Saturday, August 24, 2013

The other side of Opting-In: what's best for children?

When I read the New York Times cover story about how many stay-at-home  moms end up regretting that decision and wished they had continued to work, at least part time, I had the same reaction as journalist What is best for the children? She followed up with an article in Slate called The Day Care Dilemma where she explores whether putting children into daycare is good or bad for them. As a working mother, the article sounded like an emotional ride for her. It was for me too.

She found, not surprisingly, that it depends entirely on the quality of the daycare. She said:"One crucial factor is how caregivers interact with the kids. Are they responsive and sensitive? Do they get down on the floor with the children or are they always standing in the back, looking bored? Higher quality care also tends to have a higher ratio of adults per child, fewer children per group, and staff is typically more highly educated." I clicked through some of the links to confirm the following basic list:
  • How the caregivers interact with the children (on the floor, for example, or at a distance, are they warm? calm? respectful of the children's needs? do they use positive discipline instead of blaming? do they consistently interact verbally with the children?)
  • The teacher:child ratio -- you want fewer kids per teacher (this is part of licensing requirements; so, is pretty easy to check up on.)
  • The education of the caregivers (this one is more difficult because child caregivers are generally so poorly paid).
Here's how Melinda reacted to these findings: "My first instinct was to cry; my second was to attach a camera to my son’s shirt to see what his days were really like; my third was to get really, really pissed at our government for not doing more to ensure that U.S. child care is higher quality." I think there are obvious warning signs if your childcare is sub-par. My daughter has told me she loves one of her givers more than she loves me. Children do this, but, of course, it hurts my feelings. It is also a sign that she has bonded deeply with her caregiver which likely indicates strong positive interactions. You see a lot when you come and go with picking up and dropping off you child, and that's something to go on, but ultimately there's no way to know everything that happens in daycare.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

We opt in.

A SMC friend posted this article on fb: No Dad? No Problem. Meet the Moms Who Opt In Forever—and Aren’t Complaining. I really enjoyed reading it. The SMC group's philosophy bears re-printing:

The word “choice” in our title has two implications: we have made a serious and thoughtful decision to take on the responsibility of raising a child by ourselves, and we have chosen not to bring a child into a relationship that is not a satisfactory one.

My friends tell me that agreeing with another person on matters as huge as parenting is challenging. I don't envy them having to maintain a relationship with another adult in addition to everything either. I used to envy parents who had the luxury of "opting out" of work, but I also know that they are often making that sacrifice for their kids and their partner's career, which is a lot to do for other people. One of my sisters once figured out, after years being a stay-at-home mom, that if she went back to work she might make more money than her husband. She realized, with glee, that that would give her the option to leave him.

My experience is limited to the people I know. This article represents the perspectives a larger group of women. It struck me that choosing single motherhood appears to be an urban phenomenon, and not just for cultural reasons, also for logistical reasons. I imagine it becomes more difficult to stay connected with your community, and have your social needs met, if you live in low-concentration land use.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Sperm donor rights?

I listened with great interest for my lesbian and single-mother-by-choice friends who used donors to this morning's radio program, Forum: Should Sperm Donors Have Parental Rights?. The upshot appears to be that you must work with an experienced attorney to draw up your contract if you use a known donor, and you must abide the terms you describe in the contract for it to hold. Children have a right to know their biological heritage, and most people are honorable. But being a "daddy" takes more than a donation of DNA and/or money.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Frittata a.k.a. Pizza

We've been doing the 1-weekend potty training with the help of my mom. Maybe I'll have some insights on that, but for now I am just exhausted. Instead, I share with you a recipe:

"Pizza" (which is really a frittata)

I make this about once a week -- it's flexible (which, you will notice, I require), portable, and kid-friendly.

preheat oven to 350

1 to 2 cups of lightly-cooked vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, asparagus, carrot, kale and/or potato, chopped small and cooled. (I usually wash, chop, then cook in the microwave in a covered bowl with a little water ~ 2 minutes.)
1/2 onion diced, sauteed and cooled
several cloves of garlic, pressed
6 eggs
1/2 to 3/4 cup milk, cream or plain soymilk
1 cup grated cheese such as Parmesan, Gruyere, mozzarella, chevre (not grated, but cut into small chunks) and/or similar
salt and pepper to taste (keep in mind the saltiness of the cheese you used)
cooked bacon or sausage cut into small pieces

mix them all together and put them into a 9-inch pie pan
cook for 45 min to 1 hour, check for done-ness of the eggs in the center

A popular option for any meal

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

NYT: The Price of Urban Family Living

This NYT blog post brings up some interesting issues about raising a family in the city. Phan mentions the high costs of housing, childcare and food, but how she prioritizes raising her children in a culturally diverse location relatively near work over reducing these costs. A Berkeley native myself, I dispute the idea of Berkeley as "urban" -- it's a streetcar suburb like the one where I am raising my daughter in the southern end of the City of San Francisco. And costs are lower. But only a little bit.

Post Script:
I finally got around the clicking the link to the Family Budget Calculator. I too am rather surprised. Specifically, the rent, childcare and food all look very low.

Now, I am a very frugal person. I'm also a research-aholic, which is one reason I started this blog. As described in an earlier post, I checked every available childcare option. The very cheapest I ever found was $900, but the EPI is saying I should have found $720? It really depends on what you are looking for, but I feel confident saying that they should be reporting about double that.

You can probably find a studio apartment in San Francisco for $1795 but would you really live in one with your child.

Finally... food... and this is something I want to dedicate an entire post to exploring. You could probably spend $369 a month on food if you only ate beans and rice. Sure. That would be easy. When I first lived in the Mission, I was spending about $10/week on groceries. But I want my daughter eating good quality food. It costs more.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

What to do when fruits headed to the dark side...

We get a CSA vegetable box every two weeks. Sometimes I wish it came more, and sometimes I can't keep up with our produce. We love going to the farmers' market, but I don't trust myself to go consistently. So, the box comes with produce we must eat, and we eat a healthy diet of produce. Everyone wins.

A few days ago, I noticed I had let the fruit go a bit too long. I ate 3 nectarines, 1 peach and 2 large plums for dessert one night. I thought only protein was filling, but I didn't need to eat again for the entire next day. We still had two pears which were too far gone to eat raw but not completely rotten.

Here's what I did:
  • preheated oven to 350 degrees.
...and with the fruit:
  • I used an apple corer to slice the 2 mushy fruits into pieces, and
  • mixed them in a bowl with some sugar (about 2 tps).
  • Lemon juice, cinnamon, and/or vanilla extract can be nice to add -- I added a small dollop of molasses.
  • Mix and pour into a serving-sized Pyrex bowl.

In the original mixing bowl (no washing needed), I:

  • melted about 2 tbs of butter,
  • mixed with about 1/4 cup of oatmeal and
  • 2 tbs sugar.
  • Cinnamon and/or vanilla can be nice to add .
  • Mix them all together, add some flour until crumbly but not dry.
  • Pat on top of the fruit.

Cook about 30-45 min with a cookie sheet underneath.

Enjoy with cream, yogurt or ice cream.

This incredibly flexible recipe can be done with almost any fruit (not melon, but you get the idea) and almost any grain and fat on top. Over the years, I've noticed that it's especially good when I add lemon juice, use very ripe fruit and butter, and cook it for a long time.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

fingers crossed, knock wood

I first heard about this site on NPR. This woman's husband died unexpectedly in an accident. Think about it. It could happen any time. The site Get Your Shit Together summarizes the basic things you should have in order just in case (fingers crossed, knock wood). If you've got little people you're responsible for, it's that much more important.

Think about, for example, in the unlikely event of your death:
  • who will raise your children?
  • will you leave enough money so that raising your children won't be a financial burden?
  • when you calculate how much life insurance you need, take into consideration your social security benefit for your surviving dependents. You probably need less life insurance than you think.
  • are the passwords to your many accounts someplace where whomever is dealing with your affairs will be able to find them?
  • have you discussed your preferences with your family to minimize conflict as your affairs get resolved?
I'm going to write a separate post about selecting insurance carriers (life and others) and drawing up your will, trust and power of attorney. I'm a big believer in Murphy's Law: things don't happen if you are ready for them. Fingers crossed, knock wood.

Friday, August 2, 2013

ISO childcare ( infant / toddler )

Deciding where your child will spend her days while you work is overwhelming. It was for me anyway. Also challenging is figuring out what your priorities are for this care. The obvious include clean, safe, and caring. I also went into it prioritizing that she would be exposed to a language other than English -- which is pretty easy in San Francisco. I did not realize until later that I didn't want her watching screens (TVs, computers, smart phones) while I pay people to care for and engage her.

If I had to do it all over again, I would have found a nanny share with a like-minded family and similar-age child. I went back to work when my daughter was 6 months old. She is not a good sleeper, and quite possibly the only way she would have gotten her 3 naps a day was private care. But it turned out I couldn't afford an individual nanny. Unfortunately, I took too long to figure this out. Coordinating with another family in addition to a nanny just takes more time.

The least expensive option if you have limited means is a home-based daycare. I don't know if the babies get all their naps in this kind of setting, but it's possible. You find these through The Children's Council. I visited every single one I could reach in my zip code and zip codes nearby. Many seemed very dodgy to me, but there are licensing requirements. I noticed if the children seemed calm and engaged. I noticed of the corners of the rooms were clean. And I noticed if there were TV screens in the play areas. To secure a good one, you need to book months in advance. Because these are people's homes and you don't really know what goes on there, it was important to me that they would allow me to drop in unannounced anytime. Many don't.

I'll write another post on looking for a nanny, because it's a whole different barrel of monkeys. Ditto for preschool.

The institutional daycares have different issues. Most have websites you can find through savvysource, google, yelp or Great Schools. You can always visit them anytime, and the conditions are highly regulated. As I mentioned earlier, the problem I had with ours was the naps. Babies were expected to keep the same schedule as the preschoolers. Another problem was with the breastmilk; I hear every place has this issue. I pumped every 2 hours in hopes of getting enough milk, but it was wasted in all kinds of ways I won't even go into. When I toured daycares again when she was 2, I amazed at how often the kids didn't really seem engaged or to be getting enough attention in the programs. This observation is highly subjective; so, go with your gut.

When choosing childcare, it's really important to be honest with yourself about the following:
  • your work schedule
  • locations that will be convenient for you, because you will be picking up and dropping off every day
  • whether you can realistically provide food or if you prefer to have it included
  • if food is included, are you comfortable with what it is (organic? meat? etc.)
  • how much exercise and outdoor time will your child get, and will it be enough? Do you have a strong preference for an outdoor play area exclusively dedicated to your childcare or do you prefer/are you OK with a public park?
  • what personal qualities do you value in caregivers? (warmth, creativity, the ability to carry a tune, languages spoken...)
  • seriously, what can you afford? It's tempting to think "I will spend anything for my child be happy and get the best care possible." But isn't she better off if your household has some savings left in case you lose your job or worse (think family tragedy)?

Good luck.