In the last four months, I have become a full-time mom again. My daughter, who is two and a half, had been going to daycare for a year and a few months while I plugged away at University doing my masters and at home, growing my own business. We never had any issues in all this time, with my daughter regularly bounding into the daycare space, waving good-bye to me, and trotting off to hang out with her friends. There were never any tears from me or from her (though my mom shed a few).
My daughter loved her time at daycare, and so did I. I would go to class at the University or sit in a nearby coffeeshop cranking out blog articles for clients and papers for classes. I got to have “me” time and so did she, in a safe, caring environment where discipline means a time-out, playtime means make-believe and crafting sessions, and adventure means going to the park every day in the mammoth stroller used by the daycare owner and primary caregiver. I appreciated that she would be able to put all the kids into one big stroller with others strapped to her front and back, or (if things were busier) being pushed in a second stroller by the secondary caregiver. This second woman looks like and has the same gentle manner as my mother-in-law so I always felt comfortable bringing my daughter there and both women have become part of our family.
All of this came to a crashing halt in December when the daycare owner informed me that she had been visited by the regulatory office for childcare spaces and she would have to limit the number of kids cared for each day because she lacked an attached playground. Personally, I’ve never had an issue with this fact, and neither have any of the other parents. In fact, my daughter would often remark about how great it was that they got to go to the big park to play. Knowing how stir-crazy kids can get, I could imagine that it was also a welcome change in the routine daily to get them bundled up and outside in the fresh air. In other words, it has never been a problem.
But I suppose there are rules for these situations and a few bad experiences have ruined things for everyone. At first, we all thought it was a parent among us who had issued the complaint which meant that more than half of us suddenly found ourselves without childcare. As time has gone on though, the regulatory board has been regularly called to keep an eye on the location and the number of children being supervised. In the latest development, the daycare owner’s car was keyed and vandalized. I can’t say whether those two incidences are related, nor can I understand what kind of prejudice someone has against this woman who spends her days watching our children. There are rumours that it is someone who shares the office building and doesn’t like the noise, or wants to expand her office space. If this is the case, I have penned the following open letter to make it abundantly clear why attacking a childcare space unnecessarily is an attack on society…and by extension, I hope to show just how revolutionary these spaces and the people who run them are.
To the person who is targeting my childcare space,
I want to begin by saying that I am going to give you the benefit of the doubt. I want to believe that your heart is in the right place and you wouldn’t unknowingly complicate the lives of half a dozen families on purpose. I want to believe that you are genuinely concerned about how many children are being watched in our childcare space and that, for some reason unbeknownst to me, you feel that these children really need an attached playground even though the previous arrangement of a daily park visit was more than optimal for all children in attendance – not to mention the satisfaction of their parents.
Since I am choosing to trust that you know what you are doing, I want to make a few things abundantly clear to you. By prioritizing the arbitrary playground space over the number of children that can be watched in the daycare (the regulatory board itself said the rule is ludicrous and would have turned a blind eye), you have unknowingly set off a negative chain reaction that affects the health of us parents, our relationships, our studies, our businesses, our ability to participate in society and the economy and much more.
My daughter attended this daycare only part time, for a few hours a day. In those few hours, what was possible for me to accomplish is nearly limitless. I could complete vast amounts of work for my home business, could complete research for school projects, could exercise, could have quiet social time with a friend (which is very rare in my neck of the woods) could do necessary readings, could plan crucial community events and social justice work, and could do interviews with newspapers or television channels to raise awareness about key causes. Yes, in just a few hours (out of 24), I could do all of this and much, much more.
This is nothing compared to what my daughter could do in that time. She can play with her friends, eat a nutritious meal, pretend to be a superhero, engineer an epic train loop, paint a mural, read books, twirl in circles, go for an outing to the park or take a nap. She could be social, stimulated, excited and independent. And for my kid, that’s important because no matter what I plan for us to do together, she is a social butterfly and thrives in the company of other children.
But that was taken away from us and it can’t be replaced. As a grad student and small business owner with two employees, I can’t afford to pay full-time for traditional daycare spaces when I only need part-time hours. And no, I don’t want her there for 8 hours a day anyway. The fact that I could pay for what I needed in 15 minute increments was incredibly liberating for me, and was lucrative for the daycare owner too. She had enough change-over in the day that the kids always had someone fresh to play with and she could accommodate moms and dads who just wanted to go to yoga for an hour or get their shopping done in peace.
But that was taken away from us. And what it was replaced with is far less optimal. She doesn’t get her much-needed routine anymore as she is zipping to and from appointments with me. She doesn’t get the important social contact that she needs and craves (I recognize every child is different). She doesn’t get her independent time away from Mommy. She doesn’t get to tell me all the things she did while I was away, accomplishments she was proud of and excited to recite to me in a list every day.
But that was taken away from us. I can nearly hear my hair turning grey as I struggle to figure out who can watch my child so I can peck away at a computer for an hour, or devise insanely complex schemes of child sitting just so I can get my picture taken by a reporter for ten minutes. I have been staying up until the wee hours of the morning and rising earlier than before in an effort to cram more and more into the times when she is sleeping so I’m not constantly multi-tasking during her waking hours – because that’s not fair to her or me. I am exhausted. And have a lingering cold because of sleep deprivation. I can feel that I’m operating at half my brain capacity most of the time.
And a lot of people would say: “but you do too much. You should slow down.” To which I respond: says who? I love everything I do, whether it is spending time with my child, being an advocate for women, being an academic or writing for other businesses in the city. I love it all, except maybe my dishes. At an appointment with my counsellor recently, I told her I felt guilty about having so many things I love doing in my life that are outside of my family time. She responded abruptly and sharply, stating that it is rare enough in this world for people to love their work, their school and their community initiatives so when you are someone who loves all three, you have to make the world adapt to you, not the other way around. You have to hold onto that happiness and make it work. Because it can work: it just takes more time management than you would think.
But it can’t work for me, or for my daughter’s needs if her childcare space is forced to reduce capacity leaving me and a whole lot of other parents scrambling. It means we participate less in our communities and our society. It means we participate less in the economy. We have less money to spend and we might be forced to pay more for other spaces.
This is not even to mention the fact that the owner of this space can now barely keep her head above the red line financially, where she is locked into a lease in this building but can barely make subsistence wages because of low attendance. Or that she had to lay off secondary caregiver during an economic recession – a woman who is a mother of five children herself. It also says nothing about the people in our families and friend circles who we now lean on to help pick up the slack.
Shutting down the capabilities of a childcare center for arbitrary reasons is not the same as targeting an office space or a retail business. Childcare spaces have deep roots in a society and even if our children only play and learn there for a couple hours a day, that time is essential for their growth and ours too.
The next time you are looking to complicate things for whatever reasons and motivations you may have, I suggest you think about how many people you will have a negative impact on, particularly when it comes to childcare spaces. These spaces are essential for feminism because they offer guardians (regardless of their gender) a choice that they might otherwise not have.
One Tired Mama