Wednesday, January 2, 2008

More or less work?

Today I took my kids to the park; Wednesday is my day off from work. Alice, Sam, and I met their friend Karlee and her babysitter at Douglas Park. Karlee's mom had called that morning to ask if we could meet Karlee at the park because this was a brand-new babysitter. Karlee's mom was in a pinch at work; preschool is closed and her work was unexpectedly busy, so she had to track down a sitter at the last minute.

I'm going to be in the same pinch on Friday. Ryan was suppsed to stay home with the kids because their school is closed but today he called me on my cell and said, "I have to work on Friday. There's a storm coming through!" He's on a project that requires collecting data on a river when it's raining and "the storm of the season" is hitting in the next few days. I'm on deadline at work so I can't stay home on Friday, but I think we've tracked down Sam's former nanny, maybe, possibly. Errr! Work!

Back to Douglas Park: When Karlee's mom left us all and the unfamiliar babysitter at the park, Karlee grasped onto her mom's leg. And when mom departed, Karlee burst into tears. Within five minutes she was fine, and she played with Alice while Sam made friends with another little boy in the sand box. But the "mom at work" idea didn't entirely disappear.

Alice and Karlee didn't play princess. They didn't play kitties. They didn't swing on the swings or slide down the slides. Rather, they played "work." Alice's office was in one part of the play structure, and Karlee's another. They each picked areas of the playground for their homes. And they traveled back and forth between their offices, where they pretended to work at computers, and home, where they made dinner and went to bed. It wasn't cute. It was pathetic. What have I created? I thought.

When Alice was three months old, I returned to work full-time. For the most part, I enjoy my job and what I do as an editor. I'm the working sort of mom who needs time away from her kids. It's not so much about the adult interaction for me; it's about the solitary time in front of the computer. I need alone time when I'm focused on something, ideally words, or else I get really grumpy. Plus, our family depends on my income. My salary pays for preschool and food while Ryan takes care of our mortgage and other home expenses.

About a year and a half ago, I was able to switch from five to four days a week. Alice was 3 years old and Sam was about 2 years old, and one day I just realized that my kids were irresistably cute and fun and I needed to spend more time with them. And that's when "Mommy Wednesdays" started. I love my Wednesdays at home. The kids and I go to the park, Coyote Point, the Randall Museum, the Musem of Modern Art. We bake cakes, paint pictures, pull weeds in the backyard. While Sam naps, I often take a nap, which annoys Alice who has never been much of a napper. They're fun, relaxed days that I cherish and adore.

If Alice goes to private school, I'll probably have to switch my 75 percent schedule back to full-time to help make ends meet. But if Alice gets into public school, I can keep my reduced hours and a part of me even daydreams of a part-time schedule. I would love to pick Alice up from school every day, especially for the first year and especially if she's in an immersion program. If Alice is in Chinese or Spanish immersion, I think she'd appreciate me picking her up in the afternoon. I imagine that she'll be exhausted, and probably quite irritated the first few weeks.

If Alice goes to public school and I'm working less, I'll also have more time to volunteer at the school. I'll have more time to clean the house. And more time to balance my checkbook. I'll have more time to cook fabulous family dinners. And I'll be available for my kids over the school holidays. And I might even have a little time for me. Imagine that?


  1. I have your same schedule. My son is in K (public -- non-immersion) and in an after school program four days a week. I love being able to pick him up from school on my day off. I wish I could do it more often but at least being there once a week is better than not at all. Sometimes I can touch base with his teacher for a few minutes and I just get a better first hand understanding of his school day than on the days when I pick him up from aftercare several hours after school is let out. Just wanted to share how valuable I think it is to be able to be there if you can.

  2. Your post really resonated with me as well, and it is something that I discuss often with my friends. For "normals" who could potentially deal with private school tuition, but only at a sacrifice of other things, going the public route, especially after 4.5++ years of paying for full time child care, can feel like actually getting PAID $20K+ a year.

    Because I have worked full time pretty much non-stop since my first child was 12 weeks old (with a couple months off after the birth of my second child, and a couple long vacations here and there), my family has been paying approximately $17,000 PER CHILD per year for full time child care - totalling $34,000/year (and preschool costs keep going up each year!). With the reasonable cost of afternoon programs for public school kids, sending my older child to public school would be like cutting at least $17,000 in expenses each year. We, being "normals" and all, could really do a lot with that money!

    That said, like you, we are applying both to private and to public, and we'll see how it goes. I'm glad you made this post -- it's well worth considering what the tradeoffs are for many/most of us!

  3. To pick up on one of your thoughts - I have found the volunteer work at school more rewarding than the work I do for my job (and I am well employed). I have heard other parents say the same thing.

  4. Every other working mother goes through the same tug-and-pull on a regular basis. I love my day off with the kids, but also love being a contributing (monetary) member of my family. I feel good knowing that the house, car, clothes, food and kid's education are paid for both by me and my husband. It is satisfying.

    I love the fact that my kids have a working mother as a role model (especially my daughter) even if it means less time to sit down on the floor and play with them. Soon, the kids will be in full time school, and for me, I don't think volunteering at their school (or in other places) would be fulfilling enough and certainly wouldn't pay enough. I think it is important, for me, to know that I didn't work so hard in college and graduate school with the ultimate goal of putting together a silent auction or a bake sale.

    That said, I do wish I could reconcile spending more time with my kids with my desire for being a woman with her own career. I don't think there are any easy answers and I suspect that both the working mothers and non-working mothers go through this constant struggle, which is not likely to end soon.

    I would work, whether or not I sent my kids to public or private school, because it means more to me than just getting a pay check. It is a value-added proposition. I contribute to my family as well as society, and will, hopefully, leave a legacy in my chosen field as well as with my kids.

  5. "volunteer at the school... clean the house... balance my checkbook... cook fabulous family dinners... be available for my kids over the school holidays..." I bet you'll find a way to do all these things even if you end up at a private school. Trust me, it IS harder when your school of choice challenges your budget, and I often have to leave out the "more time for me" part. But then again, it's not all about me... too late for that! And I do believe that it's the hard work -- whatever that is to you -- that pays off!

  6. Kate - I think it's lovely that your daughter and her friend played "work." It is good to let our daughters know that they can work and be a mom too, that their life choices are not limited to one or the other, and that it is fulfulling as well as fun (not all the time, but at least some of the time). You have clearly instilled in your daughter that you enjoy your work, otherwise she wouldn't have "played" at work.

  7. I actually agree with the previous poster (re: playing work). I enjoy my job and working hard and I really want my children to develop a strong work ethic. I would be happy if my daughter never played princess and it would make me giggle if I heard her talking about business trips and "important clients"

  8. My daughters used to hold silent auctions.... Talk about getting too consumed by your volunteer work. They sure had fun though -- more fun than I had.

    We are definitely our children's role models. I was just happy that they spoke soothingly to their dolls and never snapped, "Get your coat on, now!" They seem to remember the good and forgive the bad or mundane. They need something for later, in therapy.

  9. Fair warning for those of you who haven't heard this: your child's entrance into Kindergarten WILL change your life. The change in routine (especially if you have other children) -- the drop-off and pick-up after school -- really impacts the routine families have established before entering Kindergarten.
    In our case, we are in an "up-and-coming" public school that really needs more parent involvement. There's Back To School Night, Community Meetings, Science Night, Movie Night, Chevy’s Night, Pasta Pomodoro Night, PTA meetings, School Site Council meetings, any other committees you might like to join (greening, art, grants, you name it...)... the school can really suck you in. It's hard to say no to all the things you can do to make the school better.
    A friend recommended during our school search that you should only include schools on your list that you don't mind "going to" often (the drive/transportation/walk to school, the campus, etc), because YOU SPEND SO MUCH TIME YOURSELF AT THE SCHOOL, that it's actually an important ingredient to consider when choosing your schools.
    So in thinking about "more or less work" and how it's going to impact your time and life next year, take my advice: be prepared for the changes ahead!

  10. I cannot agree more that you need to factor in travel/distance when creating your list of schools. You are going to be going back and forth to that school twice a day for six+ years, so you'd better like the journey! I spend so much time at our public school that I end up carrying my laptop with me all the time and squeezing a few hours of work in at the local coffee shop in between volunteer responsibilities. It's easier and much more efficient than going back and forth multiple times a day.

  11. Wow! I'm a public school parent and I really don't spend all that much time at school. I'm a room parent and work on the auction and that's about it. In past years I've volunteered an hour a week in my child's classroom. But I would not consider it a full-time job.

    I love the fact that I can do as much or little as I can fit in. It's worth asking on school tours though whether the school you're looking at is one where "a few parents do all the work" or whether it's more of a "many hands make light work" community.

  12. The bottom line is the public school education is better, and the sense of warmth and community (esp. if you can do your neighborhood school) is fantastic. You can contribute and/or volunteer as much or as little as you like with public school.

  13. Public education is better. Wow - that was easy.