Sunday, October 18, 2009

To Preschool, or not to Preschool?

Will this topic ever end? There is a small part of me that envies stay-at-home moms right now since they don't have to deal with hiring nannies, finding family members to cover for the nannies when they are sick or otherwise occupied, dropping their kids off at daycare every morning, getting them ready and out the door to go somewhere to be watched for the day....etc...etc... (The majority of me is thankful to have a part-time job that helps me maintain my own identity and balance in life.)

This issue got stirred up the other day when my neighborhood mom friend Sara came over with her son Aaron for a mini half-hour playdate. She's on sabbatical from work for 6 weeks and needs to figure out what to do with Aaron now that her husband switched jobs and doesn't work from home anymore. This translates into them needing coverage for 45 hours instead of 25 or 30 since he could be more flexible, which kind of prices them out of the market for a nanny. She started researching Preschools to see what options she has.

Aaron, like Ada, is almost 2 now which seems to complicate things a bit more. I never really gave thought to the issue of the cost of child care for an infant versus a toddler. Sara enlightened me that it is WAY cheaper to have child care for a toddler since they are easier to take care of and a facility can handle more toddlers per adult. For an infant, it's expensive and a nanny can be a comparable option. Having family down the street or friends that are willing to volunteer their time is another awesome option. Who knew that taking care of a child can strangle a family's finances?

Whenever I bring up how much I've paid nannies in the past or for Ada's stint in daycare, my friend in Iowa, who runs a home daycare, is so shocked that she offers to drive three hours to my house everyday to take care of Ada. Turns out that I've paid three or four times what she charges in her small town. That's the cost of living adjustment when you are in the city I guess. Maybe it's just our part of town and the daycares know they can get the wealthy folks to pony up the big bucks. I don't consider myself "wealthy folk" and am therefore, constantly re-evaluating our options.

Since Sara stopped by and started this conversation, I got all jittery again because, as always happens, my friend who is watching Ada for us now, is pregnant and due early March. She already has a 2-year-old little boy and we have to discuss options going forward now that she'll have an infant on her hands too. If she is willing to keep watching Ada, that's great... but is that the best thing for Ada and for our family budget? And what happens when we have another child? Then what the heck do we do? I don't want to pay for a nanny and a preschool as that would really break the momma's piggy bank. Oh the stress involved is just so overwhelming sometimes. I can't emphasize enough how thankful I am to a friend that told me from the beginning, "Just try to worry about childcare six months at a time. Beyond that, you have no control and need to keep your options open." It's some of the best, and most honest, advice I've received.

Then there is the whole issue of preschool. As far as I can tell, there are preschools that are also daycares and the words are interchangeable. And the Chicago Public School system has preschools available to four-year-olds, and three-year-olds get put on an waiting list to be admitted if they have room. Those are only while the school year is in session I think. And they are still a paid program, but maybe at a reduced level? Clearly I have a ton of research to do on all of this stuff.

To complicated things even further, Ada is a December birthday which means she misses the CPS cutoff enrollment date of September 1st, which will, when she finally starts school, mean that she will be one of the oldest kids in her class. I hear that's a benefit for her if she goes on to play sports since she'll be one of the more developed kids than her younger counterparts and can go on to greatness -- which is assumed already since it's really likely she'll be 6 feet tall and her aunt Heather played volleyball for Cornell. (Can you say "scholarship"?) Not that I'm going to be all pushy sports mom, but I surely won't discourage any glimmer of interest in sports from my child. And don't act all shocked when you see basketballs, volleyballs, and soccer balls on her Christmas list either.

Moral of the story: Having kids means having a lot of homework and hours of research. Don't think that just because you have a degree in this, that or something else that you automatically qualify to be a good parent. It's a full-time gig and you really can't skip classes.

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