Posted by: Hannah | 09/16/2011

it’s not the kids, stupid

When I tell people that I run a dayhome, they invariably get a panicked look on their face at the very thought. And then they ask how many kids I look after. And when I tell them they start hyperventilating.

They do this because they assume that having up to six kids in the house at any one time must be something like every single Godzilla movie ever, crossed with a Roland Emmerich opus about global warming and a post-American-Thanksgiving-style shopping riot at Macy’s.

No one ever thinks that the worst part about this job is not the kids.

But it isn’t.

Even on days like yesterday, when I’m sick and everyone has a runny nose and The Baby whines all day long for no reason, just because he likes the sound it makes, and Thing #1 comes home from school cranky & irritable and even the dog seems out of sorts, the kids are the best part of my job.

The worst part is the uncertainty.

Two months ago, this was my roster:

– four year old full time, with a space already reserved for him to come before & after school next fall, and his new baby brother or sister to start full time next October

– The Baby full time, dropping to three days a week in the fall for the foreseeable future

– almost three year old full time, pretty much until he goes to school

– niece three days a week

– new baby probably starting in December, full time

And then things started changing.

The parents of the four year old sat down and realized suddenly that hey, when she’s on maternity leave her income will be 55% of what it is now! And they have no money! And stuff! So they want to pull him out altogether come December, and hope that I have space in the fall for the arrangements we’ve already made. I’ve offered them two days a week to fill out the space that my niece never uses, but they keep telling me in great, gory detail all of their money problems (while signing the kiddo up for hockey, the most expensive extra-curricular activity ever, except maybe skydiving) so I’m not counting on that.

The dad of The Baby put his foot down and said he wasn’t spending any more money on child care for him, what with his mother being home all day with their new baby and socializing? playtime with other kids? mommy not going stark raving crazy? WHATEVER WOMAN, I AM NOT CANCELLING MY GYM MEMBERSHIP FOR THIS. (Their idea of 30 days’ notice, by the way, was to just… go on vacation suddenly, and then stop coming. I tracked them down and had to be a hard-ass. We negotiated 30 days’ notice at two days a week, because I figured half a loaf was better than none).

The mom of the three year old is a substitute teacher, and there is a huge surplus of teachers in this province, so she isn’t getting any work. The lunches she packs for her little guy every day are getting sparser and sparser. I supplement his meals with extra stuff and I’m happy to do it, because I sympathize with the position she’s in – she has to have full time care because she never knows when she’ll get called to work. But I’m concerned that this can’t go on and he’s probably another client who will bite the dust.

The niece I expect will keep coming here forever, which is fine, although the days with her are VERY long – she gets dropped off by 7:15AM and is here until 6PM. Fortunately she loves hubby to a totally unreasoning level and he likes the attention so I do get a bit of help with the early & late bits when I’m trying to get my kids ready for the day in the morning, and then when I’m trying to make dinner in the evenings.

And then… the possible new baby in December. Oy. This all started back in June. I was out walking the herd one day when a very nice man in a very expensive car pulled up beside us and asked if I took in kids. Turns out his wife’s maternity leave ends in December and they’d been trying for months to find an available spot for their son. I told him on the spot that I wouldn’t know until the fall, and that they would need a backup plan in place for early January, when my baby arrives.

Then I kept bumping into him on my walks. Then it turned out he was one of the coaches for Thing #1’s Little League division. Twice a week every week for the whole summer he asked if I’d have space. And finally, I did.

I made an appointment to interview his wife. I asked her to come during the workday first, so she could get an idea of how things roll around here. I’ve found that works best for the initial meet. She agreed. And came without her son, which I found extremely strange – every parent I’ve ever interviewed brings their baby, so they can see how we all interact together.

She didn’t like that I have to close if I or one of my children is sick (it’s only happened twice in the past year, and I always issue refunds for those days). She didn’t like it that I’m closed on holidays but still charge for those days (hell, I don’t charge vacation pay, suck it up). She didn’t like it that I don’t provide lunch.

And she really, really didn’t like that I would be taking one week off when the baby comes.

The conversation went something like this:

Me: “Right off the bat, we must discuss what the plan is when this baby arrives. Now, I’m due January 6th, but we all know how reliable due dates can be. It’s always a good idea to have a Plan B when in a dayhome situation anyway, but please make sure that you do have a backup ready to go, because once I go into labour you will need to implement that. My husband is taking three months of parental leave, so you needn’t worry about the level of care & attention your child will have once I reopen.”

Her: “So you’re closing when you have the baby?”

Me: “Well, yes. I don’t anticipate any significant problems but you know it takes a few days to recover!” (smiling, using an “all us moms together” tone)

Her: “That doesn’t seem very effective to me. I mean, you won’t be giving any notice! What are your other clients doing?”

Me: (getting a bad vibe) “They all have plans in place.”

Her: “I would think you’d want to try and make it easier for clients, since you’re offering a service.”

Me: “Well, we are doing what we can to minimize the disruption. And after all, it’s not like you can schedule labour!” (laughing slightly, still trying to get this woman to see reason)

Her: “You can schedule c-sections. Did you consider that?”

Me: jaw drops, hits floor, faint from shock

Needless to say, her son will not be coming here in December. I would have taken her on as a client despite my misgivings because I’ve only been at this a year and I don’t have a waiting list of clients beating down my door… but she made it a point of telling me that if not for the “uncertainty” of January that I’d have had the job. Well, yay.

I get lots of calls from people who want minimal commitment, despite the fact that my ad says full time only. This is because scheduling part-time is very difficult, and the weirder the schedule the harder it is to accommodate. One mom wanted Tuesdays & Wednesdays all day one week, Monday & Tuesday afternoons the next week, alternating. Another mom wanted 2:30 – 6:30 Thursdays only, and got all snippy with me because I close at 5:30.

I’ve had questions about what I do with the preschoolers to get them ready for school. (For the record, we read, we practice letters and counting, we have a weather board and a days of the week board, and I get them to practice writing their names. But I’m not a qualified early childhood educator and have never pretended to be).

I’ve had people assume that the opening & closing hours don’t apply to them. I’ve had people show up an hour early for drop off. I’ve had people decide to keep their child home and not call. I’ve had people tell me their keeping their child home, only to call by 10AM and say they’ve changed their minds and can they bring the child after all.

I have people who bolt for their cars without even taking the time to tell me if the child had a good night’s sleep, and people who like to linger in the doorway chit-chatting about their financial problems (while they get later and later for work, I might add).

And people wonder why I say that wrangling the children is actually the easiest part of my day!



  1. People. Seriously. So are you going to just go ahead and schedule that c-section? *rolls eyes*

  2. Wow. I can’t believe anyone, much less a fellow mother, would tell someone how they should have a baby (especially as it’s obviously not out of health concern, but because they think the birth will inconvenience them). And even if you had a c-section, you’d still need time to recuperate. Ridiculous.

    Also, out of curiosity, how do you deal with parents who do things like show up an hour early? I’d be tempted not the answer the door, but I’m too nice and would just let them in.

    • I let them in. Even if they come way too early and I’m still braless and in my pajamas. ESPECIALLY if I’m braless and in my pajamas. I tell them they need to not do that again in case I’m not ready to pay full attention to their kid. And eventually, they take the hint. Usually. It certainly happens less now than it did in the early days.

  3. I can’t deal with other mothers on the playground, so i would never be able to do what you do darlin. 🙂

  4. I think we may have discovered why this family has been looking for a dayhome or care provider for so long.

  5. Dayum. Frankly, I like children far better than I like grown-ups, on the whole.

  6. Holy crow, what a nutbar. You’re lucky not to have her! CRAZY.

    I can’t believe you’re only giving yourself a week! My daycare lady gives herself two weeks vacation every year, and she hired a helper so she could stay away another two.

  7. That woman is obviously in for a shock if she wants a home-care situation. Your rules sound pretty much like all of the other home-care places I looked at. Unfortunately, the uncertainty of them closing or going on vacation with only a month notice is what didn’t work for me (I had to schedule vacation a year in advance at my work). We didn’t have people in the area for back-up so I ended up quitting my job and became what I am. I have to admire you for your work. I can imaging that it could be stressful on many levels.

  8. I often say that to interviewing parents. “I can deal with just about any child. Parents? Well, they’re much more set in their ways.” It usually gets a laugh, as I intend it to… but I’m serious, too.

    If someone showed unannounced up an hour early — an entire hour?! — I would not open the door. Seriously. I just wouldn’t. Who shows up an hour early without asking first? Good lord.

    I give my parents six months’ to a year notice for my holidays, so they have NOTHING to complain about.

    And that woman’s nuts. Even if you did schedule a section, it takes way longer to recover from what is (hello!) MAJOR SURGERY than it does a standard vaginal birth. So instead of the scant week you’re taking (you angel, you), you’d need at least three. What a dope.

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