A more relaxing playdate

Is it inappropriate to say that I don’t want to be up my kid’s ass all the time? When he was learning to crawl or walk, sure, I was there to catch him when he fell. And now, when he wants to climb up a tall slide where there is a danger of him falling and getting hurt, I’m right there ready to offer up my face as a pillow. But, if he is toddling around a baby-proofed play date, I have no desire to stand over him and direct his every move.

That’s great that you want to be there and soak up every precious moment with your little one, but I find helicopter parenting stressful and so does my guy. I can already see his little eye on the ball of independence. For at least a few minutes, he thinks, I can do this all by myself. To see the look of pride on his face when he manages something all on his own makes my heart soar. I am ready to be his cheerleader. I am ready to give him support and encouragement. I am ready to let him be a toddler.

Don’t get me wrong, I still love those baby thighs, breathing in his baby-fresh scent as we cuddle up for a book, and when he comes in for a hug gushing my name, “Mama.” Those are moments I cherish and look forward to, but wouldn’t it be great if we could go to a play date and just let our kids play?

I wonder if some moms struggle to let go because they aren’t comfortable having regular adult conversations? Sometimes we find our children playing independently by accident and ignoring our attempts to play with them, which always leads us to the dreaded mom talk. My child is not walking, my child is not talking, my child is not sleeping, because you know, to talk about the positive would be bragging, so instead we talk about what our children can’t do. That should lead to a healthy self-image.

Yes we are moms 90% of the time, but I’m pretty sure there is more to us than that. We led lives before babies. We have husbands. We live in neighborhoods. We read books, watch tv, or have other hobbies. So why can’t we think of anything else to talk about?

I’ve noticed that a lot of stay at home moms struggle to take time for themselves. They seem to lose themselves in parenting. It’s usually the more seasoned moms that make the time for book clubs, moms nights out, and regular date nights. I wonder if the older moms share a wisdom that we haven’t yet found?

If we can’t or won’t make the time for ourselves after the kids go to bed, maybe we could make the time for ourselves during the day, toddlers in tow. I would love to have more relaxed play dates where the kids play while the moms chat. One where, when you leave, you do not feel like you were plowed over by a swarm of bees.

This is not a new concept. There are so many places in Maryland that are starting to create that very environment, such as Play Date Junction in Elkridge, MD, or Play Cafe in Baltimore, MD. The challenge is not finding a location. It’s finding a group of moms who can let go of the reins and let their kids play, have a cup of coffee, and enjoy some adult conversation.

playdate

Advertisements

Can I Afford To Go Back To Work?

As you may recall from reading my post, So and So’s Mom, my little one is now 15 months old and I am feeling ready for the next thing. Naturally, this led me to thoughts of returning to the workforce. Now that we live in Howard County, Maryland, away from our families, returning to work would mean daycare for my little guy.

In-home daycares tend to be a less expensive option (roughly $150 per week), but to me, this feels more like glorified babysitting. This option would require me to trust a complete stranger to prepare my child for preschool by managing their daily schedule, nutrition, physical development, and education with absolutely no formal oversight or support. Some of these in-home daycares have 4, 5, or even 6 children at a time, while the Maryland state licensing standards require a ratio of no more than 3 children under the age of two per teacher.

A licensed daycare also has minimum education requirements for their teachers, which includes a 90-hour training in early childhood education, often in addition to a college degree in early childhood education or related field. The teachers in a licensed daycare also have the support and oversight of other teachers and directors. There are schedules, meal plans, recess and sports programs, and a curriculum. I like this option because the children flow seamlessly from the daycare classroom into the preschool classroom since they remain in the same building and on a similar schedule. However, the security and benefits of a formal school setting come at a cost. A cost that rendered me and my husband speechless.

Now, I will say, a lot of these schools do not publicize their costs and some were even reluctant to inform me over the phone, insisting on a tour. I think they worry that parents will shy away from the formal school setting, not fully realizing the benefits, until they have seen it for themselves. My intention with posting the information here is not to upset the schools, but rather, to help inform other parents who may be considering returning to work. Therefore, I must present all of the pros and cons as I see them.

We have toured five childcare centers at this point (Columbia Academy preschool at Maple Lawn, MKD Kids Learning Center, Cradlerock Children’s Center, Eco Tots, and Childtime Learning Centers) and we have three more scheduled (Child’s Garden, The Young School, and The Goddard School). There are several things that have really surprised us.

  1. The price. Just considering that three children need to cover the cost of an infant/toddler teacher’s salary prepares you for the thought that a preschool setting will not come cheap. However, you only need to spend a few minutes on a job site such as indeed.com to realize that these teachers are only being paid $8-12 per hour. So if you take the average, $10, that teacher is making only $400 per 40 hour work week. The most expensive of the daycares mentioned above cost $457 per week ($1,828 per month or $21,936 per year) for an infant/toddler (under the age of two). The cheapest daycare was $368 per week ($1,472 per month or $17,664 per year) for an infant/toddler. Sure, this cost goes down as your child gets older and the requirement for a 3:1 child to teacher ratio grows to 6:1 then 10:1, but what if you have a second child? Many of these childcare centers offer a 5% or 10% discount for a sibling, but still, our calculations told us we would then be paying just under $3,200 per month ($38,400 per year) at the most expensive daycare and $2,444 per month ($29, 328 per year) at the least expensive. To give you a comparison, current in-state tuition at the University of Maryland is $10,180 per year ($1,131 per month for 9 months or $282 per week).
  2. The waitlist. I realized that there may be a waitlist for some of the really nice schools and started calling around three months before I was hoping to return to work. I was quite surprised when our current top pick told us that they would not have space for us until June 2017 when my little guy turns two (in nine months). One of the other schools, which we have yet to see, told us they would not have any openings until August 2017 (almost a year from now). So we had to ask ourselves, if I wait until my son is two years old to return to work, how far apart in age do we want our children to be? Is it worth returning to work only to have another baby six months or so later and have to leave the workforce again? Could we guarantee a spot or the income for our second child to join the daycare?
  3. The benefits. I knew that our child would be well cared for in a formal daycare setting, but I was still surprised by the way these schools are preparing children for their formal education. The directors told us about sports programs, Spanish programs, and writing programs the children are offered as young as age two. We watched the children working quietly and cooperatively around a table and learning to follow direction at just two and three years old. I watched all this as my little boy ran around the room, pulled puzzles off the shelf, and talked loudly about the clock, puzzle, and other children. I honestly don’t know how the teacher had all six children playing so quietly so I must conclude it was some form of witchcraft. Nonetheless, I am feeling as though I need to do even more to prepare my son for preschool, to be able to sit still, and to begin learning a second language.

Through this exploration of daycare options, my husband and I have started to feel as though my returning to work now would make it difficult for us to have a second child and then would result in my working to pay someone else to raise our kids, with very little financial benefit for our family.

I know that there are other options out there. Many families find in-home daycare options that are a perfect fit for their family. Some families are very lucky to have relatives or friends available to provide childcare while they work. Other families are able to hold work schedules that can be accommodated by a nanny. Some stay-at-home parents are able to work from home while providing care for their child. It really boils down to finding the best option for your own family.

Obviously, the decision to return to work does not begin and end with numbers. We see our son thriving with the individualized attention I provide and wonder whether he would continue to thrive in a daycare setting. We see the close and loving relationship he has with us and wonder if that would change if given much more time apart. We see his joy and excitement each day as he spends hours just exploring the world around him and wonder if that joy would fade with so much time spent inside the same building day after day. In some ways, after giving it some more thought, leaving him to go back to work when I have the option of staying home with him seems crazy.

And then other options don’t seem so crazy after giving them some thought. I laughed out loud when a fellow blogger suggested having another baby after my post So and So’s Mom, but interestingly enough, the more we talk about it the less crazy it seems.

Who knows.

 

Noteworthy:

  • Eco Tots had the healthiest meal plan out of all of the schools. I was very impressed by their meal plan. Not all childcare centers provide lunch and snacks, and if they do, its not always nutritious.
  • Some of the childcare centers are now providing parents with real-time updates using tablets to upload photos and even videos of the children during the day!
  • Many of the childcare centers cited low pay as the reason for high turnover rates among daycare and preschool teachers, who make roughly $20,000 per year. One director stated she just cannot compete with an elementary school’s salary and these teachers are qualified or on their way to becoming qualified for elementary education.

 

Photo Credit: Laura’s Left Hook

Pinterest fails: Why family photos are worthwhile

These moments are forever fleeting. Each time I blink an eye my little one has grown taller, his face has gotten slimmer, his hair has gotten longer and then shorter. The moments are going by so quickly that I don’t dare look away because I know my little boy will be a little man, a teenager, and then a man before I know it. I try desperately to hold on to these moments and that sweet face by capturing photo after photo on my phone. Of course, the photos can’t compare to the beautiful and joyful face I see in front of me. I spend probably way too many hours perusing Pinterest for unique photo ideas to try with my little one. Problem is, and why we have so many hilarious Pinterest fail articles, is that the photos I’m attempting to replicate with my little point and shoot iPhone were expertly set, coordinated, and documented by a professional photographer, and a professional photographer I am not!

photofail1

view all photo fails: Parenthood

Some parents just don’t see the importance of having family photos. As a social worker, I have seen the value family photos can have for children. In a time where many families go through difficult times, struggles, divorces, and loss, children hold tightly to the pieces of the whole family. Those pictures where mom and dad are embracing the family as a whole can become a comfort and can offer understanding to a child who needs reassurance in that moment. I have that picture. My mom and dad smiling at the camera with their arms around each other and me. The picture was taken before divorce, remarriage, and times when we were apart. As a child, I would often look back on that picture, that moment, when our family was whole and in love. Somehow, it provided the reassurance of the love and support my parents had for me. Now, at 30 years old, that photo hangs in my own home beside another photo of my family today.

As a permanency (adoption) worker, I saw foster families using family photos as a way to provide pre-adoptive children the reassurance that they were an important member of the family. Seeing the photos hung on the walls sent a message of love and acceptance. A message of permanency. Don’t all children deserve such a message?

Despite the unyielding importance of family photos in the home, I see more and more families letting time slip by without family photos or settling for these comical Pinterest fails, arguing weakly “why pay for a professional photographer when iPhones can take just as good pictures.” Really? Is this really just as good?

photofail4

view all photo fails: Parenthood

As with anything in life, you get what you pay for. In Howard County, Maryland there are hundreds of photographers to choose from, so how do you determine which photographers are worth the money? Here are some important things to consider:

  1. Experience. Obviously, as these Pinterest fails show, there is an art to capturing breathtaking photos that can be used to enhance your home decor while reflecting the love and happiness within your family. Too often I see “professional” photos where part of the scene is cut off of the page, the subject is not engaged or looks uncomfortable, or the emotion is missing completely. I recently had the opportunity to talk with Marlayna Demond of Marlayna Photography, who grew up fully emerged in photography with her mother, a high school art and photography teacher. Marlayna studied photography for four years at The University of Maryland (UMBC) before starting her own full time photography business five years ago. The formal training she received plus experience she has shooting and developing photos has allowed her to perfect the art of utilizing available lighting and enhancing the photos with professional software. These skills have gotten her featured in magazines such as Baltimore Bride and Her Mind Magazine, and for publications related to UMBC. When you book a session with her, you are not just paying for the number of photos you receive, but rather a photographer who has the training and experience that allows her to produce the professional grade photos you are pinning to your boards and failing to reproduce.

  2. Equipment. SLR cameras can range in cost from $199 to $6,499. In addition, professional photographers will pay for additional memory, a variety of lenses, backup batteries, lighting features, computer editing software, etc. A higher-end camera is going to have the capability to shoot faster, clearer images, and a professional photographer who has thoroughly studied their tool is going to have the knowledge of how to shoot raw images that capture every ounce of emotion to eliminate shading and darkness where it is not wanted without washing out their subjects.

  3. Professionalism. If you are hiring someone to provide a service for you, you should be able to contact them during business hours and receive a quick response. Too often I see photographers who are simply taking photos on the side to earn a little extra cash and are not prompt or professional in their replies. This is an immediate red flag to me because rain or some other unforeseen issue could arise the morning of the shoot where I need to be able to connect with them straight away.

  4. Final product. Marlayna made a great point to me that colors, contrast and saturation are almost never consistent or accurate when photos are simply printed at home or at a chain store. For this reason, she opts to use a professional photo print lab that ships prints directly to her or her clients within just a few days. She finds that the prints remain true to the photo as it was taken and edited.

Families can almost always find great deals with truly professional photographers by taking advantage of mini sessions (usually 30 minutes instead of one hour) or booking a series of sessions at a time (maternity, newborn, 1 year old). Although there is no hard and fast rule about how often you should have family photos taken, I say do it soon, while the kids are young and your wrinkle free body still looks amazing!

Just for fun, here are a few of my Pinterest attempts!

 

* I received permission from Marlayna Demond and the families photographed to use the beautiful photos included in this post, which originally drew me to contact Marlayna Photography for my own family photos. Marlayna was gracious enough to answer my questions and allow me to include her responses in this blog post. This information was included for the purpose of providing information and I in no way profit from sharing Marlayna’s information. I simply think her work is amazing.