Wednesday, October 3, 2007

On Childcare

Several people have asked me how we found Maya, so I thought I'd do a general post on childcare. Obviously I am not an expert, but maybe something about our thought process will be helpful to others.

What We Wanted: I was interested in a small family daycare. I knew Landon could be as young as 5 weeks when he started and I wanted someone who could give his as much individual attention as he was going to need. The fancier, more official daycare centers are very bright and look filled with fun, but he wasn't even going to be sitting up for several months and it looked like the infants mostly hung out in their cribs. I wanted someone who could (and would) hold him and interact with him.

Our Process: UChicago is about 75% graduate students and many of them have children. The school hosts a listserve for student-parents and I sent out an email requesting infant daycare recommendations. I got several responses and set up appointments to visit each one. At the visit I mostly went off gut-reaction. Was the apartment clean? Was the person warm? Did she seem excited about caring for an infant? Did she ask good questions of us? What were the hours and flexibility? What was the cost? How long had she been doing this? How many other children did she take care of? Things like accreditation and certification weren't on my list (many would disagree with that, but given that I'm not certified to be a parent, I cared more about the provider's personality and demeanor than a certificate). I also wasn't too concerned with English language skills- if we could communicate clearly, that was enough for me.

Timing: We started looking for care in April (I was due in August and needed daycare beginning at the end of September). Having a baby over the summer was very convenient because many grad students move away during those months. One of Maya's clients had received a fellowship and was moving in August so she had a spot for Landon in September. I think finding care in the middle of the year would be a little tougher because looking too far in advance would yield few results (people moving in the middle of the year may have little notice) and waiting too long would just be nerve-wracking. I think I would probably start investigating early, get several leads, and then check in again closer to the end, but someone who has dealt with the situation should definitely chime in if they have a better idea!

Our Decision: We chose Maya for several reasons. I liked her matter of fact answers to my questions- when I asked her about a daily schedule (I was just reading off a list of questions to ask that I found online) she said, "they eat, they sleep, they poop, and we play - no schedule for the little babies!". She also seemed genuinely enthusiastic and knowledgeable about babies. She asked all about the pregnancy and talked about holding our baby close so he could hear her heartbeat and get to know her during that first week. She had been operating the family daycare for 23 years and just seemed warm and competent. I called a few of her current clients and they all raved. One had her baby in Maya's care from 3 weeks to 3 years and that recommendation meant a lot to me because her daughter could now talk and tell her about her day and about Maya- Landon wouldn't be able to do that for a while. Her apartment was cozy and she had a few baby play gyms and comforters spread out on the floor with toys. She had each parent bring a play yard for their baby to sleep in and I liked that because he would know his space and I could control what was put in there (one place we visited had lots of blankets in the crib where the babies slept and that just screamed SIDS risk). Her price was $200/week for full-time (drop off between 8-9, pick up around 5, although you could always drop off later and pick up earlier) and that was on the lower end of the price spectrum of the places we looked at. One wanted $250/week and another was $300. We honestly liked Maya the best, but the lower cost was definitely a bonus. I know the infant care at daycare centers in Austin is between $1200-1350/month, so I'd imagine that's what a center is in Chicago as well.

In Practice: Before Landon's first day we brought his play yard, diapers, wipes, and a few changes of clothes for Maya to keep for him. I think supplying the diapers and wipes is pretty standard for in-home care. Each morning I make up 3 bottles and drop him off in his car seat with a little lunchbox of bottles. In the afternoon when I pick him up she hands me the lunchbox with the empty (and cleaned!) bottles with a little post-it note on each one stating when he drank it and whether he had a dirty diaper. I had not thought of that system, but it is so nice when I get home to know what his schedule was like during the day. So far things have gone very well. Landon seems happy and I sincerely believe that if he didn't like her, he would let me know. He's always happy in her arms and that makes me happy when I continue on my way to school.

In The Future: I knew I wanted a small informal daycare for Landon as an infant, but I think that we'll switch to an activity filled center after he's one, which coincides with our move to Austin. I'm already on three Austin daycare waiting lists for Sept. 2008 (a post on the absurdity of that statement might be forthcoming). I also think that when he's in elementary school it would be preferable to have a nanny so that he can come home after school and keep a schedule similar to that of his classmates with stay-at-home-moms. We would also like more kids and at some point a nanny is just more cost-effective. I think it would be nice to come home at the end of the day to a bright and busy house with the kids already there. All that said, JP was in daycare and then after-school care all the way through middle school and he loved it, so I'm sure all of this will depend on our kids, their activities, and our financial situation.

Guilt? Just a quick paragraph about this. I've already said I'm okay with the fact that Landon is in daycare while I'm in school. I also think that he's okay being separated from me during the day. At this point in our relationship, I'm pretty replaceable. He needs someone to hold him, love him, feed him, and change his diaper. My physical presence is a bonus- I think he knows who I am and together we've learned how to comfort him best- but I'm not necessary. However, I do think that at some point JP or my presence will be more important- still not so much the physical, but rather our unique thoughts and beliefs. I want JP or me to be the one the kids talk to when they've had a bad day, not the nanny, and I want time together so they can unburden their troubles whenever they randomly want to. I don't have an answer to this yet, but it's something we both think about and will have in our minds as we talk about, plan for, and live out the next several years. It's hard to admit that I struggle with all the realities of being a working mom. I feel pressured to put on a front that I'm 110% happy about the situation every second (mostly because my family is so full of doubts), but I want to be honest in this blog. The arrangement we have now is the right one for us, and we'll just keep trying to make the decisions that are best for everyone.


  1. She sounds wonderful! You are so lucky to have found affordable, quality care. He sounds like he's really happy with her and it's great that she's working with you on his reflux issues rather than throwing up her hands in frustration, as I'd imagine some would do.

  2. No wonder you're so comfortable with your nanny, you did a lot of research to find her!

    I agree -- babies need constant care, but that doesn't have to come from their mothers 24/7. It's when children are older they need their mothers (and fathers) the most!