Friday, April 17, 2009

Daycare Wars

I'm a planner by nature. I'm proud to say that I planned my whole wedding, from proposal to "I do," in exactly five months and five days. I enjoyed obsessing over the minutia - deciding precisely which texture of chocolate brown paper to use for the programs and placecards, what shade of red best complimented the crisp tablecloths, and exactly how to place the favor bags to ensure that they would lie properly at each place setting. When I was a little girl, I would lock myself in my bedroom and rearrange furniture when I was upset. In short - I was born organized.

In early 2008, my husband and I decided to start trying to get pregnant toward the end of the year, after we'd had a full 12 months of blissfully married domesticity. In keeping with my fastidious (some would say obsessive-compulsive) personality, I began preparing myself a full six months prior to baby-makin' time. Prenatal vitamins were popped daily. All of my (much beloved) toxic beauty products were tossed and replaced with fetus-friendly substitutes. Conventional fruits and vegetables were forgone in favor of their organic counterparts. Cloth diaper varieties were meticulously researched. Baby product reviews were read; brands were evaluated and cross-referenced for safety. Basically, I lost my mind.

At last, I emerged at the dawn of 2009, newly pregnant and ready to contentedly gestate until August, knowing that I had done all I can to prepare for LOOL's arrival. Until one day, when I realized that I had neglected one crucial question in my zealous planning - who will take care of the baby when I go back to work?

Mind you, it's not like I hadn't thought about it. Happy, nurturing Mary Poppins-esque nannies had occasionally drifted in and out of the transom of my mind, most of which was occupied contemplating BPA-free bottles, nontoxic hardwood cribs and naturally-dyed organic cotton onesies. Perhaps I assumed (stupidly) that I would simply pawn the baby off on my grandchild-eager mother-in-law when I returned to the office. Alternatively, my husband and I had discussed the possibilty of him working from home a couple of days a week - maybe I thought we would simply hire in-home help for the remaining days to supplement. Ultimately, I have no idea what the hell I was thinking, because about a month ago I recognized a crucial and terrifying fact: finding a good daycare is the Mommy Olympics.

I came to this realization when I finally pulled my head out of the foggy first-trimester fatigue in which I'd been floating for three months and began to investigate local childcare options, operating on the principle that it never hurts to have a back-up plan, should the put-mother-in-law-to-work thing fall through. I'm in the television industry, and my massive studio is generous enough to provide a children's center for its lucky employees. For a hefty monthly fee, you can rest assured that your kid is cared for by top-notch professionals and engaged in stimulating, brain-developing, Mensa-worthy play, as evidenced by a mythical live video feed they are said to provide, allowing parents to snoop freely on their child's daily activities without leaving the comfort of their offices. I'd heard of this magical place, where happy babies roam freely under the watchful eye of caring, CPR-certified teachers, and parents are strongly encouraged to visit their little puddings throughout the day, helping to both ease their yuppie guilt and remind their children that mom n' dad don't entirely drop off the face of the planet between the hours of 9 and 6pm.

Yes, the Children's Center is a beacon of good childcare - a shining pillar of responsible parenting. It also happens to have a two to three year waiting list. Hearing this, prospective mothers company-wide immediately begin to salivate with base, wanton need, much like all good Los Angelenos faced with an object of desire. A slot in the Children's Center is more exclusive than any movie premiere or sample sale, driving even the sanest women to immeasurable lengths.

At my company, it is very common for a newly pregnant woman to share the good news with two individuals - first Husband, then Children's Center Director. One woman, a friend of a friend, called the Center immediately after peeing on the stick, nabbing a spot on the holy list even before informing her husband of his impending little bundle. Yesterday I found myself cursing under my breath when I discovered that a new mother on the first floor of the building somehow had had the good fortune to have her new baby immediately placed in a coveted spot at the illustrious facility. "What the HELL?!? How did her kid get in there? She's not even six months! F___ that! Who the hell does she know?"

It's a ruthless, vicious game, one which I am not proud to play.

Pre-pregnancy, I wasn't too worried about childcare, mostly due to the fact that I was living vicariously though a good friend and co-worker of mine: she was due to give birth in February, and throughout her pregnancy, the Children's Center had repeatedly assured her that her child should be able to "get right in." Evidently, they like to take their three-month-olds at the beginning of each summer, which meant that her little one should simply waltz in and take his spot, like proverbial baby royalty.

Doesn't seem so tough to me, I thought, popping my prenatal and smearing on my organic sunblock. Ah, youthful optimism.

Turns out that my friend's baby came over six weeks early. When she called to inform the Children's Center, she was told that, unfortunately, they would no longer have a spot for him - he was now "too old" to gain a precious place in their June baby roster. This hideous declaration left my friend with a premature newborn, a fading maternity leave, and - gasp! - no back-up plan!

Hearing this horror story, my vague, lackadaisical childcare plan was blown to smithereens. This almost certainly left my August baby spurned, rejected, left to roam daycare-less through the mean streets of Burbank! I had (stupidly) harbored hopes of simply pummeling down the Children's Center's door, charming them with my passion and persistence, and shooting to the top of the list in no time. Clearly, this was not to be.

One by one, the bitter realities hit me: My mother-in-law cannot be relied upon as our sole source of baby support! We cannot remotely afford an in-home nanny! And THE CHILDREN'S CENTER IS RUN BY NAZIS!

I had to act fast. At four months pregnant, my frantic search began. I became a daycare fiend. Googling maniacally, poring over Craig's List and harassing mommy friends for referrals, all the while self-flagellating: How could I leave this to the last minute?? What kind of mommy am I? My baby must not be left in the Los Angeles lack-of-daycare cold, by damn! I must find an appropriately trustworthy human to care for my child!

But - dear god - where??

And so began my quest. Over its course, I have discovered something remarkable. In this brave new world, people do not flinch when you tell them you are looking for care eight months in advance, nor do they think you're remotely insane for putting your unborn fetus on a waiting list. If anything, I felt that - at 20 weeks pregnant - I'd waited too long. When a co-worker whose wife is due three weeks after me recently bragged about all the daycares they'd toured, about the multitude of waiting lists they were on, I had to quell the urge to rise up and claw his face.

At long last, my fanatical search culminated in two other local daycares, both with waiting lists equivalent to the evil Children's Center, and another lovely little place - a Montessori school with, amazingly, no list at all. I toured the latter, expecting to find a veritable baby ghetto, a slophouse not up to waiting list quality, an infant crackden of pestilence and disease not worthy of mommy-lust.

Instead, I was pleased to discover a clean, safe place full of happy, smiling, non-ghetto-dwelling babies. I would share the name, but other pregnant locals could be reading this, in which case: TOO BAD, SUCKAS! Every baby for itself!

Between this facility and four other small, in-home places I found, I am feeling pretty good about my options these days. My sense of organizational self-worth has been rejuvenated. LOOL will not be left to fend for him/herself in a rat-filled crackden. I can once again wear my Good Mom hat with pride.

Future Mommies, heed my advice and beware - it's a daycare jungle out there.

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