My youngest child, Harvey, will turn 3 on St. Patrick’s Day. It’s an odd birthday for a Jewish kid with no Irish ancestry, but one that he shares with his grandfather, whose parents were urged to name him Patrick by the nurses in the Pennsylvania hospital where he was born 69 years before Harvey. (They declined and named him Peter.)
Unlike Nate, his older brother, Harvey has had the misfortune of having me as a stay-at-home mom for his young childhood. I never intended to stay home with my kids, and when I returned to work after Nate was born, I dropped him off at day care with no regrets and a sense of relief that life would now regain some normalcy. After Harvey was born, I enrolled him in the same day care and went back to work, but then my husband and I decided to make some life changes. When you quit your job and move twice in a year with a young baby, your work life takes a hit. And that’s how I became an accidental stay-at-home mom.
I don’t know that I’m a particularly good stay-at-home mom. I get easily bored playing with a toddler, and my nerves get run ragged responding to children’s requests all day. Plus, I still have one foot in the working world, writing for magazines and doing media consulting. It’s the worst of both worlds, because I’ve got deadlines to meet but inadequate time to complete my work. I’ve been patching together child care for the past couple of years, and it’s tough. Yesterday, my husband told me I should take a vacation, and it wasn’t a compliment.
But change is afoot. As I write these sentences, Harvey, my constant companion for so long, is in preschool.
Harvey is a ridiculously gregarious child. Ever since he started to talk, he has struck up conversations with whomever he sees walking down the street. He walks right up to the counter in coffee shops and orders for himself. He introduces me to strangers and answers questions on behalf of his 6-year-old brother. When I take him to storytime or toddler dance class, he’s easily the most eager participant in the group, answering every question enthusiastically, interrupting with suggestions, shouting “Yeah!” every time the teacher asks whether the children want to pretend to make a pizza or put away the balls.
My husband told me I should take a vacation, and it wasn’t a compliment.
We started calling Harvey “Charming Harv” as a newborn, and the nickname proved to be uncannily apt. But though he’s got a big, lovely personality, it’s also wearying for this introvert (me). He’s developmentally capable of playing by himself for short stretches of time, but I have trouble taking even short breaks to pack a lunch or do the breakfast dishes because he always wants to be interacting with me. The other day after school, his brother was engrossed in coloring and I stood firm that I needed to unpack from a recent trip. Harvey wandered the apartment forlornly, saying, “I wish someone would play with me.” He just wants company.
It was obvious this kid was more than ready for preschool, and I was starting to feel guilty that we hadn’t enrolled him for this year. So when a part-time spot opened up at a small neighborhood school, we snagged it. Harvey started at the beginning of February, and the transition was seamless. The teacher told us with surprise, “It’s like he’s always been here.”
His adjustment is even more impressive given the fact that due to two days of sickness, a scheduled midwinter school break, and a one-day emergency closure at the school, Harvey only actually spent 2½ days in school in all of February. We spent more than $900 in monthly tuition for 16.5 hours of actual school time. That’s a cool $55 an hour.
When Harvey was getting over a fever on what would have been his first day of school, I was fine with keeping him home. When the school had to shut down for a day for unforeseeable reasons during his second week, I was frustrated, but my husband and I scrambled and worked out a plan B. When Harvey had to miss school again for another bug, the situation became truly maddening. He is scheduled to attend on Wednesdays and Thursdays, but he has yet to go there on a Wednesday. That’s apparently the only day of the week he gets sick.
I have been telling myself that this is just a run of bad luck, and our cost ratio will surely improve in March. Still, I feel like progress — toward a more manageable work schedule, toward a regular routine for an eager preschooler — isn’t possible. I’m struggling to walk forward, but I keep getting pushed backward. Normalcy is elusive.