Dispatch #31: My After School Problem
There's only so much time
When the academic year began, our family had no plans for after school. Bean was starting junior high and Mickey would be a very young four-year-old attending the same elementary school as Ginger. We didn’t know how school would go for anyone, and we weren’t about to wade into after school programs on top of everything else. Plus, my book had just come out. I was…distracted. (Still am.) And this would be the first time I’d have childcare for five days in a row in—ever? I must’ve assumed that having Mickey in school on Mondays would mean I wouldn’t need childcare after school.
I was wrong.
These first six or so weeks of school have been a bit of a mess for me, work-wise. For one, I was traveling for Time’s Mouth, and still doing little one-off publicity stuff that would take an hour here and there. As soon as I came up for air and decided it was time to write again, my Caltech class loomed on the horizon, and with this newsletter and a thousand and one parenting duties on top of that, I realized: There just isn’t time to do everything I need to do between the hours of 8 am and 2:30 pm (1:30 pm on Tuesdays). I have even started exercising before dawn AND I gave up social media to have more time, so you know things are dire.
There was another issue. I’d get Ginger and Mickey from elementary school at 2:37…and then we’d have to wait until Bean’s school let out at 3:30. By the time he walks to the park next to his school to meet us, it’s more like 3:42 pm. So, we have an hour to kill. An hour in the afternoon is perhaps the worst unit of time to kill with a girl who is almost eight and a boy who is four. It’s not enough time to go home, nor is it enough time to go somewhere fun that’s beyond the neighborhood. The kids are always hungry—but what they want is a sugary treat. They’re tired. Ginger is willing to go to the library to hang out and read, but Mickey hates it and will run around screeching in revolt. Neither minds the park but some days it’s so sunny that none of us want to be there that long, especially since we’re there five times a week. What ends up happening is that I pick them up and take them for, yep, that’s right, a sugary treat. At this point, Mickey bleeds Cherry Slurpee, and they’re both obsessed with frozen yogurt (because of the candy you can put on top). Once I got them Panda Express and felt pretty good considering the protein involved but then I realized how sugary that food was too and wanted to cry.
All of this costs too much money, and in a month their teeth will be rotting out of their heads. To make matters worse, when we pick up Bean he’s pissed that he missed the sweet snack and so I drive back to 7-11 (I go to a second location so as not to be shamed) and get him his Slurpee. (I also get manipulated in buying Ginger a tuna sandwich because I want to always support her interest in savory food.) Despite my writing bonafides, I cannot adequately describe how despairing I feel at 4:08 pm when we finally stumble through our front door. We’re all hot, they’re fighting, homework lies before us, and at least one person has announced, “You’re the worst mother in the world.”
My favorite thing to say when one of them tells me, “I wish you were dead,” is, “I wish I were dead, too.”
(And, look, if your kids are NOT verbally abusive toward you, and/or have never even tried a Slurpee? Congratulations and fuck off.)
This situation, along with my lack-of-time to write, has to change.
I refuse to enroll Mickey and Ginger in the free after school program. One, I don’t know if there are spots left. Two, you have to send your kid every day until 5:45 pm and that is just too long of a day for anyone if you can avoid it, especially a tiny TK tot. And, three, Mickey is too young to toss onto the blacktop for hours as a nineteen-year-old with fake eyelashes barely watches from afar. The two after school programs that cost money—one at the park where we pick up Bean—are full. Of course they are. Only jackasses wait until the end of September to sign up! (There is a fourth after school option that takes the kids on hikes around the area, but Mickey is too young for it and it’s the most expensive option; I refuse to pay that much for an after school program.)
Patrick and I decided we had to hire someone. Since Patrick was handling all of Bean’s knee-leg/walking issues (that’s another newsletter topic), and taking him to multiple doctor appointments, I said I’d find the sitter. Just for Ginger and Mickey; I’d figure out Bean’s after school situation later.
A fellow mom gave me the spreadsheet of sitters who attend Occidental College, but none have a schedule that fits ours. I did interview a girl named Princess (because her name is Princess!) but she couldn’t do Tuesday and that was the day I was really trying to find help for. It’s really tough to find someone who wants only like 6-8 hours a week. I get that! But I also felt like: There must be an aspiring actress/visual artist who wants this job!
I finally caved and signed up for a Care.com membership, except I got confused and accidentally got the premium annual membership for $150 (FML—and let me know if you want to use my account for a while…). I posted the job description. The sitters came rolling in.
The first two people I interviewed seemed pretty good. One’s a mother of four adult children whose done a lot of eldercare work. The other was a guy who teaches gardening at an LAUSD school and is going to get his masters in psychology next year. But the first candidate is going to be gone for a lot of October (when I really need help—I’ll be off writing for a week), and the second had bad availability…and his rate is $50 an hour for two kids.
FIFTY DOLLARS AN HOUR.
I told him I couldn’t afford that, and we ended the phone call amicably but quickly.
There was a third candidate who seemed more affordable, local, and available, but her profile photo weirded me out. It was a sort of sexy photo—come hither eyes, mouth parted just so. When we emailed I saw her full name. Because of that photo, I looked for and found her Instagram, which was nothin’ but thirst traps. Don’t get me wrong, that is fine and I don’t think it means anything bad about you or your child-watching abilities. It just seems…boring? I don’t want someone boring watching my kids! It also seems young and inexperienced to use that photo for a professional childcare job.
We now have a fourth candidate who is the most promising. We spoke on the phone and we got along well. The hours I’m asking for are doable for her and her rate is $28/hour for two kids. She has childcare and personal assistant experience, and she recently moved back to LA from Orange County (AKA Ginger’s favorite place). She’s coming over for an in-person meeting to see if it feels like a good fit. Her care.com photo looks so filtered she may be AI-generated but I am trying to hold back judgment until we meet.
(If she is a robot, should I not hire her? y or n)
If it works out, this sitter will get Ginger and Mickey three times a week from school. They can hang out around town, come home, etc. I will get Bean after four from the park or wherever he wants to meet. He has joined the Model UN so he has one after school activity, and we told him he can walk to Vidiots down the block from school if there’s a cool movie playing. He is old enough that he can figure out something to do three times a week after school.
All I want is to work until 4 pm. It sounds luxurious to have that extra time. I can feel my brain straining for it.
It’ll cost about $700 a month to make this happen. The cost of childcare is hard to stomach, even as I know it’s worth it, and certainly worth that person’s time, especially in an expensive city like LA. It’s also over half of what we paid for preschool, so we will still save money. And next year, when Mickey is a big boy kindergartener I will rush to sign him and Ginger up for one of the after school programs and we will save even more.
And yet. Patrick recently said that if he could quit his job and be a house husband he would. He’d happily exchange his career for a domestic life. He would get the kids after school and do cooking projects and errands and fix the house.
He didn’t mean to make me feel bad, but I felt bad. Like, if I didn’t want this fucking career we wouldn’t need to spend this $700. Right now, it’s definitely feeling like my writing is a hobby that must be paid for—rather than a career that pays for life. Writing a book takes a long time, and unless I sell it before I finish it (I won’t), I’m doing it on spec, for free. And even if/when I do sell it, I’m not expecting to make the kind of money I used to. It’ll make just enough to pay the babysitter.
Patrick gets agitated by this line of reasoning. He points out that I have made money from my work in the past, and that I will again (given the time), and that the money isn’t even the point. It’s clouding the purpose of all of this. I am a writer who must write. To be a person. And to be a mother.
He’s right. When I am not writing I’m crabby and resentful and depressed. I don’t have that other secret world to buoy and inspire me, a kind of magic that I bring to my regular life. I don’t know if my kids notice when I haven’t been writing, but Patrick does, and I sure do. If I get the time to work then I am happy to stop doing it to be with my children. It’s when I don’t have that time to work, or even the mental space to consider doing that work, that I get itchy. I am the worst mother. Here’s a Slurpee.
It sometimes hurts to know that what I feel driven to do offers little financial security, and requires so much time, and so much selfishness, and so much space away from mothering, even as mothering, in its requirement to nurture and bolster, to be patient, to balance a thousand demands and tasks and often conflicting needs, to open my heart and be vulnerable and tender and compassionate, makes me a better writer. They’re symbiotic. And also in competition.
And so, this year of TK and second and seventh grade, I will pay $700 a month for my two occupations to coexist.
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