I worked full-time during normal business hours in New York before Kaspar was born. Once my maternity leave ended, I negotiated my work week down to four days, and we set ourselves up with childcare for two of those days. Aaron is an illustrator, and did supplementary art handling work (transporting and installing pricey artwork for posh people, galleries and museums, for those of you not familiar with the term “art handler”—I thought on our first date that it was some kind of euphemism), so when I returned to work, he relegated all art handling to the two days we had childcare, and took care of Kaspar for the other two days that I was working. I relished my Fridays with my baby boy, and weekends were spent all together.
Although I was seriously nervous about leaving Kaspar in anyone’s care other than our own at the outset, we lucked out with a great nanny share situation, and then—when the other mom in the equation quit her job to stay at home with her baby—scored an equally fantastic spot amongst a small collective of Tibetan women who cared for four of five children in one of their very large (and thoroughly childproofed) apartments. Our sitter was something of a baby-whisperer; she was extremely capable and caring toward Kaspar, and I knew he was in good hands . I missed Kaspar while I was at work, but wasn’t worried about him (a great sitter is a rare and beautiful thing!), which meant that the time apart also constituted a real break during which I tended to other things. I know the time was invaluable to Aaron, too, since he had Kaspar for ten hours straight on the off days.
As nice as our childcare setup was, however, it wasn’t ideal. Our babysitter was a good half-hour walk from our house through a rough neighborhood. And, the care was expensive. At only two days a week, we were handing over a significant chunk of our monthly income. There was only one daycare in our neighborhood, and it was even more pricey. Looking ahead, we could see that this wouldn’t be sustainable. Looking even further ahead to the preschool years was enough to make me faint. There was no room to step off the gas, or make any changes, work-wise, and, even with the reduced work week, I didn’t feel like my time was being spent meaningfully, exactly. I knew plenty of people with full-time nannies who spent time with their kids on the weekends. I didn’t feel like this would be enough for us. Not in exchange for work I didn’t love, anyway. We decided to move to Texas for a variety of reasons, with more flexibility in terms of work and childcare among them.
As it happens, there are more flexible childcare options here; in fact, there are a number of places that allow parents to pre-pay for hours (at half the rate we were paying in New York. Half!) and then drop their kids off with a day’s notice for whatever duration is needed, whenever the need arises. These places cater to parents who freelance or have otherwise irregular schedules. The two (highly recommended) centers like this in our area accept children as young as eighteen months old, so while Kaspar’s not yet old enough, it’s good to know this option exists for later. In the meantime, we also got the work flexibility we sought from our move, and because of this have not yet gotten childcare in gear at all.
We are truly co-parenting. Aaron cares for Kaspar in the mornings and early afternoons, and then I take over when I get home from work so Aaron can tend to his own stuff. We all reconvene around dinner time, then I put Kaspar to bed and Aaron and I get back to work (I have a regular freelance gig that I save for the evenings). Between cleaning up, responding to emails, working, sourcing more work (and, admittedly, sometimes watching an episode or two of Friday Night Lights on NetFlix—hey, a girl’s brain needs down time, too) I often go to bed very, very late. I’m frequently up in the night for a baby-feeding, too, so I am still really burning the candle, but this arrangement is of our own design, and it’s allowing a huge level of family autonomy while Kaspar is still super small.
There are definite down sides to having no childcare. We’re partially doing it this way while Aaron finds some kind of replacement for the art handling work and simultaneously ramps up his illustration stuff; because I’ve also cut back and we’re just sorting everything out, we don’t want to spent extra money on childcare unless we absolutely need to. Another downside—perhaps the most obvious one—is that there are no breaks. None. Kaspar’s eight months old, which is a very fun time but also a high-maintenance time; as a point of comparison, I recently arrived at a friend’s house to find her making a chicken pot pie while her eighteen-month-old puttered around the room doing more or less his own thing. It blew my mind. The only time I could embark on a cooking project that involved right now is when Kaspar’s sleeping. In fact, we both cram an inhuman amount of productive activity into the four hours of daylight during which the other parent is primarily on duty, and into the few hours available to us in the evenings (during which we’re frequently hopping up to attend to Kaspar, if he’s restless). Given that Kaspar-care time, too, is filled with play dates and park dates and grocery store runs and whatnot, and that we’re up by 6:30 a.m., it gets exhausting. When one or the other of us is at that ‘Must. Sleep. Or… Might… Die…” point, the other steps up and takes over for a while. I have no idea how people do this with multiple children, or with only one parent, but I admire families in both camps.
Opting out of childcare has meant that Kaspar is more fully integrated into our lives, which is great. He’s really social, because we’re really social, and he comes along for whatever we’re doing. I used to go to the gym when we had a sitter, but now I pack Kaspar into the jogging stroller and push that puppy five miles around Town Lake (strength and endurance training!). For some things, however, it’s not appropriate to have a baby present, and for those things, Aaron and I have to choose carefully and then consult with each other, because again, one parent is going to be on default parent patrol while the other does whatever it is that we’re doing. I recently started taking one class towards my massage certification; I can study during my bus rides to and from work, but during the actual class time, Aaron’s covering the baby front, which means he has that much less time to tend to his work stuff.
I love having every afternoon with my son. It is priceless, no question. Sometimes, however, I feel really frustrated with everything else being so tightly packed. Getting interrupted in the middle of a late-night yoga dvd is one thing (still frustrating, but not the end of the world), but getting repeatedly interrupted in the middle of late-night work, or feeling like my brain is mush while actually at work during the day, is nerve-wracking; I am working to provide for my baby. This is serious business! Luckily, it all really is flexible, and I always find the time to do whatever I need to do, somewhere. It’s better to go with the flow than to try to adhere to a rigid schedule, if Kaspar’s not having it. I’ve also reminded myself recently that, whether it’s taking one class instead of the whole course load for massage, or completing one really good pitch over a two-week period instead of two days, things are going at a different pace right now, and that’s okay. My most important job is being a mom. I’m glad I have created a set-up in which I get to do that, every day, in a really hands-on way while my baby is still a baby. I have a feeling that it’s been a constructive thing for Kaspar to be with one or both of us, 24/7, for as long as we keep this system in place. (Check out our awesome and adorable video!).
That being said, Aaron and I are both eagerly looking forward to working some childcare into the mix again as soon as it makes sense to do so. My mom’s coming to visit for a few days at the end of the month, which will allow us a date night or two. We’re almost drooling in anticipation (wining and dining, late-night live music, adults absorbed in conversation? Bring it.)
Have you gone for a period without childcare while both parents also worked? Are you a full-time parent who also has childcare help? How do you deal with the new ‘pace’ imposed on the rest of your life by your life as a parent? Do you wish you had more or less childcare than you do, or do you love your situation exactly as it is? What’s your system, and how’s it going?