Last Thursday, I sent Sophie to preschool even though she told me her pinky hurt, her earlobe hurt, and she was dizzy. I thought she was making it up — because who wouldn’t be suspicious when a four-year old announces, “My pinky hurts when I run.” It turns out, I was wrong to doubt her. It turns out, she was coming down with a fever that struck suddenly and severely at lunchtime.
I’ll just add that to the giant pile of mom-guilt I already carry around.
Halfway through the day, when I was teaching 70 miles away, I was called out of class to answer a phone-call from Soph’s preschool. I had already been 1 minute late to this class because I was pumping milk for Ev. It was only my second class meeting with these students. Ben works closer to home, so he’s the first one to call, but when he’s in the lab he can’t hear the phone ring. Our neighbor used to be our first go-to person for back-up childcare, but then she too got a full-time job outside her home.
Fortunately, last Thursday, it turned out that our lovely neighbor was home by the early afternoon, so the neighbor got Soph from school. But she was also cooking a fancy dinner for ten that night, so it wasn’t a great time to burden her with my childcare needs. Ben took off work early to help out.
When I finally did head home, I stopped at our town’s decadent bakery to get our neighbor some fancy deserts for her dinner-guests. “I’m so glad you’re still open,” I told them. “Actually, we’re closing,” the bakers said. But I explained my story and they took pity on me. Decadent bakeries must make much of their money from working moms engaging in the necessary non-cash economy of sugary gifts.
Fridays I work from home, so we had a nice calm day and Soph’s fever dissipated quickly. On Saturday Soph was well enough to go to a birthday party (briefly), and then on Sunday she spent all day at two different parties. I thought this sickness had passed.
Monday, though, Soph came home from preschool at 4:30 pm, walked straight to her bedroom, and was fast asleep for the night by 4:31 pm.
So I started calling around to see who could watch her on Tuesday. Clearly, she’s still sick. But Tuesdays and Thursdays are my teaching days. It’s a new semester and I didn’t want to miss this third class meeting. I just wrote all-new lectures this semester and I was really looking forward to challenging my students to think not just about George Washington, but also about his slave Harry Washington. In my 110-person intro-to-American-history lecture class, I have the most enthusiastic front row of students that I’ve ever had, in all my years of teaching, and I’m just starting to pull in the fourth row too. They ask great questions, they laugh & gasp & react at all the right moments in my lectures, and they linger after class to say, “That was AWESOME!” I don’t yet know what the back row is thinking, and rows 2 and 3 are actually disturbingly drowsy, but I have my techniques for pulling more kids in, and I’m really looking forward to seeing who else may eventually turn on to the front row’s enthusiasm. So I didn’t want to miss class. I’ll just add that to my tottering pile of mom-guilt.
Our childcare safety-net is a little like a hammock, loosely woven of lots of interlocking threads. I called all our sitters. I called a friend of a friend, whose email address is rentagranny. But that granny wasn’t available for rent this Tuesday. I texted friends, asking for the phone numbers of their part-time nannies. I heard that some high-schools didn’t have class this Tuesday, so I called all the families with high-school-age babysitters I could think of. Ordinarily, my backup childcare option is to send Soph to a friends’ house — but when she’s probably infectious, I don’t want to do that. I just kept calling, while also writing teaching notes, nursing a suddenly-poorly-sleeping-Ev, and dealing with dishes and laundry and everything else a working mom does every evening.
Finally, I posted on facebook, asking if anyone knew of a sitter for Tuesday.
But then the return-calls started coming in. A work-at-home friend volunteered to work from our home for half the day. Someone who had said she couldn’t babysit at all decided that she could sit for two hours. Ben could take off work two hours early. I could go in an hour or so late. Someone else volunteered her mother-in-law. Another mom said she might keep her also-sniffly daughter home, and might as well watch two toddlers instead of one. Even Ev’s daycare teacher, when I dropped Ev off, said that Soph is welcome to spend a mellow day with the babies, on days like this when she just looks peaked and exhausted but doesn’t seem actively infectious.
I am so lucky. I have a childcare safety-net. But I am always, always afraid that it might not keep coming together every time I need it.
Our childcare safety-net is an intricately woven hammock, and I am all too aware of the holes we could fall through.