You Don't Know How Valuable Preschool Is Until You Don't Have It

About five minutes into my class Wednesday, my cell phone rang. I silenced it right away, but recognized the number as the kids' day care. And I knew right away what it was: The Pip has had a bit of a cough for a while, and wasn't all that happy that morning. Sure enough, when I got back to my office there was a series of emails waiting for me between Kate and the director of the JCC pre-school program, about how The Pip was just feverish enough to need to be sent home.

Wednesday was a particularly inauspicious day for this, as Kate had a court argument in Rochester on Thursday, and I have a Thursday lab. And "sent home with a fever" means at least 24 hours away from day care. So I was already going to be outnumbered that night, always a rough situation, and then all day with a sick Pip. (Who, as it turned out, was not particularly sick-- I never needed to give him ibuprofen or anything, and he was his usual cheerful, active self. Which always seems to happen when they get sent home.)

A bit of scrambling failed to turn up any enthusiastic volunteers to cover my Thursday lab, and The Pip is uneasy about strangers, so dumping him on an unfamiliar babysitter is not a good plan. As a result, I ended up canceling Thursday's lab. We'll do an abbreviated version of the lab in class today, and there was a built-in "catch-up" day later in the term, so we won't lose any content. It was awkward and stressful, but I have the flexibility to do that, so it basically worked out.

The whole thing reminded me, though, of this Reihan Salam article on universal preschool. He looks at the somewhat ambiguous social science research (but I repeat myself...) on the benefits of universal preschool for children, but then argues that it's still a Good Thing because of the benefit to parents. Having somebody to watch your kid(s) during the day opens a lot of additional options-- for a second source of income, further education, or just general parental sanity. Whether it encourages the sort of beneficial individual changes in the kids that proponents claim, universal preschool would be an enormous boost to their families.

This is something that's easy to forget, or take for granted in the income bracket where we reside. We pay a whole bunch of money to have day care for the kids, but we've been doing that for as long as we've had them, so it just becomes part of the background. Until the dreaded "he's got a fever" phone call throws everything out of whack. But as disruptive as losing day care for a day is to us, it's nothing compared to the effect of not having it to begin with. And again, the disruption to me was pretty minimal, because I have the kind of comfortable white-collar job where I can shuffle my work around more or less as I see fit; if I were punching a clock somewhere, things would be much worse.

So, there's your work-life juggling item for the week, and another "Yes, this" regarding Salam's general point. Preschool/ day care, like health care, is something we really ought to be making generally available, for a whole host of reasons.

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In my case, I am the in-town grandparent who gets the kid up and takes him to half-day pre-school, picks him up and takes him to my house until my daughter picks him up. (Dad has 1.5 hour commute). My wife and I tag-team so either of us can get work done.
My wife and I worked opposite hours forever so we could avoid daycare. We are pleased how things turned out.
You are exactly correct to point out that sometimes you get "The Middle Class Blues", an old Martin Mull song.

My husband got hired at the last minute to teach a chemistry section at the local community college, because, as it turned out, the instructor they had lined up couldn't find daycare (probably looking for a babysitter for 1.5 days/week) for her kids. Yay for us, but sucks for society in general (and possibly her family in particular) when families have to make those kinds of decisions.

By marciepooh (not verified) on 21 Jan 2014 #permalink