When I was 4 months old in 1978, my terrified mother had little choice but to leave me with a licensed stranger and return to work. Mom had a big, important job in a downtown San Francisco skyscraper, and by the time I was old enough to care with whom I was spending my days, Marta’s in-home day care was like a second family.
I do not have a big, important job in a downtown San Francisco skyscraper, but nonetheless, the time has come for me to put my 14-month-old in day care. The thought of this makes me physically ill, and based upon some brief experimentation, Leo is equally nervous about this endeavor. Thus far, I have cried on the phone with two potential caregivers and rejected another one because music in the background was “aggressively loud.”
I suspect I am looking for excuses to keep my child with me at all times, despite its impact on his development and my job performance.
We’re starting off slowly by utilizing a YMCA membership. A handful of YMCA of San Francisco branches offer members a fully staffed YKids playroom. Two hours of child care is included in a family membership so people like me can enjoy a workout break. While not licensed day care centers, the YKids rooms are filled with safe toys and art supplies, diaper changing stations and caring adults. I’m not allowed to drop Leo off and go to the movies, but as long as I stay within the facility, I’m blissfully free for a maximum of 120 minutes.
At least that’s the plan.
We’ve visited the YMCA a total of five times in the new year, and Leo has tolerated a stay in the YKids playroom only two of those visits. Our success rate is a dismal 40%. I may have waited too long to cut this cord.
Staff suggests that parents who leave a hysterical child in the YKids playroom return in 10 minutes to see whether the tantrum has subsided. We are instructed to peek through the playroom window in search of the elusive thumbs-up from a staff member. A thumbs-up means we can go back to Zumba class; our child is now playing peacefully.
The first time I dropped Leo off and returned for my peek, one of his handlers spotted me and mimed tears slowly falling down her cheeks. I was confused. Where’s my thumbs-up? Her performance grew more exaggerated (wah-wah eye-rub fists, etc.) until it became clear that I should walk through the door that separated us by 3 measly feet and retrieve my malcontent.
Leo’s reaction to seeing my arrival was akin to that of a hostage being rescued by a covert SEAL team after months in captivity. He raced to me, eyes wide and arms raised. All toddler stumbles and wobbles were gone. He’d literally developed the ability to run just to get the hell out of there.
Leo’s second visit resulted in multiple thumbs-ups, thus forcing me to exercise. It’s a double-edged sword, this YKids. Subsequent visits have been hit-or-miss. Apparently, seeing other children retrieved is a trigger for Leo. It serves as a reminder that I exist somewhere and have yet to return.
Our third day care interview will take place this week. I’m hopeful this one will work out. Once we find a day care that’s the right fit for our family, I’ll have to cancel our membership to the YMCA. We can’t afford both, and day care won’t make me do cardio. Of course, cost is another tough child care pill to swallow. One moderately reviewed spot quoted me a monthly “tuition” of $1,800 to watch Leo two days a week. That’s $225 a day to monitor a 2-foot, 6-inch person who enjoys a multi-hour siesta.
I recently said to my mom that my husband and I are “in it” right now. And by “it,” I mean that mad scramble of mid-adulthood where the kids are young and the work is hard. Finances are stretched thinner than I thought possible, and I can’t seem to catch up with my to-do list, much less my “should-do” list. We are scrambling to make it all work.
My mother, who has long since recovered from mornings spent fighting guilty tears as she left us with Marta and commuted to her job of breaking glass ceilings so men could take credit for her work, remarked ruefully, “I don’t even remember the ’80s.”
Beth Spotswood’s column appears Thursdays in Datebook. Email: [email protected]
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