Friday, April 23, 2010

Daycare Decisions

When I was pregnant, the biggest question I got asked by women with whom I worked was "what daycare have you picked?". Apparently finding quality daycare for infants in that area was a challenge. The timing of my pregnancy coincided with my academic schedule somewhat - I was originally due the end of April, and would be off until faculty were expected to return the first Monday in August. I was told that I should have daycare lined up well before she was born, since I would probably end up on a waiting list for whatever center I chose.

I asked some fellow faculty what daycare their little ones attended. I got lots of good information. But I never really got around to the point of visiting any centers. Somehow the task of choosing a good daycare seemed very daunting to me. I put it off thinking I could visit some centers during my maternity leave.

I ended up spending my maternity leave on bedrest in the hospital, and Wee One came 3 weeks early, so that plan went out the window. I spent the time after she was born with my parents (100 miles away from my apartment) letting them help take care of her (us). Finally in June my father broached the subject, asking what I planned to do when it was time for me to go back to work.

My solution? I quit my job and moved in with my parents. There were lots of reasons for that decision, but the benefit was that I didn't have to think about the daycare thing anymore.

I found a full-time faculty job and started in August on the same day I'd originally planned to come back from maternity leave, just at a different college. My mom watched the Wee One and she and I lived in their guest room.

Mid-semester, my dad broached the topic again. Apparently my mom watching her full-time wasn't a viable option, and the expectation was that I would find another solution starting the next semester. Meaning - I had to face the daycare decision all over again.

I had two main candidates. The first was a childcare center in the town where I live. My mother had visited there a couple of times to pick up a friend's children, and she really liked the place. It was religiously affiliated, which is a concern for me being liberal and all, but I was ok with it. The only issue was that they weren't answering their phone. First it said the phone was out of service. Then another time I tried to call, it just rang and rang.

Meanwhile, I perused the website of the other option. Pretty colors and glossy photos of children, a nice explanation of their infant programming. Programming? Their philosophy is to create a learning environment for all the children, even the infants. The infants are exposed to storytellers and reading, sensory play, and other educational experiences. I was hooked. I loved the idea that my daughter would be intellectually stimulated even in an infant room.

I loved the place instantly. The infant rooms were clean, the children all seemed happy. The assistant director took me through the rooms for all the different groups. It hit me how completely unprepared I was for this step - I know nothing about daycare. But I thought I asked all the questions I needed to, and I thought that I had all the information.

Finally I asked for the price. A little sticker shock, but I had expected this place to by pricey. With their "infant programming" and all. I went ahead and signed on the dotted line to put Wee One on a waiting list and we were set.

I was still trying to get my head around the idea of daycare, so I went to visit on one other occasion. This time I took the Wee One to see what she thought. An incredibly lovely woman named Jennifer who worked in the second infant room spent about two hours talking to me and assuaging some of my anxieties. She said it was fine that Wee One didn't take a bottle, they would try to give her a sippy cup. If she cried and wouldn't stop they would call me. I was welcome to come nurse at lunch or anytime I wanted to. Jennifer was wonderful. I was hoping Wee One would be in her room.

Then it all started getting ... and I don't even know how to say it ... wierd? Uncomfortable? Not quite what I was expecting?

A week before time to start, and I go to drop off some things (cloth diapers, change of clothes, etc.) When I had originally toured, there were two infant rooms, and two toddler rooms. Now they are turning one of the Toddler rooms into a "Creeper" room for infants in the 8-10 month range. Wee One is going to be in this "Creeper" room. It is less than half the size of the infant room I was hoping she'd be in. It is staffed by a single caregiver who wasn't there that day, and I hadn't yet met. It would have five children (in the state of Kentucky infants can have a one-to-five ratio) in the care of a woman who previously had staffed one of the Toddler rooms.

Hmm. Well, she is bigger than most of the other infants there. She was sitting up and crawling, not laying on Boppy pillows like the babies in the infant room. It made sense that they would have this room to "transition" some of the older infants before actually sending them to the Toddler room. I convinced myself to be okay with the idea of the Creeper Room.

I went back again and met the caregiver. She seemed nice and sweet, even if she did mention it had been years since she worked with infants and it was obvious that she was much more used to working with Toddlers. When asked how she thought she would handle five children she didn't have much to say to convince me that it was a good idea. She seemed to think they would just "play it by ear" and "see how it goes".

I convinced myself to be okay with it, because I loved the place.

The first week went okay. I got feedback on the care sheets the caregiver carefully filled out each day. The caregiver loved the cloth diapers and got the hang of things very quickly. Wee One cried every morning at drop off, wasn't sleeping or eating or taking milk, and was really clingy at home, but most of that was normal transition stuff. The first week I wasn't back into classes yet, so I minimized my schedule - drop off sometime after 8 and I picked her up by 1 or 2 every day. She was part-time, going Monday through Wednesday. We both survived the first week.

The second week, my classes began. My classes start at 8 every day, so I needed to drop her off as early as possible, which is 7:00. The first morning we bound in bright and early, and I realize the drop-off routine is different. Her caregiver is not there, and noone is in her room. Instead, she is supposed to be dropped off in the room next door, the Toddler Room. To a strange person whose name I don't know.

I had no idea to ask about such things. They say they open at 7, that you can drop off as early as 7. I guess I just assumed what happened at 8 happened at 7. No, wrong assumption.

So I'm handing her off to not only a stranger, but a different stranger than the one she spends the day with. And at this point there's not a damn thing I can do about it, because my class schedule is set. And I am Running Late.

I did adjust her schedule to be Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, since her caregiver's day off is Tuesday. That was another thing I forgot to ask about, and found out the first week. So she had someone totally different in the room every Tuesday. Her caregiver is now in early on Wednesday and Thursday, so it has become an issue only on Monday mornings.

So I've convinced myself to still love the place.

They started doing some of the "programming". Each week there is a theme, and they have books and activites around the theme. Most weeks the caregiver writes lesson plans for the week and I get a pdf in email with planned activities, some of which they actually do. There are fingerpainted hearts and red and blue fish (for Dr. Seuss week) hanging on the wall, and I have her first handprint in finger paint on my fridge from Valentine's Day. Another caregiver was added to the room after she came back from maternity leave, and she gets Wee One to eat really well when she feeds her, so she won a place in my heart. They go outside twice a day on nice days, so she is being introduced to outside activity, which is important to me.

Paying for it was a struggle for a while. During Open Enrollment for my benefits last year, I decided to put some money into a Dependent Care account. I couldn't afford to put much in from each paycheck, so it wouldn't be nearly enough to cover a year's worth of daycare. But it was somsething. I thought the account would work like my FSA - all of the money you plan to deposit for the year is available immediately from my FSA at the start of the year. I thought I could spend all of what I was putting into Dependent Care on the cost for Spring semester, then maybe teach a summer class online and save that money to pay for the cost for Fall Semester. I thought I'd pay for half of January and then apply immediately for reimbursement, and maybe I would get it in time to pay for the rest of January. Then I'd be in this great cycle where I'd pay the next two weeks with the reimbursed amount from the previous two weeks .... Only ... only the amount you have paid in is available to you for reimbursement. So I paid $367.50, and got $50 back because that's all that was deducted from that paycheck. Two weeks later I paid $367.50 and got $50 back.

Money was TIGHT for the first couple of months, until I got my taxes. That's not their fault at all, except for the steep price tag that caused the stress on my budget to begin with.

So after a rocky start with the scheduling, and the money, I feel like we're on an even keel. She's stopped crying when I drop her off, even to the woman she only sees for an hour on Monday morning. She's started napping really great, and they've been feeding her the center's prepared lunch since she's started on table food. And they've only thrown away one cloth diaper :)

Two weeks ago, on a Monday night, Wee One and I come home from work and go to Nan's. Mom asks me if its possible for me to take Wee One to daycare the next day, even though it isn't a normal daycare day, because she has something she wants to do and she doesn't want to take Wee One. The daycare does have "drop in" care for registered families. Wee One went one other Friday when I had a faculty meeting, so I didn't think it would be a problem. It was right at 6 pm when we were having this discussion, so I just called and left a message at the Center asking them to call me if it would be a problem. On the way the next morning, I got a call that said that I couldn't bring her, that they didn't have room. It was Spring Break for the local school system, so a number of caregivers were off that week. And apparently the director and/or assistant director didn't feel like filling in. That was the day Wee One went to college, and it didn't work out all that well.

There's pros and cons to the whole thing. I love that she's close to where I work. She's 4 blocks away from campus. It was wonderful when I was nursing her every day at lunchtime. Now, the benefit is that the majority of my commute I spend with her, singing songs from music class and talking about the new arena they are building. If she went to the church daycare in our town, the majority of my commute would be after I drop her off. Much less fun. Last Friday I needed drop-in care and they said "sure, that will be fine", so apparently it was only an issue the week that they were low on staff.

I will say, they have worked with her extensively, to get her adjusted, to get her to eat, to get her to sleep. Thursday morning when I walked in and she saw her caregiver, she held her arms out and went right to her, and I was dismissed. Both of the caregivers in her room have commented on how far she's come in a couple of months and how well she is doing.

So that brings us to where I am right now. I'm "off" this summer, except that I'm not. I'm teaching two online classes to try to make money to pay for expensive daycare and other Wee One (and Mommie) expenses. I've told them that I plan to take her out of daycare in the summer, which several of their parents do who are teachers. So her last day will be sometime toward the end of May. I haven't yet asked if they will prorate that month's cost if she isn't there the full month. If they say yes, May 20th will be her last day. If they say no, then by god she's staying through the end of May. More days that I can sleep!

In order to keep a spot for her for fall, I need to go ahead and pay the registration fee to get her back on the waiting list for fall. Do I go ahead and pay it and put her on a waiting list thinking that I might not be sending her back there?

Or I might, because I do kindof really love it. Deep down. Past the part where I'm confused and concerned.

Then I start thinking about summer work. I'm going to have to try to work on my online classes while keeping her tiny hands from pulling any more keys off the laptop keyboard than she already has. What if I take her two days a week? That will keep her "used to" daycare. That will give me one day a week to do school stuff and one day a week to clean the house. But I was looking forward to the whole summer together with her, doesn't the two-day-a-week idea go against that? And I was looking forward to not having to pay for regular daycare during the summer. Even two days a week is still pretty pricey. Maybe just do periodic drop-in care to get a day to work on stuff - and hope its a day they say "sure" and not "no"?

I spoke with them Thursday morning and they are willing to let me do drop-in care once a week. We can pick a consistent day, and if there is an issue, we can plan on another day if needed. It will be $35 a day, which is definitely do-able in my budget with the income from the online classes. I like the idea that she will still be in daycare one day a week, so she will continue to be used to the experience. I like the idea that I'll have one day a week to do work stuff and won't feel stressed out (like I can sometimes get!).

But they will still consider her to be "disenrolled" for the summer, so I still have to pay the registration fee to put her on the waiting list for a spot for the fall. Which I currently feel inclined to do, but ...

The only other option I would really consider is the church daycare that my mom is a fan of. If I had any time in my day I could drop by and visit. Maybe I should try to do that tomorrow (between the faculty meeting and giving two makeup exams and cleaning my house for my mom's Pampered Chef party.)

I need to decide this weekend. I guess I'll pray about it. Like God cares what daycare Wee One goes to.

An update: I wrote most of this post Wednesday evening, edited it Thursday and scheduled it to post the following morning. Meanwhile, my mom went to an event Wednesday evening and spoke with the assistant director of the church daycare, who is very interested in talking with me. Its either a sign from god or something to complicate my decision.

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