December 02, 2005

Freedom

The other day, I needed to leave the house to go pick up Boy in Black and Shaggy Hair Boy over at the high school. I yelled for With-a-Why and Neighbor Girl to get their coats and shoes on. With-a-Why looked at me and said, "I’m eleven now. I can babysit Neighbor Girl." That is when the realization hit me.

None of my children need babysitters any more.

I have been a parent for nineteen years. I have four children. I have a full-time job. When my children were small, Spouse worked a corporate job with very long hours and a rigid schedule. (He has since quit that job.) Like most academics married to non-academics, I shouldered the responsibility of childcare. So for the last nineteen years, every single time I've left the house, I've had to stop and figure out who was going to be watching my children. Every. Single. Time.

Not one of my four kids has ever been in any type of formal day care. Where I live, daycare options are fulltime, and you have to pay for 50 hours each week even if you don't need that much daycare. When my kids were small and I was teaching as an adjunct and editing for a non-profit, daycare would have cost far more than I was getting paid. So instead I've relied on family, friends, and neighbors.

I've brought children to class with me more times than I can count. I've carried a baby in a sling to meetings. I've memorized the locations of all the vending machines on campus so that I could bribe my kids into good behavior by giving them quarters. I've changed diapers in conference rooms. I've carried crayons and post-it notes in my teaching bag so that my kids could entertain themselves quietly. I've run meetings while breastfeeding a child.

None of my children need babysitters any more.

I've spent hours and hours on the telephone making arrangments for family members to babysit or pick up my kids. I've called my mother at 6:30 am to convince her to take a child who was vomiting. I spent years pumping breast milk so that I would always have bottles in the freezer to give to my mother or sister while they watched my child. I've carried a baby in a sling all day long at national conferences, nursing the baby during sessions. I've bribed committee chairs to schedule meetings that worked with my children’s schedules.

I used to drive all the way down to the valley to leave my two youngest kids with my sister in the days when she lived thirty minutes away. I have deliberately chosen to teach 8 am classes because the time slot worked with my kids' schedules.

I've spend very little time at my office on campus. I have always graded papers at home, done my reading at home, and planned my classes at home – in the midst of a chaotic noisy household. I've written conference presentations, book reviews, and poems while simultaneously caring for a houseful of children.

None of my children need babysitters any more.

I no longer have to call my friends and make rash promises about how well-behaved my children will be if they take them for the day. I can drive to the store to buy a ream of paper without strapping children into seatbelts or getting a struggling toddler into a car seat. I no longer have to make desperate phone calls when a virus or cold goes through the family.

None of my children need babysitters any more.

I thought this day would never come.

31 comments:

Mona Buonanotte said...

Boy-child is turning 9 next week, and he informed me yesterday that the fun arcade place we were considering for his birthday was for 'little kids'. My heart cramped up at that because...well...he's right. I'm not ready for them to grow up....

jo(e) said...

Teenagers are fun, though, Mona. Especially when they have cool parents like you and Sergei.

The tough part is when they get old enough for college ....

listmaker said...

It's a freaky feeling, isn't it?

Rev Dr Mom said...

It is a cause for celebration, yet tinged with a bit of sadness, too, eh? (No more little kids!)

You are very fortunate to have had family and friends close by to share child care with you!

KathyR said...

We only have one kid and have recently arrived at the same thrilling/depressing conclusion. He can keep himself alive until we get home. We don't have to pay or beg someone to do it for us.

The only thing he can't do is drive. Yet. Thank goodness.

RageyOne said...

*smile* That day probably came much quicker than you expected. Before you know it they will all be out of the house...

timna said...

well, there's still this stage where they need a driver. and I think a most heart wrenching phone call for me was when my son called my office and said "it's ok, mom, Eric's dad can take me home" and I realized that I was so immersed in the task that I'd totally forgotten.

yes, we've been without babysitters for a couple of years now. isn't it strange?

reverendmother said...

You're my hero.

I'm sure that all of that pumping and arranging and juggling hasn't been easy. But how worth it. And you inspire me.

Rob Helpy-Chalk said...

19 years, and you lived through it! You prospered and grew strong! Wow.

Lisa V said...

Wow and here I thought it was great that the two oldest could babysit my two youngest. I never even considered that higher Nirvana. Only 7 more years.

jo(e) how long will you be a parent to children under 18 ? I will be for 28 years. By the time all 4 of my kids graduate from our beloved elementary I will have been there 17 years.

jo(e) said...

Lisa V: Well, I have seven more years so that will be 26 years altogether.

This is the last year that I will have a child in our little local elementary school. It's the school I went to -- and all my siblings -- so I have been going to concerts and such at that school since the early 1960s.

Yes, it is a mixed feeling. When the kids were little, it seemed like those days would last forever, and now it seems like they are just growing up so fast.

Leslee said...

Wow, just the other day my little Peanut told on her daddy that he left her home alone for 5 minutes to run to the store. I yelled at him, she's only 5 after all! I can't imagine actually leaving her home and being ok with it.

jo(e) said...

Leslee: My rule of thumb is eleven for daytime babysitting and twelve for night time. But only if the child is comfortable with it.

Anonymous said...

I have a 3 year old and a 5 month old. "One day..." I keep telling myself. But it will come too soon.

bitchphd said...

Wow, that's fantastic.

I was having a conversation with some colleagues recently about the "legal age" at which you can leave kids home alone, and I was all, "what? There's a legal age?" Weird.

Lilian said...

You know... this is an amazing post, and what I like about it is that it gives me hope. Hope that I can do it even having two young boys. (It even makes me want to have more babies, so I can have a baby in a sling all day long during a conference, for example :)

Really, I've been thinking a lot about these as I contemplate finding a job, and I like how you describe your academic life with your children.

But it is amazing indeed that children grow so fast, that time does fly...

purple_kangaroo said...

Wow, that's hard for me to even imagine at this point, but it must be a strange feeling.

Kathryn said...

It's extraordinary, isn't it....though oddly enough, the real milestone for us was when DarlingDaughter turned 14 and was thus officially Old Enough to babysit her brothers...Never mind that TeenWonder has been the most mature member of our family practically since birth...
Now they, like yours, are all out of the babysitting zone, though 2 of them need taxi service (and all their friends inevitably live at least 20 miles away)Can't imagine the next stage...just don't want to. Homes should be noisy, chaotic and crammed with young life. Guess I'll have to consider fostering?

see-through faith said...

a milestone

:)

and like all milestones, bitter sweet. I'm with what Kathryn says here, we're on the taxiing stage now, and only 2½ years until TS starts borrowing the car.

I dont think I'll consider fostering though. Our dog will prob have puppies and I think - God willing - we'll be doting grandparents - and babysitters- one day too :)

Thanks Jo(e) for sharing this!

frog said...

jo(e), I posted a link to this entry in a feminist space where I post--you might get some referring links from there, but you won't be able to read what's said unless you're registered, so I thought I'd just give you a heads up that I posted the link in a thread where we're discussing balancing family/kids and work life. I thought your post was a great example of the Village concept that I've been talking about there.

Scrivener said...

Congratulations on having made it through, but before you get all celebratory about how you won't have to worry about babysitting any more, remember that you have 19 years worth of promising everyone in town to reciprocate someday for them, right? So isn't it time for you to start babysitting everyone else's little bra ... uh, precious children?

jo(e) said...

Sure, Scrivener. Why do you think Neighbor Girl is at my house after school every day?

Most of my return favors happen during the summer, when I'm home and everyone's kids come to my house. And on weekends as well, since many of the people in this community have to work weekends. Spouse and I are lucky to have jobs that give us weekends off.

Bad Alice said...

All I can say is it's awesome that you breastfed while running a meeting.

Congratulations on this turning point!

Psycho Kitty said...

I can't imagine the day coming but I also imagine it will come too soon...

MoMedusa said...

ditto, psycho kitty.
I'll celebrate and sob on that day.

Storm Front said...

It's liberating and makes you wistful all at the same time. Sometimes I look at J and wish we could have had children together but then I realize my own kids are 21 and almost 24 and I come to my senses. I don't want to start over, but I really did (and still do) enjoy them through every stage.

Viva la freedom! (or something like that!)

Woman said...

Take a deep breath because soon your children and nieces and nephews will have children and you will get to babysit them.

Running2Ks said...

Congratulations. Wow! What a realization.

halloweenlover said...

Jo(e), you're my inspiration! Can you write out a detailed plan of action that I can keep for when I have kids? How exactly do you bribe neighbors and colleagues?

I declare that you will never be allowed to leave the blogosphere. I need your advice and posts too much.

Congratulations on the milestone.

Rana said...

I'm finding reading the comments as interesting as your initial post, jo(e). What's particularly intriguing to me is that you, and most of the commenters here (who seem to be parents) are noting the milestone of your children's (and yours as a parent) development -- while what struck me most was what a strong network of friends and family you had to support you through all those years. I'm impressed, and not a little envious, as one of the things that scares me most about the idea of parenting is the reality that I'll probably be doing so much of it alone, even if D. is actively involved in the process. My family and friends are too physically spread out for that kind of thing.

As I said, I envy you that, hard though it may have been at the time.

jo(e) said...

Rana -- Yeah, it is a huge advantatge that I have lived in the same place my whole life, as has my husband. So we have so much family here and friends whom we've known since grade school. I really don't know how people raise kids without that kind of support.