A colleague once told me, while I was in the midst of sharing some complaint about my kids’ former day care center, “Just wait until you get to elementary school.” A single mom juggling a full-time career and taking care of her daughter, she was often thrown off by unplanned closings, unexpected class trips, and other school surprises.
Her point, of course, was that public schools are not designed with the working parent in mind. The start and end times, holidays, and early dismissals all result in an ever-changing schedule that throws off the carefully constructed lineup of drop off, pick up, and after school, a significant challenge for any working parent.
I remember thinking that I didn’t completely get it; my frame of reference was the two day care centers my children had attended since they were each about 16 weeks old. We had drop off at 7:30 AM and pick up by 6 PM, with holidays that were set (except for snow days) a year in advance. The price of day care (especially for two) was insanely high, but it was convenient and helped us put together some semblance of work-life balance. I had a sense of foreboding after speaking with her, but her reality was a few years away for me, so it didn’t really sink it.
(A note about the cost of day care: it’s outrageous. What we pay for two children to attend a day care center is equivalent to the cost of some colleges. It’s an amount so high we have automatic bill pay, so I don’t have to write the check each month—it makes me a little sick to do so. I don’t tally up the annual cost until tax time, and that usually results in a bout of hysterical laughing/crying and wine drinking.)
So, here I am, years after that conversation, on the cusp of my son leaving the confines of day care for the unknown of elementary school. And, I think I get it. Or, at least, I’m starting to get it.
1. When my son starts kindergarten on September 3, there’s no after school care that first week. The other grades have it but not kindergarten. Why? I’m not sure, but it bet has something to do with the need for kindergarteners to “transition.” My counterpoint to that “logic” is that the kids going to after school have likely been in day care before, so a transition to a long day isn’t necessary. Plus, if you’re worried after school will be too much that first week, you can keep your kid home. The other families needing after school should have the option to send their kids.
2. The first week of school for kindergarteners is a series of half days instead of the full day of school they are supposed to have. The other grades have full days that first week. Why not kindergarten? I suspect it’s the same reason as for #1, which I find so frustrating (and stupid).
3. School starts at 8:30 AM—with no before school care. That gives me 30 minutes after dropping off my son to drive into downtown Boston in order to be at work at 9 AM. Impossible. (I’ve heard you can drop off at 8:15 AM, but that’s still cutting it too close.)
The dismantling of my carefully constructed infrastructure to manage my family and career is what’s causing me the most anxiety about my son starting kindergarten. I’m bewildered that he’s old enough for kindergarten, too, but that’s going to be most of life, right? I’ll be struck by how quickly my children reach different milestones.
What continually shocks me is that our society doesn’t support working families more by providing the services we need to work and to raise our kids—in an affordable and thoughtful way. I recognize that I’m lucky in so many ways: I can afford the insane cost of day care, I had the choice between working and staying home, I have this blog to vent my frustrations, and I have support if things go awry. So many others don’t.
We’ll figure it all out; we have it. In a month or so, we’ll have a new plan and we’ll all be adjusted to it. But that doesn’t make any of this easier now.