Who’s Bringing Up Baby?

As I ambivalently entertain the idea of having another child, few concerns overwhelm me like the prospect of finding adequate and affordable child care. Well, that and whether or not I can handle another teenager.  This article in The Atlantic doesn’t help.

I have the luxury, now, of telling Colby to hitch a ride to practice with another family. If I’m stuck late at work, I can call his school and send him to the very reasonably priced after-school care program. It wasn’t always this way.

Mama and Colby

Mama and Colby

During Colby’s infancy I was terrified of day care centers. Irrationally? Maybe, but terror is terror. I struggled to attend college part-time and made use of the online classes which were just coming into being. My advisor recognized my struggle at the end of one semester and recommended we “explore a judicious use of day care”. She told me how a group of faculty members, parents, banded together to keep funding for the University day care system, and how we needed to make use of it in order to keep it. I later met some of the women who fought for this, and we should all be grateful for their service. I got on the wait-list and started looking for local child care providers in the small town I lived in.

When I returned to school full-time as a commuter student, Colby spent his days with a dear woman he called ‘Nana’. For him and the few other children who were there, it was like spending the day at grandma’s. We returned to the area a few years later and he started school. Most days (because I didn’t make enough to pay even Nana) he would ride the bus to me at school. On a late day, though, he would take the bus to Nana’s with the rest of her kids. Through all of these years, she always made time for us, the parents, and pick-up time often turned into a round of gossip, or advice-giving and problem-solving. She knit blankets for her kids at Christmas. She was irreplaceable.

Our spot eventually came up for university day care, and shortly after, university family housing. I found a wonderful, family-friendly part-time job. The pieces of my future career came together in this year. The university child-care program was fantastic, as promised. We are still close with families we met during our time there. Colby thrived and moved on to preschool at our local Y, another blessing.

Between these golden days and Colby’s school years, I accepted a job that paid little, but would offer the experience I needed. My contract provided for child-care, but when I toured that squalid and over-crowded facility, I knew we couldn’t stay. Two weeks later we were on a plane back home.

We got lucky. I was able to be home with Colby during his infancy, but mostly because there was no place to take him if I did work outside the home. We lived in a town with one, perennially full, day care. Colby’s Nana had an opening at just the right time when he was very young, and again when he was school-aged.  Without Nana, UMaine childcare and the Y, my career trajectory would have ended.

It so happens that people talk about this town, and other small, rural towns as dens of welfare iniquity. But mamas and papas, what the hell do you do when there is no one to take care of your babies? When faced with low-quality (read: dangerous) child care or none at all?

Please, everyone. Even if you don’t have children or yours are grown – talk about this. Ask your legislators about this. And hug whomever is taking care of your babies.

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