Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Oh Oprah

I’ve been on leave from work for one year. I’m one of the lucky ones. Every time I bemoan the fact that I have to return in July, another mother trumps me.

“I had to go back after four months.”
“Two months.”
“Six weeks.”

On Friday I visited a daycare people in town had raved about. I dressed my son in his best clothes. Prepared a list of questions to ask. Wore lipgloss.

I was unprepared for what I saw. Toys and empty bottles littered the floor. The dank room was windowless. The furniture was ragged, at best. A beautiful baby boy sat in a swing in the corner. A little girl in pink, with a barrette on top of her head, was writhing on her stomach on the dirty linoleum, precariously close to a metal chair. A woman in her late thirties with long black hair who looked like she despised children was feeding another baby girl. She did not speak, smile, or make eye contact.

The room monitor, a girl who couldn’t have been more than 18, asked if she could hold my son; she wanted to see how he interacted with strangers. He didn’t cry, he just sat there as she launched into her speech about the personal attention every child receives. I asked if I could pick up the little girl now crying on the floor. She laughed and said yes; the irony of her previous statement was lost.

I didn’t hear the rest of what she said. Instead I bit my tongue so I wouldn’t cry. I wanted to take all those children home with me.

I still haven’t found childcare. When I’m home with my son, kissing him and making him laugh, I look at the clock. If it’s noon or two o’clock—an hour I will soon be at work—I think, Soon I won’t be able to do this. Every night I calculate the hours I’ll be away from him and how I can make it up. I think about sick time and vacation time and holidays and tell myself that it won’t be five days a week every week.

I also think about ways I can make money at night, after my husband gets home from work. I tell him I’ll waitress, work retail, anything! Then he reminds me that I have my Masters. That we need the money to pay bills, replace windows, buy food. I suggest selling the house, canceling cable, growing our own food. I won’t buy new clothes. I won’t drive anywhere.

“That doesn’t sound like much of a life.” He’s right.

“What if I write to Oprah?” I ask him. “Maybe she’ll find my cause worthy and pay our mortgage?”

“Call her.”

But I don’t. In a world of poverty, disease, war, and global warming, a wanna-be stay-at-home mom would be a gnat on her radar screen.

Websites and studies that extol the evils of daycare make me ill. Don’t they understand? I know no one loves my son like I do.

I know.

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