Before I had a kid I thought of taking care of my kid and having someone else care for my kid as a binary. Like I would be able to leave my child and then, for the time he was being cared for by the nanny or sitter or daycare or preschool, go about my life and work without a second thought, the same way a person with no children might. And maybe some people (generalizing but: men) can do this, or maybe everyone can do it at times – make their children mentally not exist. I remember, very early in Raffi’s life, my therapist telling me that the goal was to have an hour every day when I didn’t think about him.
Today is Raffi’s last day at his first daycare. Next week we’re on spring break and then the week after that he’ll start preschool. He’s starting much earlier than we’d anticipated but he has really outgrown his daycare, where he’s the oldest and by far the most rambunctious of a group of kids that includes at least one baby who can’t even walk yet. We had been so happy with this daycare, which is two blocks from our apartment, that we had been in denial about how untenable the situation was for kind of a while, and then the denial caught up to us and we ended up leaving in much more of a hurry than anyone would have liked. It sucks. I have absolutely no doubt that we are making the right decision, but it still sucks. I’m trying to think of a single instance, in my pre-parenthood life, when I had to make a hard decision that couldn’t result in an immediate positive outcome for anyone concerned, and I’m drawing a blank. Breakups, I guess. It does feel like one. Money is involved, and time, and logistics, and feelings. Another thing I hadn’t thought about much as a non-parent: that paying someone to care for your child – literally, paying someone to have or to convincingly feign the emotional state that enables someone to summon the patience and skill necessary to attend to the physical and emotional needs of your child – places everyone concerned in a vulnerable and deeply weird position. As a culture, we don’t think or talk about this very much because it’s excruciating. The weirdness and vulnerability only comes to our attention when we’re in it, or when something goes horribly wrong.
I have been continuously mentally chiding myself for not getting any work done this week, except the bare minimum amount of work I need to do to teach my class – an especially galling failure because, technically speaking, I’m supposed to turn in a revised draft of my book next week. Why can’t I compartmentalize – why have I allowed this stuff to loom so large in my mind that all I can do is think and talk about it with other mothers, the only ones who understand? But finally this morning the realization dawned on me that if I were the kind of person who was capable of that kind of compartmentalization, I would probably be in some other line of work. I am a professional feelings-haver.
I’m beyond lucky that someone else sometimes takes care of my child while I’m busy having feelings and while I’m busy doing work. At the same time, I am poignantly aware that I am one of the very few people this system is working for, to the extent that it works for anyone. And if it sucks for me, it’s frightening to think about how much it must suck for everyone who’s on the other side of it.
note re: switching from Tinyletter to Substack — you might have noticed that people are doing this! It’s because Tinyletter will eventually be subsumed into Mailchimp and I wanted to get ahead of whatever that will be like. Substack also offers the opportunity to do paid newsletters and I might experiment with that if I ever decide that I can commit to a regular publishing schedule.