Dear Lily June,
We can’t afford daycare. According to a recent article in The Huffington Post, our family isn’t all that unique in this aspect as, in some states, childcare is more expensive than college tuition. I wish it could say that it provided me some solace to know we’re not alone, but with all due respect to humanity, I don’t worry at night at what’s happening to other families’ children. I worry about you.
We couldn’t afford to have you until your father and I were in our thirties. We are not lazy people by any means: We worked our way up from lower to lower-middle-class families to attend college, work full-time jobs in the process, and both earn Master’s degrees in our field. Your father went on to teach at the college level while I left teaching to work as an academic secretary. When we were both graduate students, we worked multiple jobs to pay off our own wedding. If and when the time comes, we will pick up second jobs to pay for the necessities you need.
But we never could have afforded the medical expenses alone if your Granny Gramma Alison hadn’t retired when she did and hadn’t had the kindness of heart and generosity of spirit to share her retirement package between her sons, your dad and your Uncle Bryce. We still, at the time I’m writing this, owe over $4,000 in hospital expenses incurred with the additional complications of delivery. You, my darling dear, are worth every penny, and then trillions more.
But it means we have nothing left–between our college loan debt and medical debt and car loan debt and rent and groceries and utilities and and and–to send you to daycare. And so our arrangement goes like this:
I work from 7:30am to 4:30pm everyday, answering phones, emails, pleas of desperation from those with graduate degrees and no common sense whatsoever, as a secretary at a midwestern university. In other words, I spend nine hours a day, or forty-five hours a week, trudging through sludge. Every second I don’t spend with you is spent in one of two ways: Trying hard not to think of you so that my eyes stay dry, my arms aren’t longingly reaching out for a baby whose smile is miles away or reaching out to strangle those who would keep me from her–colleagues, co-workers, clients, students, etc.–and my paperwork gets completed in more ways than my just doodling your face all over it.
OR I’m trying hard to pretend I am with you, which means staring into your cherubic 2D face on my desk, trying to will the photograph to come alive a la Take On Me style, but without creepy motorbike racers with wrenches (if we’re lucky).
At precisely 4:30pm each day, I make that dream a reality, rushing out of my office fast enough to leave streams of cartoon cloud behind me, with my pen still spinning a few revolutions on its own before it drops to the desk. I race down the steps like an animal let loose from a cage, and I pounce to the parking lot, where your father meets me outside of our car to give me “The Lily Report.” We talk about precipitation (in your diaper), landslides (in your diaper), and potential disasters (including, but not limited to, in your diaper).
And then your dad rushes in to do his own duty (not like the kind in your diaper), teaching from 5:00-7:45pm every night the lessons he spent prepping all day while he was a furious tornado of grading and Mr. Mom-ing at home while I was gallivanting around at work.
Between roughly 4:45 and 7:25pm, you participate in the greatest spectator sport alive: watching Mommy clean. I sweep through the apartment like Pig Pen, swirling dander and dust in my wake, trying to pick up as much as I can, wash and make bottles, change diapers, scrub dishes, toilets, tiles (on a good day not accidentally with the same implement), Windex windows and screens, vacuum floors, mats, rugs, etc. If I’m successful in whipping through the list like a bat out of a very clean hell, we get, if we’re lucky, a sustained hour or so of playtime, where I flop you on the bedroom bed and juggle, letting your marine time bathtoys slap me in the face to make you giggle.
But then we’re back in the car to pick up your dad, and if we’re lucky, the two of us get just enough time to snuggle with you over a Doctor Who (Doctor Who?!) before we bathe, feed, change, and tuck you in the for the night. While it’s an exhausting pattern for us, I worry it’s even worse for you. Is your brain atrophying over one too many iterations of “The Itsy Bitsy Spider,” crooned by a mother with a Swiffer sweeper in one hand, and a Mr. Clean magic eraser in the other? Are you developing all the future social skills of a Unibomber, tucking your adorably plump cheeks behind a baby hoodie and planning to drop bombs (no diaper jokes, I swear) on the establishment?
Is your stuffed “My First Godzilla” actually wreaking havoc on your brain cells, stomping out your ability to learn and interact as we place you in your Pack & Play to have one too many conversations with him and not us?
More than a nightmare that your plush toy has gained autonomy and now will exact his revenge for one too many slobbery drops landing in his open, train-car-chewing mouth, this is what keeps me up at night: all the advantages you’re being denied because your mommy and daddy can’t dump you off with the other children whose parents love them enough to put their development in the hands of trained professionals.
I try to think of the benefits. You’re not introduced to stranger danger as your life currently and literally revolves around two people. I don’t have to plant a Nanny cam I can’t afford in a teddy bear I can barely afford to catch a Nanny I could never afford stealing the diamonds I’d never even care to afford.
You’re not introduced to a cocktail of germs and diseases, from an endless plague of ear infections to an outbreak of baby bird flu. (Is this harming your immunities, though? Should I rub a dirty tissue on your face every now and then, just to keep up with the Joneses’ measles?)
You’re not subjected to the kinds of crappy daycare establishments that park a pooper by an open window so that at least the smell problem is solved. You won’t know abandonment, you won’t know competition (yet), you won’t know negligence (other than your parents’), you won’t know other parents’ mean kids. You’ll only know the love, love, love, love, love of your own (s)mother and father.
And yet. You won’t know other peoples’ nice kids, either. You won’t know standard routines and custom-tailored lesson plans and specially designed stories and songs. You won’t know interactions and why sharing equals caring. We won’t get to see you in PreK plays, dressed as an infant cow and singing your vegan school teacher’s homemade ukulele ditty about how meat is murder. (Dark as it is, you’d look so cute dancing a macabre mambo into a cardboard slaughterhouse.)
This is why, Lily, I generally live for the weekends. This is why I throw you up on my lap at every available opportunity (between laundry and shopping and and and) in order to read you stories from your Curious George treasury doing a weird imitation of a male baritone for the man in the Yellow Hat.
And this is why, when I hear you cry in your crib because your dad and I have let a little cold wind in when we come back from the porch, I practically trip over my own feet to fetch you, set you under our special blanket, and hold you, my baby, my snuggle buddy, my darling dearest Lily. I know that it isn’t enough. I know you’ll have a lifetime of loss for all the things I’ll be forced, by financial constraints alone, to deny you. But for now, Lily, it’s all I have. It’s free and so freeing to me. As I ask you far too often to do in these letters, Lily, forgive me. I will keep buying your love, for all the time it lasts, in hugs. And that’s all the daycare–and nightcare–we can, these belt-tightening days, afford.
- “Bundesarchiv Bild 183-37156-0001, Beentz, Erntekindergartengruppe” by Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-37156-0001 / CC-BY-SA 3.0. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 de via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bundesarchiv_Bild_183-37156-0001,_Beentz,_Erntekindergartengruppe.jpg#/media/File:Bundesarchiv_Bild_183-37156-0001,_Beentz,_Erntekindergartengruppe.jpg
- “Mr mom poster”. Via Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Mr_mom_poster.jpg#/media/File:Mr_mom_poster.jpg
- “Rubber Duck (8374802487)” by Eva Rinaldi from Sydney Australia – Rubber DuckUploaded by russavia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rubber_Duck_(8374802487).jpg#/media/File:Rubber_Duck_(8374802487).jpg
- “Curious George” by Source (WP:NFCC#4). Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Curious_George.png#/media/File:Curious_George.png