on the walls. And every single place is the same. Little blue paper booties go over your shoes in the infant room, this is the sheet they fill out during the day so you know EXACTLY what time your kid had a BM diaper or a bottle or, like, farted. So they all seem fine. You see maybe a third of them.
-You have conversations with daycare directors where they say “What are you looking for in a daycare?” and you say “One that will have a spot when we need it so I don’t have to quit my job.” Because there comes a point where that is the only qualification for you to hand off your kid.
-But OF COURSE that’s not the only qualification! Which you realize when you are sitting in the dingy living room of an in-home daycare that isn’t accredited, where the answer to whether both providers know infant CPR is “I learned it years ago and we’ve been talking about X taking a class as well.” NOPE.
-So you just put yourself on lots of waitlists and, true to the term waitlist, you WAIT.
-And then you have a baby. Perhaps, if you’re unlucky like us, you need to have a c-section because your baby is upside down. And then less than two weeks after your surgery, still hopped up on pain meds, you call every single center you’re on a list for and say ‘Hey, I had a baby! Here’s his name and birthdate. Think you’ll have a slot for us in 3 months?” And they’ll say No.
-But! Like magic, you get a call from a center in late April! They have a slot for you! Starting May First!
What’s that you say? You don’t need a slot until July 1?
Too bad sucka! If you don’t take this slot starting May 1 then we’ll move on to the next person on the list! And you have 48 hours to make a decision! And you haven’t toured this place yet so you need to bring your month-old baby on the metro the next day! Oh, and have we mentioned that monthly tuition is more than your rent?!
-So you take this slot. Because what choice do you have? If no other daycare has a spot for you then you will be stuck. Besides, this daycare seems nice. It’s big, and renowned, and right near work. And at the tour they say they’ll do your cloth diapers, which not every center will do. So you pay for 2 months of daycare you’re not going to use.
-Then you have your intake meeting for daycare. And you say “you’ll do cloth diapers, right?” And they hem and haw and evade until it’s clear that they will if you *insist*, but they won’t be happy about it, and your baby will be THAT pain-in-the-ass-hippie-cloth-diaper-baby. Oh, and they casually mention that in the time since you wrote your first check to them, the director has resigned. But it’s cool, corporate headquarters sent an interim director from South Dakota to fill in.
-Then it’s time to actually make use of the slot. And… the teachers aren’t great. And sometimes when you drop the baby off in the morning there are 9 infants and only two teachers. And when you ask how the baby’s day was they say Fine, and getting any more info is like pulling teeth. And one day when you go pick him up he is pretty much on his own lying on a boppy on the floor holding his own bottle at just 3.5 months old, which is NOT COOL.
-So you realize that you’re paying champagne prices for a Bud Light daycare. And you call all the other wait list daycares AGAIN, just to double triple check that there’s no chance they have a spot for you. And they don’t.
-So you make do. You become kind of a tiger mom and start asking more questions and making more demands. And then you worry that if you’re too demanding the teachers will take it out on the baby during the day. But he has no one else to advocate for him. It’s a vicious cycle.
-Until you finally get a call. This new place has a spot. It’s in your neighborhood. It’s small and has amazing listserv reviews. You email past and current parents and they are honest and encouraging. It is SIGNIFICANTLY cheaper (less than your monthly rent!). So you take the plunge.
-The old daycare requires 30 days’ notice. In the end, you wind up paying for 3.5 months of daycare there, of which your son attends 1 month. On his last day there the teachers barely say goodbye.
-On his first day at the new daycare, there is sunshine and rainbows. It’s like walking into the chocolate room at Willy Wonka’s factory, without creepy Gene Wilder. Everyone’s excited to meet the baby. The teachers are warm and welcoming. The toddlers yell “Baby! Baby!” Emmett’s name is on the wall above his crib in bright blue letters.
*I am knocking on all the wood I see*
-Here’s the thing: Having a baby is hard. Making the choice to go back to work is hard. Balancing work and life is hard. It’s all a lot easier when you really like and trust your child’s caregivers. But it shouldn’t be this hard to get to that point. And we have tons of resources, decent income, a great support system. How do less-fortunate families find childcare? How do they AFFORD it? How do single working moms do this? This system is so broken. It makes me angry.
–Fun postscript: since Emmett started at the new daycare I have gotten no less than THREE calls from other daycares offering us a spot off their wait list. Because of course.