February 5th, 2008
As you may recall, I was mulling over a job offer. The job sounded great – well, the opportunity was great but the salary, not so much. But the job as a Lecture Agent sounded exciting, with the chance to represent a pretty solid stable of influential thought-provoking writers.
I tossed. I turned. I spoke to my new BFF, Chloe’s mother, and probably drove her to distraction with a million questions about caregivers and salaries and what have you. And I ran around in circles looking at daycare situations, since it was readily apparent that there was no way the job would have paid for someone coming in without dipping into TG’s paycheck. Which, of course, would have defeated the point entirely.
The first daycare was a corporate gig – one of those bright, spiffy, shiny centers with fluorescent lights and lots of primary colors. It had just opened so it was pristine, with a yard that sported the latest safety ground cover and really cool play equipment.
The infant room had, thus far, a small enrollment – only about 2 babies so far. The room had so many fun things for them to do: toys, board books, the latest doodads from Fisher Price and LeapFrog. The equipment for heating bottles was clearly marked: one warming chamber for breast milk, one for formula. The changing table was an efficient operation in itself: gloves, disposable changing pads, a guarantee that while one caregiver changed the other would be manning the other babies at all times.
I hated it.
As we toured, I lugged Pudding in his carseat, plopping it down as we made stops along the way so that the center director could point out some new “ideal” environment. And I would look down at Pudding, and he’d be peeping out perusing the surroundings, and I felt sick to my stomach at the thought of one day plopping him down and walking out without him. The place was nice, but the people felt – mechanical. I was fairly sure they wouldn’t let him choke to death and pretty confident they wouldn’t beat him with a broomstick – but would they be affectionate? Would they laugh with him and play with him and cuddle him?
I wasn’t too sure. It all seemed rather controlled.
The next place I was scheduled to visit I didn’t even get to. I had an address and my attempts to get directions on Google maps were fruitless so I finally called. Some guy answered the phone in his best Noo Joisey accent. As much as I knew that his regional inflection had zero to do with his ability to take care of my kid, I was instantly turned off. I want my son to grow up with a spine and some balls but I do not think he needs to obtain them by being minded by the Sopranos. In any case, I soldiered on:
Me: Uh, hi, I have a 1:00 appointment to tour your facility and I’m trying to get directions there but when I plug it in in Google maps it’s not coming up.
Him: We’re at XXX Washington Street.
Me: Oh! Oh, that explains it. Your website has your address as Washington Avenue. That’s what I was using.
Him: Well, that ain’t it. We’re at Washington Street, okay?
Me: Uh, great. Thanks.
Him: No problem. (hangs up)
Now, in my little anal world of etiquette/customer-service, had I been the director of this fine facility and had it brought to my attention that my website was giving out incorrect information, I would have apologized profusely. After all, not only am I making potential clients waste time trying to find me, I am also doing myself a disservice, as some people may not take that extra time needed to locate me. But apparently this guy operates from a different manual. How am I supposed to feel comfortable leaving my kid in an environment where the reigning attitude seems to be “Suck it”?
In any case, with that misgiving lodged firmly in my gut, I still set out to see this place, feeling in my bones that I was going to hate it.
I couldn’t tell you whether or not I hate it, because I never saw it. What I did see, as Pudding slept unaware in his carseat, was a neighborhood that was quickly deteriorating with every block that passed. By the time I got to Washington Avenue – oh, excuse me, Street – I knew that there was no way in hell I was leaving my son in this area, no matter how fabulous the building was. I was not going to leave him here every day, I was not going to drive myself to this neighborhood every day, it was just not going to happen. And I guarantee you that if I had been drunk enough to sign him up there, my husband would have taken one look at the place and asked me if I had lost my effing mind.
So much for that.
As I locked my car doors and prepared for the drive home, it occurred to me that this whole endeavor wasn’t going too well.
That evening, I got a call from one final place, a home-based daycare.
The fee was right.
The woman’s attitude was right. She wasn’t rushed, she wasn’t rushing me. As a matter of fact, she had a whole intake process that was more like a preschool interview. First, I would view her “facility”, preferably with the spousal unit and no kids, so that we could ask questions without distractions. Then, Pudding and I would spend some time there one morning with the other babies to see how the place functioned. The final step would consist of a morning visit for Pudding by himself to see how he held up, and then we would all regroup and decide if this was a good fit.
I liked that. I liked that there was a trial period. I liked that it was careful and contemplative and not rushed.
I visited that evening. Already I was flouting the rules – the Tech Guru had to work late so Pudding and Punksin were both in tow. As we arrived, I noted another family picking up their child, the last one to leave for the day. They were laughing and happy, and the owner was walking with them to their car, talking about their daughter’s day.
I liked her already.
Her setup felt a bit worn, but my house is not exactly fresh out of crates either so I didn’t mind too much. It was clean and safe, which was what mattered.
What I loved?
She took Pudding from me.
She hugged him.
She talked to him softly.
She let him scratch the crap out of her face.
She interacted with him, and did so genuinely and with affection.
Later, when relating this to BFF, I said that it struck me that while in the other places he would be cared for, I felt that here he would be cared about. And of all the places I considered, it was the closest to the office I would be working in – the first place felt so far and it unsettled me to think of him out there all by himself, and the other place, well that was just in the middle of Hell.
So this place was it. There was another daycare that I really liked based on their website, but I hadn’t visited because they had no more room for infants and from the looks of the fairytale-like interior of the huge Victorian, it was probably too much for my meager budget anyhow. So this small house on the Southern end of Montclair would be where Pudding would spend his days, from approximately 8:45 to approximately 5:00, every day. I would pick him up, swing by and grab Punksin from her school, and then we’d head home, arriving around 6:00, most likely, just in time to get Tech Guru from the train, eat dinner, and get the two P’s to bed.
I couldn’t do it.
I just couldn’t do it.
It wasn’t just the reduced time with Pudding. It was what I would be getting in exchange for that reduced time – a small salary that would just barely cover his care, a salary that by being so small was affecting the quality of his care, a salary that, as the Tech Guru reminded me, was minuscule in comparison to what I had walked away from to take care of Punksin. If I was going to go back for money, it needed to be real money. And if it was not about money, even if it was about reclaiming some semblance of my former corporate self, it needed to happen in such a way that my child’s care was not compromised.
TG reminded me too that this time is temporary. All too soon Pudding, too, will be up and about, heading off to nursery school. When that day comes, I will probably feel as I did with Diana: I was glad at the prospect of resuming other aspects of my life, but as I went about my tasks I felt a little… lost. A piece of me was missing – it was sitting criss-cross applesauce in a classroom, and as much as I relished the peace and quiet and the ability to do anything with my time, I was eager to have my whirlwind back.
So, I turned the gig down.
More on that to come…