The Daycare Quandary

When my kids were young, I had a hard time finding sitters for them in my affluent bedroom community near San Francisco. The local kids didn’t need the money, and my then-husband wouldn’t spring for a nanny. Not that I wanted one. I wanted to raise my own kids.
Every now and then, it was nice to shop, run errands, exercise, or socialize without children. My first daytime luncheon, when my oldest was just eighteen months, was a bit of a disaster. The woman next to me said to stop calling my daughter a baby. She was 18 months, after all, practically an adult.
When I’d dropped my toddler off at the babysitting co-op woman’s house (that is where you trade babysitting and keep track with coupons), I found the mother caring for five more kids that day, in addition to her terrible-two’s twins, the ones that kept climbing on her kitchen table, so that she had to bungee-cord the chairs together. The woman was raking in the coupons that day.
I never used her again.
Later, when my second-born needed a safe place to be for a few hours while his sister was in kindergarten, I found the neighbor with the illegal daycare. Yes, Peggy was cheap. Yes, she was close, but she couldn’t say no to anyone. Once I came to get Nick early, and I found her feeding a dozen little ones around her kitchen table. They were having macaroni noodles with ketchup. A legal daycare has one adult for every six children. Peggy was counting her teenaged home-schooled son as the second adult.
I finally saw the light the day that Peggy took in so many kids that one of them wandered out of the unfenced back yard and into the street. The child was two. A passerby found her and started ringing doorbells. I decided it wasn’t worth the risk.
Then in first grade, my son was an early bird, going from 8:00 to 2:00. His older sister was a late bird, going from 9:00 to 3:00. I would have to make four trips to school every day with the third child in tow. I told my son he’d be spending an hour every day in Kids’ Country, the on-site day care.
“I don’t want to,” he said.
“It’s just for an hour,” I said. “You’ll have fun.”
“No,” he said.
“Yes,” I said.
I showed him how to walk over to the Kids’ Country trailer after school.
On the first day of after-school daycare, I pulled into the school parking lot early and saw a little boy, on the curb, with brown cowlick hair in a red shirt.
My son.
My stubborn boy had refused to go inside. Nobody noticed him, missed him, or looked for him. I took him by one hand and put the baby on my opposite hip and went inside the daycare trailer.
Three adults turned pale when I pointed out that my six year-old son had been sitting on the curb for an hour. I was given a full refund, including the yearly deposit, on the spot.
A couple years later, I dropped my son at piano lessons at the teacher’s house and headed to the older sister’s softball practice. Then I had to run an errand and drive past the school for some reason on the busy four lane road.
A young boy was walking on the sidewalk toward the school. He had brown cowlick hair.
“He sort of looks like Nick,” I said to his little sister.
Then I realized it was Nick. He had crossed a major road to get to where he was. He was eight.
I stopped and scooped up my son while he explained that the piano teacher’s front door had been locked.
“Did you ring the bell?” I asked.
“No,” he said.
He had been too shy and decided to hoof it the two miles home. I had left him there without waiting for him to get in the door.
Lesson learned.
I found a teenager who babysat for me for a couple of years. Then she got too busy in high school, and her little sister took over. I hosted a babystting co-op meeting and hired the girl to watch my kids since my then–husband wasn’t going to be home. A mother with new twins asked me for her number. Before long, the teenager defected to the mother with twins. The teen loved little babies.
“Is Chelcee available Friday?” I asked when her mom answered the phone.
“No,” I was told over and over by her mother until she leveled with me and said that Chelcee preferred the other family.
My then-husband was no help. He signed the kids up for all sports and then expected me to get them to all practices, and then get them home. When their practice times turned out to be the same time on opposite sides of town, I had a new problem. Where was Kid Uber when I needed it?
I spent hours in my car, which was stocked with granola bars, juice boxes, and for a while, a little plastic potty for the youngest (and a lidded coffee can for transporting yellow liquids). I learned to write in the car while two of the kids played, waiting for the third to come out of piano, soccer, softball, basketball, Girl Scouts, whatever.
I’m glad those days are over. I’m glad there are now services to help frazzled moms and that there are parking spots for pregnant women or moms with small children.
Back in the day, one mother chastised me for not signing my kids up for every summer camp that came along.
“Are you doing swim team?” she asked. “Anything?”
“Nope,” I said. “We veg out in the summers.”
“What a shame,” she said. “Your kids are missing out.”
Hardly, I thought.
We are all getting a break from the car.

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