As a working mother, I field this question often: “Who watches Nathan while you’re at work?”
What? You mean, I have to have an actual person to care for my child? What about the wonderful people on Sesame Street! Or the people in those Teletubby costumes? Do they count?!?
Like any other pleasantry, it’s meant to illicit a positive response. No one wants to hear how it really is, how exhausting it has been to find reliable and affordable childcare. They want me to empty warm Hallmark Channel tales into the tight whorls of their ears. Even if I said, “Well, sometimes I drop him off at the taco truck on the corner,” they’d say, “Oh that’s great. He’ll be able to order burritos in Spanish! HOLLA! I mean, HOLA!”
Because I had not planned on returning to work as soon as I did, I didn’t make the deadline for any of the daycares in my neighborhood or around my work, or in the greater Seattle area for that matter. The daycare near my work said I’d be on their waiting list for FIVE YEARS. Another daycare said they could take Nathan, but they’d charge $85 A DAY.
I knew I wanted to work, but I cringed at the idea of signing a large part of my paycheck over to my child’s caregiver. Why does it have to be so expensive? At the fancy daycare, where they served organic food and sang songs in French, I wanted to cut a deal, maybe bring out some preservative-laden foods and sing songs in English (or no songs at all! He’ll be on the no-song plan!) for a cheaper rate.
It was sheer luck that my neighbor at the time was staying at home and offered to take care of Nathan. She had a daughter about a year older than Nathan who ended up falling in love with my little boy. My neighbor told me that every morning she would ask, “Where’s Ne Ne?” And that “Ne Ne” was the only name she would ever say. Then the fit started to hit the shan, if you know what I mean.
She started having financial problems and wanted an advance. And then another one. She and her husband were fighting.
His last day there was the day that he came home with a forehead bump so big that I swore he had brain damage. It was somewhere between goose egg and conjoined twin. I was in tears and phoned the pediatrician on call who asked me what my son was doing. “He’s singing right now. And dancing.”
So there was no reason to bring a laughing child into the ER because all children will look like that scene in Alien where the alien busts out of that guy’s chest only, it’s out of an enormous head protrusion. But I couldn’t bring him back there.
My mother’s been watching him this summer, but it’s been taxing on her body to lift up my hulking child. Especially when she’s also watching my nephew Alejandro, who can be lifted with one hand. And who never bodyslams people.
We finally found a daycare run by a nice woman who lives ON THIS STREET! No more 80-mile commutes! And though we really want Nathan to be in the daycare at Mike’s work, we won’t know if they have room until the end of this month. So another change, another uneasy answer for those wanting to know where I drop off my child.
But what I want is that feeling I had at my neighbor’s during the first months. When that sweet little girl would extend her arms and hug Nathan and when I shut the door, I could hear the two of them laughing behind me. I’d pay anything for that.