Childcare is a good thing.
This is how I felt yesterday as I drove to the sitter’s house six hours after dropping E off for no particular reason other than to get to some writing, cleaning and posting stuff of Craigslist and Freecyle in the hopes of eventually seeing my basement floor again. Outside of one long jag when I went to the Weston A. Price Foundation conference, this was the longest I’d left my son with someone who wasn’t his dad. The sitter was a SAHM who runs a daycare but whose clients have all left for now while she’s waiting to have her baby. I knew that E would enjoy playing with her daughter and that she’d call me if anything went wrong.
I got a little bit of several things done, and I had two meals in peace. Nothing was completed 100%, which always seems to be the case. The childfree time always has an endpoint, and I’m so protective of it I hate to even take phone calls when my son is napping or with a sitter. I’m so used to multitasking with him around, I crave doing one thing at a time when he’s not.
Still, I loved the feeling of looking forward to seeing my boy after a big chunk of time apart, knowing I wouldn’t tell him we had to do one thing over another for the last few hours of our day, other than have dinner and go to bed.
We enjoyed traipsing around the sitter’s courtyard and then playing with fire engines at home. A year ago he wouldn’t leave my side, and now it’s wonderful to hear him ask to go back to the sitter’s house rather than ask to nurse five times an hour.
Yes, I thought, childcare is a good thing. I later read an essay in Mama, Ph.D. about a theater professor cringing at her 30-hour a week childcare schedule during a baby gymnastics class where some toddlers were there with nannies and others were there with moms who were aghast that a woman would leave her toddler for two hours. There are clearly a lot of positions on the spectrum. Another was the essay “Day-Care Depression” featured in the new XX Files column in the September 7, 2008 Washington Post Magazine, in which Doreen Oliver talked about the joy she found in eleven hours of childcare a week while her son got sad, so they took a break and made a switch.
I feel very lucky to have found several folks my son has fun with and whom I trust. However, I’m constantly counting the minutes. So when my husband mentioned that he’d be home for the first hour of this morning’s four-hour nanny share (at our house) before leaving for a doctor’s appointment, I flipped out.
“We have to share the basement?! That’s not optimal,” I barked. In my childcare time-sheet, it’s lost time if I can’t be productive in the way I want to be when my son isn’t pulling my pantlegs. There were other things I could do — run errands, run a few miles — but I wanted to be able to set that agenda. Basically, Don’t F— with my free time, Dear.
Fast-forward a week…
I didn’t finish this post I started writing last week. Where did the time go!? Ha! Well, yesterday during my precious four hours of childcare time, I somewhat reluctantly headed over to a working-at-home moms meeting. I’d initially written off the meeting as just not an option since it was something I could have done with my son. Why pay someone to do something you can do with child in tow? But once I’d looked at the host’s web site, I realized she sounded like a cool person and a great professional connection to make and that it would probably do me good to stay in touch with other WAHMs in my immediate area. And the meeting was when it was.
“How long have you been working for yourself?” I asked the host. “When I looked at your web site, I felt like kneeling to bow, ‘I’m not worthy,'” I told her. She shared her journey of setting up her business pre-pregnancy and all the highs and lows since then.
My sense going into the meeting had been that all these other moms were doing real outside-the-home work and I was just dabbling to keep myself sane. But it turned out that we weren’t so far off from each other. In a little over an hour in one woman’s living room, I learned how three different moms balance the different parts of their lives and how they struggle with balance. Childcare took a good bit of our discussion time.
We talked about how our experiences with depression at different times have affected our work, our mothering and our marriages/partnerships. And I got to talk and listen without worrying about what my son was taking from another child or what books he was pulling off of someone’s shelves. There was an easygoing six-month-old in our midst, but all the toddlers and preschoolers were elsewhere. This meant we actually got to finish sentences, that is when I wasn’t interrupting people to add in some scintillating insight about how I could relate. (I think perhaps my son’s usual presence has helped me not dominate conversations so much. Hmm…)
Embarrassment over my lack of conversational restraint aside, it was great to share, both to hear stories and also share my own struggles such that one woman — the organizer of the group, in fact — sighed with relief, “I’m so glad to hear you say that. I thought it was just me.”
I’m coming to realize: it’s never just you, honey.