The hidden costs of daycare

I took my son out of daycare the week I had my daughter.  He had been in daycare for a little over a year and he had a great time there.  We paid a lot of money to have really great care, but no amount of money could really change some of the drawbacks to having him in that setting.  So for those of you contemplating using a day care facility for your little one once you go back to work, here’s my lessons learned.

First, the positives:

  • For kids with no close relatives (geographically, or in age) or siblings, day care helps them learn to share and live with others.  My son LOVES his sister and I think it’s because he was around lots of other little kids all the time.  He’s also great playing with other kids.
  • I could always rely on day care being available.  It was my responsibility to get him there, not to wait for someone to show up at my house.  And I could rely on them having plenty of supervision and qualified caretakers available.
  • My son learned things he wasn’t learning at home, like baby sign language, which has been a huge help.
  • For me, I got to hear advice from other moms and teachers, which was helpful as a first-time mom. They taught me about mum-mum cookies, showed me it was ok to fasten a diaper tightly, and reassured me about normal baby behavior. I am grateful to his early teacher for sharing their stories with me, supporting me, and showing him as much compassion as they did.
  • My son loves his sister and plays well with others. He was always a social baby and I think he did well in the day care classroom environment.
  • I didn’t have to think of clever activities to do – his teachers did that for me and he came home with projects and art work, and sometimes a card made of his hand and footprints that made me cry.

The negatives:

  • My son learned things he wasn’t learning at home, like throwing his food off his tray when he was done with it.  I know he picked that up from other kids at school.  It has taken a month to unlearn this habit – now he politely pushes his food away and says “Done,” or sometimes signs “done.”
  • My son was constantly sick.  While it took almost six months for him to develop his first ear infection at day care, he had three ear infections within a period of six weeks and was on antibiotics throughout the holiday season.  He had a runny nose… always.  We went through a box of tissues a week – and that’s just with mornings, evenings, and weekends!  He was never a fully healthy kid.  Everyone says it gives kids a greater immune system later for school, but…
  • I had to leave work to get him when he was really sick.  Because he was sick a lot, I had to use a lot of my own sick time to pick him up, rush him to the doctor, and stay home with him while he recuperated.  Some weeks I only worked one day and struggled to keep up with my job.  I might as well have been a stay at home mom those weeks!
  • In addition to the monthly fees, there were always fundraisers or other things happening that required additional money.  From candy sales to book sales to holiday candle sales, there was always another ask for cash.  Then twice a year there was staff appreciation collections done by the parent council.  Not to mention things we had to purchase for class parties (such as food, valentines, cards, books, etc.).  And whenever we switched classrooms or celebrated a major holiday, I bought something small for his teachers.  There was something every month.
  • It was downright expensive.  Really, really, expensive.

I wish someone had told me about how much my son would be sick.  I knew what I was getting in to with the tuition of managed day care, but I wasn’t counting on the stress of getting that phone call to pick him up.  I had one hour to pick him up from the time of the phone call; one time the poor guy was in quarantine because of a goopy eye which they believed was pink eye.  So I usually had less than an hour to find or call my boss and explain the situation, send emails to anyone with whom I had meetings later that afternoon to inform them I’d cancel and reschedule, leave notes or sign timesheets if needed, let people in the office know how to reach me, and call the pediatrician and get an appointment.  (Oh, and if you’re pumping at work, don’t forget your breastmilk).  I wish I was better prepared for it.

So there you have it.  If you’re considering going with the option I did, instead of a babysitter, nanny, or relative and you’re returning to work, here’s some things to ask about when you visit the facility.  And be prepared.

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My 100th post… It’s a girl!

I am proud to announce the birth of my dearest daughter, who proved once again a little uu can go a long way.

Born via c-section and weighing a whopping (for me) 8 lbs 1 oz, 19.5 inches (the exact same length as her brother), my daughter is a beautiful way to celebrate this blog’s 100th post, springtime, Easter, and to give hope to women TTC everywhere.

Her birth was scheduled since the kids are too close together to do a vbac safely (at least according to my doctor) and I scheduled it for the 39th week. No complications with the pregnancy; her growth was normal and on track, so I didn’t have any big restrictions. A great pregnancy for a great little girl!

The secret lives of moms: Competitive Mommies, Day Care Edition

I realized I had teased but never followed up on a story from the summertime about my first blush with competitive mommy behavior.  Until that point I thought I was doing a pretty good job of being a practical mommy – dressing my baby in hand-me-downs (because how many times do they really wear an outfit the first year before growing out of it?), using reasonably priced brands like Graco instead of Britax or Chicco (no matter how much I still drool over them…), purchasing toys at consignment sales and gratefully accepting toys from friends with older kids, actually using jarred (!) baby food instead of painstakingly pureeing my own (one of the big baby company manufacturing plants is actually not too far from where I live, so I could justify it being local), using formula, etc.  You do the best to make the best decisions with the information and resources (time, money) that you have to do what’s right for your family – end of story.

Then Ms. Perfect came along.  Her son was in the same infant classroom as mine and was born exactly one month ahead of mine.  I could see early on that his development – sitting up, rolling over, waving, walking – far superseded the timeline of my own son.  A month might go by and my little one would not have caught up to his Perfect classmate.  Ms. Perfect, however, had in less than six months shrunk down back to a size 0, wearing cute outfits every day, great shoes, perfect hair, never looking harried or rushed – while I was still struggling to lose the last 10 pounds, still in my maternity work pants on particularly bad days, and feeling like I was barely holding it together.  How did she do it?  Worst of all, she was nice – as we dropped off and picked up at about the same times, we often saw each other in the hallway or classroom and made small talk.  In an alternate universe I imagined us actually being friends.

But I didn’t hold all of this against her, at least, not at first.  She drives a gas-guzzling Chevy Tahoe (that makes me feel practical by comparison) and I have no idea what her life is really like, what she does for a living, how happy she might be.  She’s got a kid who’s an early bloomer, so what?  No need to get my panties in a bunch.

One day there was a sign-up outside the classroom door for parents to bring in breakfast during Teacher Appreciation Week.  One of my biggest and best go-to breakfast dishes is a baked French toast casserole.  It feeds a crowd, isn’t terribly hard to make, and turns out very gourmet.  It’s so well-liked that it is guaranteed to show up on my Christmas brunch table every year.  I headed over to the sign-up sheet, pen in hand, ready to volunteer my baking – and there it was, in perfectly legible mom-handwriting.

French toast casserole – Ms. Perfect

That b!  Foiled again!  I quickly wrote down “banana bread” and walked away.

It turns out it was probably the better choice to bring something simple.  My banana bread is pretty good, relatively healthy, and, as it was a staff-wide breakfast, my teachers wouldn’t have been able to pick out my breakfast from someone else’s.  Plus they’re so busy they probably would have only had time (and hands) to grab something and go.

Well, I learned my lesson.  There were a few with this one:

1. Sometimes being a mom means being served up a huge dose of humility.

2. There’s nothing wrong with taking a shortcut every now and then.  There is a time and a place for the French toast casserole, and this time wasn’t it.

3. People appreciate the little things as much as, and sometimes more, than the big gestures.

Happy New Year!

So I rang in the New Year sober, thanks to my little girl (yes, that’s right, it’s a girl!) whose growth in my UU has been ticking along right on target all these week.  And as my houseguests and DH indulged in glass of wine after glass of wine, or beer after beer, they looked at me with a half-pitying smile and said, “Poor Hope… another New Years sober.”  I don’t like being pitied because I’m pregnant.  I don’t like being pitied for any reason, in fact.

But the truth was, I couldn’t even remember if the 2011-2012 New Years celebration was a sober one for me, either.  Or if the one before that, 2010-2011, was.  They all started to blur together in my mind, especially as the reality of impending infertility began to rear its ugly head.  I think I might have let my guard down three years ago and had a drink or two.  And while many people find New Year’s an occasion to become the reveler you see in movies – doing shot after shot, playing music too loud, getting dressed up in the dead of winter and never wearing a coat – the sadness of my failure as a woman overrode the desire to get a buzz.  Like many other holidays – Christmas especially – it was a somber reminder of the potential memories I would never have: kids falling asleep waiting for the ball to drop, or kids waking me up in their little nightgowns and footie pajamas to tell me it was the new year, or just kids to be thankful for.

I didn’t wake up my son for the celebration of the new year.  I am too protective of his sleep patterns to allow that kind of disruption to take place, but also he’s really blissfully unaware of the meaning of days.  There will come a time he’ll want me to let him stay up.  Instead, I welcomed the new year with a new appreciation of the man my husband has become, to watch him as a father.  I marveled at the family that I thought I would never have – and at the new family member to join us this year – and wondered how I got to be so lucky after what I thought was a dead end.

The secret lives of moms: Mall shopping

Now that my son is a little bit older, he’s slightly more portable.  Though he still eats every three hours, if I time things just right I can make it to the mall and back without too much of a meltdown.  He takes a long early-afternoon nap so any trip to the mall must be done before it or after it.  Snacks help too.

I’ve begun to notice, from the few times I’ve made it to the mall, that there are two different types of weekday mall moms.  There are moms like me, who are out with the kid(s) and no other support.  And there are moms out with their kids and another adult, like grandma or a friend.  Moms like me walk fairly quickly throughout the mall: we know we are on a time-limit and we were lucky to get out of the house looking somewhat put together.  Moms with support are more relaxed, walk slower, and give me pitiful looks.  “Look at that poor, lonely mom.  Man, it’s a production getting to the mall on your own with a kid!”  I feel it every time.

But apparently there is an unspoken bond among moms like me, who have the courage to go it alone in public.  Like motorcyclists who give each other the low left-hand air 5 secret signal when they pass each other on the road, moms like me give a little smile and head nod.  It’s a mutual acknowledgement of the sheer strength – if not madness – it takes to make it to the mall and enjoy yourself.  Because let’s face it – the mall is for mommy, is it not?  It’s a relic of the carefree spending days, of the days spent looking for the perfect dress.  Those days may still exist – they just have a little different shadow to them.  A mom pooch, a mom bag, a mom budget – whatever the case is, the mall holds for it the promise that you are still yourself, maybe even better for the chatterbox trying to pull things off the shelves from the stroller seat.

Maybe I’m projecting towards the moms-with-friends with a little bit of jealousy.  It’s always nice to have extra hands on deck, and I wish I had that whenever I wanted it.  I wish I could either fit into my skinny jeans again or at least not feel guilty enough to splurge on a new pair.  I wish I could look cute at the mall again, not just presentable.  But moms-with-friends don’t give you a smile.  They don’t give you the head nod.  They just size your kid up (as you size theirs up), then size you up, and keep walking.  And all I can do is vow to be a little bit more forgiving if I’m ever lucky enough to be in their shoes.

The woman I’ve warned you about is me

I’ve had lots of curious recent discoveries into the world of infertilite mommyhood that I thought I would have been able to avoid, given my own story and situation.  But as I stared into the face of my sister-in-law as we walked through a children’s consignment sale during her 7th month of pregnancy, I realized that I had become my own worst nightmare.  I was the woman with the horror stories about giving birth.  I was the woman who thought it was better to give you the reality check than the comforting words you need to hear.  And I thought I was doing it all for the right reasons.

As it turns out, my advice is probably best suited for only other infertilites.  Although I was aware that my SIL had been told by her doctor she’d never be able to have kids, I didn’t know why and I never asked.  I knew she was devastated at the time, and as such, was (presumably) really psyched to actually be pregnant given her infertilite status.  She’s a very go-with-the-flow kind of free spirit, so I let her lead the way with questions for most of her pregnancy and I avoided mothering her too much.  I was proud of myself for having gotten this far, knowing that along her pregnancy she had some complications of her own – too much amniotic fluid, the baby grew very large, and she kept getting dehydrated.  So when it came time for some SIL-bonding at the sale, I took the opportunity to make sure she was more prepared than I was for the time of the birth.

This was an unfortunate mistake, however.  Because as it turns out, the advice that I have for someone who is pregnant isn’t really relevant for the majority of moms-to-be.  I had biweekly non-stress tests.  The doctors and midwives joked my baby would glow in the dark I had so many ultrasounds, because he didn’t grow to average size.  And I had a baby in the breech position with no chance of even squeezing out a natural birth.  Add in to the equation a few other factors, like the small size of my baby, my passing out hours after the c-section, my lack of labor pains (and them being back labor pains when I did have them all of two times), and my difficulty with breastfeeding, and you’ve got yourself a nightmare for a new mom-to-be.  Yikes!

So, yes, I told her all of these things…  mostly because she asked and was curious, and wanted to know what all of it was like.  But nearly every statement I said had to be qualified or dismissed with something like, “But that’s just because he was breech,” or “That’s just me, that’s not the normal experience.”  And with every piece of advice I could give, other than stocking up on sanitary pads, I became increasingly aware of how awful I must sound and how unhelpful it really was.  She really had no chance of having half the difficulties I did, so why bother scaring her with them?

Now that she’s had the baby, who was born a week after her due date, she’s remained just as relaxed about motherhood as you could imagine a free spirit being.  She’s had no troubles breastfeeding, her baby was a whopping 9 pounds, and she had to be induced.  After 24 hours of labor that went nowhere, the doctors gave her the option for a c-section and she took it.  Realizing how exhausting it had been for me to recover from that surgery – and mine was blissfully scheduled and relaxed, not preceded by a day of labor – my husband and I waited two full days before visiting in the hospital (unlike the rest of the family).  I don’t see a trace of shell-shock in her face, as I imagine mine was full of, and I keep my mouth shut about the aftermath of giving birth.  I nod as I listen because the first few weeks with a newborn are a universal period of unconditional love and personal sacrifice, and we all can relate to that.

In the meantime, I’ll be keeping my stories to myself until the day comes when someone who truly needs to know, for her own health, asks.  And, of course, to all of you – because you wouldn’t be reading my blog unless you hadn’t already wondered.

You need to read this magazine

My local library branch is small.  The building it’s in is basically a small modular ranch home; when you enter there is a small bedroom-sized space with all the book stacks, fiction and non-fiction.  The main part of the building is open, with four cushy chairs for seating in a circle, four computers for public use, magazine racks, and the circulation desk.  To the far left, with the highest ceiling and widest space, is the children’s section of the library, with a small desk with crayons on one side and a wooden alligator filled with board-books on the other.  What the library doesn’t have in books it makes up for in two important ways: one, the ability to have books from any other regional library delivered to this library when available; two, a great magazine selection.

Consumer Reports, Real Simple, Martha Stewart Living… ah yes, this is what dreams are made of.   Issues available for the loaning for two weeks, all free and within five miles of my home.  It was on one of these days thumbing through Consumer Reports for phone reviews a few years ago when I noticed the magazine placed next to it.  Brain, Child was the name.  The tagline: The magazine for thinking mothers.  I gave a half-smile, thinking, “Oh good, there will be a magazine to keep my brain from turning to mush when I have kids.”  I was still blissfully ignorant of how difficult of a time I would have becoming a mother at the time, and I tucked away the knowledge of a magazine I had never heard of before into that place where I save trivia for a rainy day.

Last summer, several months pregnant, I happily checked out my first issue of Brain, Child for a 12-hour car ride.  And within minutes of opening the pages, I was crushed: this issue was going to be the last.  I thought It figures, the minute I get close to becoming a mother one thing I looked forward to is taken away.  I read the magazine sad with my knowledge.  I guess there isn’t a market for thinking mothers.

Fast-forward to a few weeks ago.  Now that my son is no longer a ball of instinctual and evolutionary responses and is gasp! learning things daily, I am making more of an effort to give him purposeful activities.  This would include Saturday morning story hour at the library.  While waiting for other children to arrive, we wandered over to look at the magazines and lo and behold, Brain, Child was there on the shelf.  I thought they must have been saving the old issues for posterity.  But no, the date said “Summer 2013.”  Wait a minute, I thought.  Was this an episode of baby brain where I had completely missed the message?  I grabbed the oldest magazine there – Winter 2013 – and brought it home.

Turns out the magazine did end, but not long after someone had come along to purchase the magazine and keep it up and going.  The new owner/editor, Marcelle Soviero, was a reader who, like me, couldn’t let the deliciousness of the magazine slip away – and I am so grateful she took the leap to keep it alive.

You need to read this magazine, especially if you are an infertilite, but it’s not going to be easy for you.  Every poem, article, essay, and letter is written by a mother.  But every poem, article, essay, and letter is moving and impactful and considers different perspectives on what it means to be a mother, and what it means to have a family.  The Winter 2013 issue alone hears the voices of women who’ve had miscarriages, who are searching for egg donors, who are foster-cum-adoptive parents, who are infertile.  And I have cried at their stories, able to know exactly what they mean and so grateful they were brutally honest about their thoughts, emotions, experiences.  Brutally honest.  But underneath it all, every story is written by a “mother” in however way that means for her.  Unlike other pregnancy or parenting magazines which focus on what chic stroller you should buy or the latest in teething biscuits, this magazine gets to the root of discovering what it means to be a mother.  The decisions you make on behalf of your children and how you think through those; the emotions of reproductive endocrinologist waiting rooms and their travertine floors; understanding teenage neuroscience…  It’s all peacefully co-existing in the pages of one relatively-ad-free (there are a few) judgement-free magazine.

You won’t find this magazine easy to find.  There are no beautiful cover models.  The cover story of this issue is “Playing God? Do kids really need religion?” and beneath that, “Babies and BMI: How big is too big?”  Those headlines fall below the main water color painting on the issue of two red-brown owls with large magnetic black eyes.  But if you let yourself listen to these women and take the time to hear their stories, you’ll find that not only are you not alone but that there is hope for you too.

Go, now.  http://www.brainchildmag.com or @brainchildmag.