I’m not sure how we’re getting things done most days. Some things are definitely easier now that the girls are older, but in other ways it’s also harder as they both are commanding our attention in different ways. Mia mopes around the house like a teenager sighing that she’s bored. We realize that we need to schedule more playdates for her, but it’s been hard to commit to plans and host playdates when our schedules are so up in the air. Claudine freaks out every time Mark leaves the apartment, even if it’s just to throw out the garbage, so thinking up alternate forms of childcare other than the few people who she is familiar with has been stressful. Lately we’re feeling like our heads are spinning. I’m not really complaining even though all personal projects have been put on hold. I am working and with that brings relief, a bit of a cushion and being able to exhale as I’ve realized that I’ve been holding my breath for two months. But it’s hectic, always hectic.
Mark and I will start each day checking in.
“So, what do you have to get done today?”
Then we’ll circle around till we find some kind of child care configuration that works. Sometimes it falls into place and sometimes it doesn’t. When it doesn’t or if there is just too much to do, the work gets delegated to the evening after the kids are in bed. It’s like doing a 2nd shift of work from 8pm – 2am, but it’s 6 hours of uninterrupted work time. The day is not unlike trying to piece together a puzzle, constrained by time, appointments, deadlines, drop offs and pickups. We think in chunks of time: “you can have 4 hours here if you cover for me in the morning”. And this is how the negotiations begin.
When we successfully get through a day, we breath a sigh of relief. It’s like we beat the system by creating our own work schedules and careers without conforming to a black and white world of deciding between a full time job or no job. Sometimes it doesn’t make financial sense to work if all you’re bringing home is a paycheck to cover the costs of childcare. There are other reasons to work, of course – benefits (and for us, that would be a huge boon, obviously) and keeping your foot in the door of your career. But I guess those of us who decide that we can try to do it all – work, make money, conduct our own businesses, and build flexibility into our schedules so that we can chaperone a school field trip once in a while – make a choice. We trade in stability for flexibility, fund our own retirement and health insurance for more time with our kids, sacrifice free weekends and evenings to juggle 2nd jobs and multiple projects. But this is the price to pay for paving your own path.
I don’t remember too much the struggles that my parents may have had with childcare issues when I was a kid (as it should be since kids shouldn’t be burdened by the stress that you may be feeling). I do, however, remember being shuttled off to babysitters early on which was something that I dreaded and I used to hide under furniture, crying, not wanting to go (I had serious separation issues which isn’t surprising considering stuff that happened in my early years). Later, when my brother was born, my grandmother arrived from Korea and lived with us for many years which must have been a huge relief to my mom.
But I do recall one incident when my parents must have been in a strapped situation. I was around 5, although I can’t be sure. My dad took me to his store in Manhattan, I assume because there was no other choice that day. I don’t really remember what I did all day at the shop, but at one point in the afternoon he took me down to the movie theater 2 doors down from the store. Disney’s Cinderella was playing on the big screen. He asked the guard to watch me for the duration of the film, instructed him to call if I needed to be picked up, told him that he owned a store 2 doors down. And then he left. The theater was nearly empty and I was scared. I may have even started crying, quietly. It may have been the first time that I had ever watched a movie on the big screen (I think it was). But I do remember that as the movie started playing, I got totally engrossed in the film and forgot that I was scared. Right as the movie ended, my dad promptly picked me up and took me back to the store.
I wonder how different NY in the 70s could have been back then if my dad thought it was ok to do that. And I suppose the guard or anyone else in the theater thought nothing of it if they didn’t call the police or flat our refused to let my dad leave me there, but can you imagine? But I remember this one day so clearly, sitting in that dark theater all by myself watching Cinderella. I sort of laugh about this now when I think of all the creative ways we deal with childcare dilemmas while we try to push through our crazy days. Most times we succeed…and those are good days.