Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Child Care Woes: A Tale in Two Acts

First, a story that happened last week. While LL was off at Natasha's on Thursday, I ran an errand in the morning and then returned home to work. As I turned onto my street, a little girl stepped off the sidewalk towards my car. I quickly stopped the car, and she returned to the sidewalk. She was about two years old, and standing there completely alone. I didn't recognize her, but one of my neighbors runs a home daycare, so I guessed that she had "escaped" from there. I slowly pulled into my driveway, got out of the car, and looked around. By this point, the little girl was three houses away from the daycare, and continuing to walk further away. I looked towards the daycare, but couldn't see anyone outside that could be quickly flagged down, so I walked over to get the little girl, before she got hurt. By the time I caught up with her, she was at the end of the block, about to cross the street and enter the intersection. I took her hand, pointed back to the daycare, and asked her if that was where she belonged. She nodded, so I told her that we were going to walk back there together, and I guided her back down the street. Along the way, I asked her name: Lila.

When we got to the home with the daycare, I noticed that there were several children in the front yard, and a woman I didn't recognize was standing on the lawn, helping a child with his jacket. I know C, the woman who runs the daycare, and I've met her assistant on a few occasions. The week before, C had mentioned to me that the daycare was expanding, and that she had hired a second assistant, apparently the woman standing on the lawn. I walked up to her with Lila, and asked, "Is this one of your children?" She glanced up, nodded, then returned to the jacket. I waited for her to say something else (for instance, "Hey, who are you, and what are you doing holding hands with one of the children that I'm responsible for?") and when she didn't say anything else, I volunteered that I had found Lila all alone, at the end of the street, more than a block away, about to cross the street by herself, after nearly stepping in front of my car moments earlier. She sighed, yelled "Lila, get back onto the porch!", then shrugged at me and returned once again to the jacket.

I found this awfully disturbing. The woman clearly had not noticed that one of her charges had wandered off. And given how slowly Lila was walking, and how far away she was, she had clearly been gone for several minutes. And when all of this was brought to the woman's attention, she seemed completely unconcerned. That evening, after the daycare was closed for the day, I saw C out in the yard and I went to talk to her. I told her the whole story, expecting her to be upset? concerned? outraged? that her assistant had paid so little attention. Instead, C said, "Oh, I guess I should talk to Lila's parents and have them tell her that she shouldn't wander off."

Blaming the two-year-old? Interesting.

I told C that I wasn't recounting the story so that she could discipline the little girl. I was telling her the story because it seemed to me that maybe she should be aware that her new assistant didn't notice that a child had gone missing. To which C responded, "Oh no, she's a good teacher. It's just that two-year-olds like to wander away. We would have found her when we got to the park." (Note: the park is 4-5 blocks away, on the other side of a major busy street.) She then concluded with this: "You don't understand, because LL is still young, but you'll see, when LL gets a little older, he'll just wander away." I like to think that he'll be watched closely enough that he won't get hit by a car, but apparently I'm just naive, because I'm a new parent.

Ever since this incident, I've been congratulating myself on my excellent decision to not send LL to this daycare, even though it would be really really convenient. I had a bad feeling about it when I visited... it felt just a little too chaotic for me. Now I think that the pit in my stomach was totally confirmed. Thank goodness I found Natasha's daycare, with its excellent references and very few children and wonderful care. It was so hard trusting a stranger to watch LL, and it took me a long time to relax enough about him being with her that I was actually able to focus while I was at work.

Right on the heels of this disturbing incident: my second bullet point about child care. Natasha had another family emergency come up in Russia, and she's leaving the country (again) for a month, if not longer. Back in February, Natasha's father passed away unexpectedly, and she closed the daycare for a month while she went home to help her mother. Today, she got news that her mother was in a horrible car accident, and is now in a coma. The doctors aren't giving Natasha very much information over the phone, but they have no idea whether she's going to live, or pass away, or remain in the coma for an indefinite amount of time. So, Natasha is (completely understandably) flying to Russia to be with her mother.

I feel terrible for Natasha. She is the same age as me, and I can't imagine dealing with a tragedy like this after losing my father just seven months ago, especially while being so far away. But I'm also reeling with panic about how we're going to weather the daycare disruption. Last February, we hired Rosie to come two days a week, and I just took off three days each week for the whole month. It was less than ideal, but I had just returned to work and wasn't being productive yet anyway, so it just kind of worked. Now it's a different story. We still have Rosie two days each week, but I can't afford to take off three days every week for a month or more. Not if I hope to graduate, ever. S and I have backup care in place that can help for a day or two, because we know that things come up on occasion, but none of that does us any good when we're talking about several weeks at once.

Natasha has a friend, Piper, who has run a daycare in the past, and who is planning to come to Natasha's every day until she returns, so that the daycare doesn't shut down this time. I met Piper for the first time today, when I picked up LL, and I wasn't impressed. She was brusk. She wouldn't listen when I tried to tell her things, insisting that she already knew everything. Some of what she claimed to already know, she clearly didn't know. (For instance, when Natasha mentioned that she would show Piper how to put on LL's diaper, Piper acted offended and insisted that of course she knew about cloth diapers, and she wouldn't take instruction. When I got LL home, I found that she had put on his diaper incorrectly, and his shirt and shorts were soaked.) And when I asked her to tell me a bit about her experience, she changed the subject, going on and on about how important it was that I pick LL up on time every day, because Natasha might be understanding about late pick-ups, but Piper would not stand for it, and would absolutely be leaving on time every day. (Natasha interrupted to mention that I have never once been late, but Piper shrugged and said, "Well, I want to be sure, because it's very important.")

Natasha sent me a follow-up email, emphasizing how much she trusts Piper, but I'm leery. Not that I have a lot of options right now. And I just keep picturing little Lila wandering down the street by herself, away from the unconcerned assistant that C trusted completely. I don't have the time to shop around for new daycares, and LL is so happy at Natasha's that I want to be able to bring him back there when she returns. But the thought of leaving LL with a random stranger that I didn't get a warm and fuzzy feeling about leaves me sick to my stomach. Again. Blech.


  1. A 2 yr old walking off unnoticed from a daycare? And the incharge wanting to discipline the child? This isnt a daycare at all if you ask me.I am so glad you didnt entrust LL to them.

    I just hope that things straighten out for you and LL.

  2. What a horrible situation with that Day Care center in your neighborhood - I am astounded by the lack of care taken with those children - like the children should "know better" as infants/toddlers - that's terrible! You are so lucky you didn't put LL in that care center...I feel bad for the parents who did...and really don't know what's going on over there. That little girl could have gotten picked up by someone and taken or hit by a car! SHEESH!

    As for your situation...sorry about your sitter...that's so annoying, I'm sure. Do you have any local friends with a nanny/sitter who would do a part-time, short-term nanny-share with you? That may be a good option - because the nanny/sitter would already be a trusted care taker and it would only be a short-term situation for both of you.

  3. Oh my goodness. I cannot believe that a two year old walked off and no one cared. I am flabbergasted. As a FORMER DAYCARE TEACHER. Who taught a room full of seventeen two year olds and NEVER lost a single one. Is there some kind of authority you can call about this? Whoever gives them their license? I mean, I understand that things happen (my daycare had a kid fall down the stairs- he was fine and it was just one of those accidents) but they should have shown the proper horror and be taking steps to make sure that it never happens again. (We installed a hook to hold the door open so that the teacher didn't have to and could stand at the bottom of the stairs to help the children.)

    This is why I wish that everyone lived in my neighborhood. I'd be happy to be your temporary childcare.

  4. I had a couple of thoughts, but Jennifer and Jen already said what I was going to. Specifically, 1. the nanny-share option and 2. the licensing people.

    On 1, if no one you know has a nanny, do you know anyone who is home with their own kid(s) and might be willing to watch LL as well in exchange for the money you would otherwise pay Natasha? We have looked into both of these options in the past (though we didn't need to use it -- Ps sister has no job, so she was happy to watch Harry on the days in question). I hope you are able to figure out something that works for you.

    As for 2, the story is horrific enough that I'd probably call someone. Of course, she's going to figure out it was you who ratted her out. But that seems like a serious problem to me. Yikes.

  5. I was going to suggest a nanny share too - lots of people out there use a nanny for 2 or 3 days a week, so maybe you could ask around?

    When I found out I was pregnant with the twins, and realized I'd have to get a nanny, I asked anyone and everyone if they knew of a nannny they would recommend. I found an awesome one this way - and didn't have to deal with a nanny agency.

    And I would totally report that daycare. That is insane!

  6. Yes, report that daycare at once! The parents of those kids may have no idea their kids are at risk there.

  7. I am just sick over the Lila story. I was going to say what other people mentioned -- REPORT THEM! Unacceptable.


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