This post originally appeared on DC Metro Moms on October 13, 2008
Counting the Minutes
I came into this mothering gig already Type A, feeling short on time to pursue all my interests, but the concept of “money is time” didn’t hit home until I was at home, full-time. As a salaried high school teacher, I’d worked countless hours never thinking about what each one earned me.
Once I was home with my son and started wanting an occasional sitter, I started measuring everything in minutes. Lately I’m thinking of charging my son for the time he’s not napping. Over the past two and a half years, my addition-machine mind has mused:
–If I can get a sitter to meet me at the therapist’s/doctor’s/acupuncturist’s office, I’ll shave off almost at least 45 transit minutes of childcare time – and keep my son with me for all but that one hour, so I’m not using up any extra guilt time, either.
-If I get a sitter who lives near __’s office, I can do x, y and z without wasting extra driving time from the house – or suffering through that much more errand-running screaming from the back seat.
–It was great to have the sitter here 4-6 p.m. last week so I could make dinner and clean while they played outside. But if he takes a late nap, it’s a waste of money to have her here. On the other hand, if doesn’t nap at all, having her over will just rile him up too much to go to bed early.
The cost/benefit analysis changed when I started working as a tutor and freelance writer/editor.
–If I have the sitter for these hours and get this much editing work done, it’s just barely worth the sitter time. If I get this much progress made on a piece that may never get published, was it worth the sitter time, if only for my personal benefit?
–If I can tutor for an hour for five times my sitter’s rate, it’s really worth the time.
–My student can’t meet when I have daytime childcare, so I have to tutor at night, which means I’m using up husband-minutes – needing him to be home at a certain time to put the boy to bed and then not being here to enjoy the quiet of after-bed time.
Recently, after two weeks with my son resisting weekday naps, I got to thinking how much he is costing me. That’s 10-15 hours a week of time I used to have. Granted, my lazy butt wasn’t exactly working or generating new clients. But I was writing, and cleaning and cooking, things that felt necessary for my sanity and that are hard or impossible to do if you’re trying keep a kid in bed and peaceful, dammit!
The one full day I tried having my son at a sitter’s house, he happily rested for an hour and a half on her couch while her pregnant self rested across the room and her three-year-old rested in her room. Maternity leave put a wrench in that childcare set-up, but it got me to thinking that I should farm out the nap to someone he won’t bite or hit. I fantasized about having someone just come sit quietly with him 1-3 p.m. I started to fantasize about a year from now, when I can send him to the afternoon program at the Waldorf school, where they give the children lavender drops and heavy babies. But that program almost doubles the cost of the preschool. And it’s a year away.
If I did have a naptime sitter-on-demand, I’d be out some $100-200 per week. And if I choose to get a full-day sitter for just one day, I’d be out over $100 for an hourly person and at least $60 for an in-home situation. Weighed against my hourly tutoring rate, it’s not so bad, but I’d have to find the client who could work around my schedule.
This got me thinking about keeping a tab for my son on what he’s costing me with these lost naps. Decreased worker productivity, you’d better believe it. We haven’t itemized all he costs us in stuff, though I probably should because my husband throws up his hands at our dwindling savings and says, “I know I haven’t changed my spending habits.” He’s not the one who buys the groceries for this third mouth or clothes to put on the kid’s back or any other things that make life easier to spend all day with the kid, like two different Klean Kanteen cups and two different Snack Traps.
But he is the one who makes most of the money that buys that stuff, and without a dedicated budget, I’m at a loss to hold myself back for my boy and for my convenience. Soon, if this crisis keeps up, we will need to stop considering my income an extra perk and our random childcare and other spending, well, random. I need to set a goal for how much I’ll earn per month and how much we can spend on other people playing with our kid.
The problem is that the benefits of the childcare thus far have not been quantifiable. It’s been about me getting time to take care of my health or my spirit or just even my home. If we had family in town, this entire conversation might not be happening.
Last night my husband and I finally opened a Netflix DVD ($15/month!) and watched an episode of Freaks & Geeks featuring a teeny tiny Shia LaBeouf as a high school freshman. Maybe I should put my son to work as an actor, I thought. He oozes personality like a grilled PB&J. At two and a half, the kid is doing impressions, and for months, he’s been modulating his whine to a cheery, “Please, I’d like some” when asked to speak in a tone we can understand. He’s a natural! With a few gigs, I’m sure we could afford the afternoon program at the Waldorf school (when he’s not on a shoot for some program he and the no-TV kids will ever see). An added benefit is that I could live vicariously through my son, finally achieving the thespian fame I dreamed about as a child. I could become the stage mom I always wanted!
But seriously, he’s not in day care or a regular preschool because we want him mostly with me, or in a calm setting with friends. And that is worth a lot to all of us. It’s just a little hard to handle without a break, and it’s starting to seem a little indulgent in this economy. I ought to be able to figure out a way to handle being a calm stay-at-home-mom that doesn’t cost so much money.
According to the book Your Two-Year-Old, my son’s behavior is pretty typical for the middle of his third year. It may change, and maybe he’ll settle back into resting again in the afternoons. Next week I think I won’t fight him on staying horizontal and will just let him hang out in his room while I try keep an eye on the video monitor and do something else, maybe just try to meditate away the dollar signs I keep seeing as a ticking second-hand.