cafe mama

entering the mind of the married mom

Daycare? Preschools? In over your head? Let's get cooperative - July 21, 2004ó

The mamas and I are fed up with what the world has to offer in the realm of daycare (for us working mamas) and preschool (for us at-home mamas). We have been talking cooperative this, cooperative that. We're thinking about starting a commune. But until we give up on all our beautiful houses, we'll have to stick with the distance co-ops.

I've been wanting to blog this for a while, and Leslie Carlson got me going. She reports her trouble with day care for her three kids. She sums it up:

I know Iím one of the lucky ones, with enough money to ensure my kids get ďqualityĒ child care (whatever that means). I canít imagine what parents who are unemployed, underemployed or single have to do. But I wonder why this isnít an issue anymore. Not much has changed, yet itís dropped off the political radar. Yes, issues like Iraq, the economy, jobs, and the environment are important. But so is the grinding, ceaseless, futile everyday search for the right child care. Are people with families too tired to agitate for change? I know I am.

We all have horror stories about the in-home care where the infant was strapped in a car seat in front of the TV (during a tour, no less). And about the well-recommended corporate day care where we walked in and just felt like shooting ourselves. And we've found situations that aren't so bad. We can't afford them, but they're good, for now. And if they are good, they never last.

So we have a plan. It's just a little bitty plan right now. But I think it could be a model for a big, whopping, mama-of-them-all kind of plan that could work for all kinds of families. It starts out with a group of mamas and kids. Not just any group, but one with lots of kids, where every little one has at least one friend within 6 months of his age. And one where the mamas have a good enough relationship to make decisions without making waves. This could take some setting aside of egos. Some building of trust. But we did it. You can too.

It continues with some room, in a home, church or private building. There needs to be a big play area, with windows and room to store lots of toys. There needs to be a kitchen. And access to a refuge for the mamas - an office, a coffee shop, a meeting room where they can get away. It needs to have a comfy chair or two, art supplies and wide low tables.

It must have structure. The hours should be agreed to, six hours a week, 40 hours per week, whatever is required. The time should be scheduled, as it's hard for kids to live without structure. Snack time, lunch time, nap time, painting time. There should be a special feature - Spanish lessons or martial arts or sculpture or ballet.

Moms need to be involved. The ideal group is part working moms, part stay-at-home moms, and it would be the best of all possible worlds if all working moms could take regular time off work to be a part of the group. The moms should work out a schedule, keeping a three- or four-to-one ratio. All moms should get regular time off.

Help should be hired. Moms should pool their money to hire a babysitter or two for all hours that the co-op is in session. Not so the moms can check out completely, gossiping and getting manicures while the nannies do their work, but so that moms don't have to be on edge every second, jumpy and not able to finish the most basic sentence.

Moms should have a chance to give to the community. Our idea is to have the on-duty moms cook lunch and dinner for all the families, while the off-duty moms have time to take a nap. Volunteer at the senior center. Work on their books. Knit. Create, rejuvenate, and involve.

What do you think? When I write my business plan for the cooperative, will you make a copy? Could you use this in your community? Could you use this as the impetus to create your own community?

I don't think we should go back to an agrarian society, but things need to change. We need to be more organic, more supportive, more of a community. Politicians won't make these changes, we need to make them, we mamas and daddies and just people. It's not just for child care, of course, but when we have kids many of us are brought face to face with the need for this community of support.

What politicians can do, however, is to change some of those rules that make it difficult for us. Give loopholes in the daycare rules to those managed and staffed by parents of the children. Give us space in government buildings. Give us some distance and let us do what we need to do to bring back love in the lives of our children, and love among one another.

It's going to be exclusive as hell, of course. I want to exclude competitive parents and shallow parents and those who would impose their morality on everyone else. I want to exclude parents who are shocked if you don't breastfeed until 3 years, or shocked if you do. I want to exclude mamas who use bigoted words for classes of people. I want to exclude mamas who already have three or four nannies. I want to exclude people who don't listen, who don't say they're sorry, and who are always right.

But everyone else is in. You know who you are. I want you in my club, in my community. Let's change things.

. we're doing it for the kids, those beautiful kids .