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Nanny? Or Daycare?

by The Next Family March 02, 2011

By: Stacey Ellis

daycare or nanny?

The phone rang at 5:45 AM. It was our nanny calling in sick for the fifth, yes fifth, time in two weeks. When we decided up to adopt, we started visiting daycares knowing that we would both be working parents. At the time I worked at a TV/movie studio which had an amazing daycare managed by Bright Horizons. We checked out other Bright Horizon-managed daycares and all of them were just as amazing. There are several in our area. The one closest to my office is very nice, but expensive and small with a little outdoor play area. The one at UCLA is brand-new and definitely the Rolls Royce of daycares. It is gorgeous, with a huge outdoor area and sparkly clean rooms. But neither of us are UCLA alumni who get preference there. Then there’s the other one that is midway between my home and office…it’s just as beautiful as the others.

The problem with all of them was there were no openings. We were on a waiting list and the list was LONG and siblings had preference at each one. We checked into some other daycares and we weren’t quite as comfortable with them – they were nice, just not as nice – but they too had waitlists. Apparently a lot of people were having a lot of babies!

So when we got the call that there was a baby for us to adopt, we had to think –quickly. On the plane ride home, I had an epiphany. Our housekeeper has four lovely boys age six to fifteen. She was a legal immigrant from Mexico and she only cleaned our house – it was not her profession. She was struggling as a waitress and her husband is a mostly unemployed plumber. The economic crash definitely had been hard on them. I thought, huh, what if she was our nanny? She gets steady income and we get someone who we know has raised four happy, healthy, educated, polite children. We thought we’d see how she acted with our daughter.

As expected, when she met our daughter she was instantly in love. You can’t teach a nanny to love your daughter. But we saw it in her eyes the first second our nanny saw our baby girl. She had always wanted a girl and she gleamed with delight when holding her. She came and watched me change her diaper and within ten minutes, gave me five tips. They were little things like, reach your hand through her arm sleeve and pull her hand through instead of pushing it through the sleeve. And she showed me how to put the diaper slightly higher in the back to prevent blow-outs. We felt like she was not our fallback option, but our best option. My husband was talking with our nanny’s husband in the other room and I was talking with her and we both had casually asked if she had any interest in being a nanny. Both she and her husband eagerly said she was interested. We told her we’d put some salary numbers together and discuss with her the following week. I only had one month in paid maternity leave so the following week we sat down with her and gave her the salary. She accepted and we were on our way.

We told her at the beginning that this arrangement was only until we could get into daycare. We wanted an out just in case it didn’t work out and we didn’t want to offend her as she and her husband had become almost like family. But as the weeks went on, we didn’t care to check in with the daycares. We loved the one-on-one attention and tender, loving care our daughter received. We loved that our daughter got out for a walk every day. And I must admit, we loved that our house was clean five days a week, not just one! Dishes were done. Laundry was done. Our house, with two huge labradors, was spotless all week long. This arrangement was perfect. I didn’t have to dress our daughter, make bottles, pack her bag, and run out the door with her in a panic by 6:30 every morning. Mornings were for daddy and daughter time until our nanny arrived at 7:45 AM. And we had her leave at 4:15 when I arrived home so I had my alone time with her.

Being a working parent is incredibly hard but with our nanny there, it seemed like everything was in place. Then, in January, she was out sick. We gave her six paid sick days because we felt like we didn’t want her to show up sick and get our daughter sick. We’d rather her stay home. Those two days I worked from home. My husband, who always works from home, and I “juggled” our daughter back and forth between conference calls and emails. Then two weeks ago, our nanny was out for two days because her youngest son was sick. That was the week my husband was out of town on business. I was panicked and thrown into a tizzy.

I am only 12 weeks into my new job and it is INSANE. My husband wasn’t there to help. So I resorted to the “emergency daycare” that my employer offers 25 days a year. We call in the morning and ask for a daycare arrangement and the service calls us back if there is an opening. It’s not an automatic thing…we have to pray that someone who has their child in daycare calls in and says their child isn’t attending that day. The first day I got her in to the Bright Horizons near my office. The second day, I still didn’t have a place by 7:30 AM so I took her with me to work knowing I was gambling that the daycare would be closer to my office than home. Otherwise, it would have been “take your daughter to work day”. She’s five months now so she’s not just sleeping all day but it was the best I could do with conference calls all day. And brilliant me – I didn’t even think to bring the pack-n-play. Just as I pulled in the lot, the phone rang and sure enough, I got her into the Bright Horizon-managed daycare about two miles away. Whew. We had visited all of them so we knew that they were good facilities.

All was fine. Then last week, our nanny was out sick three more times…in a row. She didn’t want to go to the doctor the first day she felt sick because she doesn’t have health insurance. We were frustrated to say the least because every morning we would wait until at least 8:30 AM to hear whether we could get our daughter placed at a daycare. We had our daughter in three different daycares in two weeks, and you know, despite the morning panic, once she was settled, it was nice. It was nice that I didn’t have to race out of my office at the stroke of 3PM to get home before the nanny leaves. (I have an hour commute in the afternoon.) It was nice that she had other kids to play with. Every day we got highlights from the day like, our daughter “was sitting next to Benjamin and reached over and grabbed his hand and smiled” or “loved playing in the mirror tent.” I met some other moms, which was also nice. And now, I felt left out.

I wanted that mommy interaction. I wanted my daughter to make friends and be engaged with other kids. Granted, she’s five months old, how “engaged” is she really going to be? She’s alert and active, but really, that doesn’t truly matter until she’s mobile; and she’s not crawling…yet. Still, I started realizing that at the very least, the daycare doesn’t call in sick. But on the other hand, if our daughter is sick, she can’t go to daycare and someone would have to be home with her. Either way, with a nanny or with daycare, at some point, we won’t win. It’s just not perfect.

Then when I picked up my daughter from the final place last Friday, the manager of the daycare told me there was an opening. The daycare just got a call that week that one infant was dropping out. Argh. There it is, an offer. We were not even the next ones on the wait list but the staff loved our daughter so much they were offering us a spot, the spot we desperately needed when she was born. But it would come at a price – $300 more a month than what we pay our nanny PLUS another $400 for a separate housekeeper (once a week). Yep, we have lots of dog hair. Could we swing another $700 a month? That’s more than $8,000 a year. That could be private school, summer camp, trips to see her grandparents, a down payment on a college education. Is having no morning panic worth $8,000? We decided we’d wait until Monday to see if our nanny calls in sick again…

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