The past few weeks I’ve gotten a taste of the working-mom life. And it is sweet. But I get the feeling that it’s one of those treats that is most appreciated in small bites.
I can easily see how many moms would get overwhelmed by everything it takes to get to work while someone else keeps your kid alive. This is no small feat. And it’s not something you can really understand until you try it. I was freelance editing for most of Tommy’s life before I started teaching again, but I had no idea what all was involved in actually going somewhere else to work.
Using a sitter or daycare is an interesting experience. At first you sort of freak out because you’ve got your kid’s napping schedule and feeding methods down to a science that nobody else could possibly replicate. But after typing up schedules and instruction sheets and having long conversations with the caregiver, you realize that you’re totally being a control freak, and your kid will survive if his nap or meal experience isn’t exactly perfect. Because every experience at home was perfect, right? Yeah.
And then there’s the inevitable freak-out when your darling baby realizes you’ll be abandoning him with these strangers. Tommy absolutely loses his shit whenever I’m dropping him off or picking him up, but the caretakers assure me (with photographic evidence) that he is fairly happy in the meantime. I’m fairly sure he’s just putting on a show to prove to me that he needs me, and (fingers crossed) he’ll get over it eventually. I sort of just drop his stuff and run out the door with an “I love you” flung over my shoulder on the way out in an effort to minimize the scene. It’s probably exacerbated by the fact that we only do three days a week, so his routine is changed up damn near every day.
The biggest challenge by far is finding childcare that doesn’t bankrupt you. Infants are the hardest to find care for because they can’t do anything for themselves, the little freeloaders. Compared to older kids, there has to be a greater number of caretakers in a room with fewer kids because all of the little monsters need to be fed and entertained, and all of their little tushies and noses need to be wiped (not in that order). Thank the gods for childcare providers, seriously. I don’t want to do what you do. This is why every daycare has a waiting list. And if you don’t get on the ball really early (like me) you might only get into daycare one day a week when you really need three.
What I’ve had to do is find a babysitter for the other two days a week. And really, the sitter is way cheaper than the daycare. Did I mention that childcare is really fucking expensive? Because it is. I didn’t get to teach as many classes as I’d hoped for this semester (that’s what happens when you’re the new instructor), and adjuncts don’t make very much money to begin with. So I’m literally paying more in childcare than I’m earning this semester. That’s right, I’m actually paying for the privilege to go out into the world and work. It’s like my unpaid internship in Berkeley all over again.
But, people, it is so worth it. I’m using my brain, keeping myself sane, and feeling good about myself. Even though I do have to grade things, I’m absolutely happy with this deal. Not only do I get a legitimate reason to talk about literature and writing for a few hours a week, I have a reason to wear work clothes, and do my makeup, and fix my hair. And, AND, I get to go to the gym once a week! What?!
I know, I know, many of you are all like, what’s the big deal? If you want to go to the gym, just go to the gym. But guys, it isn’t that easy. The gym where we live (on post) doesn’t have daycare, just a co-op where you have to go certain hours and watch other kids every once in a while, which is way too complicated and scary for me (other peoples’ kids? how do I even?). If I wait for Robin to get home so I can fling the baby at him and go to the gym, I won’t be able to hang out with both of them together before bedtime, and I like hanging out with the dudes. And the nearest off-post gym with childcare is still kind of far away and too expensive. But now, on days when I’ve got Tommy in daycare, I can take an extra hour (because I’m paying for it anyways, dammit) and go to the gym near the college. Hooray!
So the working-mom thing is amazing. But in addition to the big childcare question, it comes with so many little challenges, and some of them are weird and small, and you don’t expect them until you are dealing with them head-on. For instance, I can’t just use the baby as my alarm clock anymore. Yes, he tends to wake up around 6 or 6:30 every morning, which ought to be enough time, but he’s not reliable; every so often there’s a glorious morning when he decides to sleep in past 7. And also, if I want to do my hair and makeup without a little monster crawling up my legs and whining the whole time because he MUST BE HELD, I have to do that stuff before he wakes up.
And getting out the door is a bit of an ordeal. I have at least two giant bags (briefcase and diaper bag), sometimes three (gym bag), plus a baby on my hip. And god knows where my wallet is on any given day, because it gets rotated around so often, and I’ve gotten stuck off-post without my ID (horrors!) on at least one occasion so far.
I guess the key is getting organized up front. The people who do this well (not me) get the daycare set up while the baby is still in utero, work enough hours to pay for the childcare but not so many that they never see the kid (I have no idea what the magic formula for this is, does anyone?), and either wake up really freakin’ early or have some ability to get shit done at night that eludes me. I salute you, Wonder-Moms.
I figure I’ve got a pretty sweet deal going, even if it is in my own fumbling fashion. I may spend more money than I’m earning for the privilege, but I get to use my brain for what I trained it to do, I get a few hours to myself, and I still get to spend a ton of time at home with the baby. Of course, I went and screwed up my system, because after this semester I’ll be adding another baby to the mix and probably won’t be able to do this again. Meh, here’s to the present.