Daycare: What it costs and where to find one. No, really.

My daughter’s daycare is closing. To a nonparent, this isn’t a big deal, but it’s reducing me to a puddle of tears because not only is breaking up with a daycare hard to do, but because finding a good one is even harder.

It shouldn’t be. I don’t need my kid to play with sustainably-produced wooden toys in primary colors. I don’t ban food that’s fried, breaded or out of a can or say things like “Now, honey, remember we eat alfalfa sprouts before enjoying this chia seed crisp for dinner.” Nothing like this note to the babysitter.

If anything, I’m getting all sappy about my no-frills Russian preschool/kindergarten. It was standardized across ten time zones, serving up hot meals (same as what adults would eat), your basic toys and books, outdoor areas, activities, recitals, beds with individualized bed sheets. Some specialized in kids’ developmental needs. And Soviet propaganda and forcefeeding aside, it was a pretty functional – and a free – system. Notice I’m avoiding the word “socialized”– whoops, there, I said it.

And cost is a sore subject – because I’m about to shell out twice our monthly rent to have someone watch our two kids while my husband and I work.

The sad truth is American childcare is keeping women out of the workforce, and not always by choice. Nowadays, it’s cheaper – and often better quality – to quit and stay home if your job pays less than what the nanny or daycare charges. Especially since in the past 25 years, daycare costs rose 168%, more than double overall consumer prices.

You’d think for that price that we’d be talking fairy dust with curly straws. But quality is so few and far between that those either have ginormous waitlists or are unaffordable to most. And many providers are themselves struggling to make ends meet.

Listen, looking after toddlers is a God-awful hard job. They scream, they bite, they pee their pants, they smear snot, yogurt and crayons on furniture.

But with the price tag and growing millennial demand, it is surprising to find any of these when I visit daycares:

  • Houses that smell like urine or vomit
  • Children strapped into car seats, baby swings or cribs and crying, while the provider with Chris Christie’s crazy eyes looks for a different job in another room
  • Children parked in front of the TV all day, like in a Frozen nightmare (And here I thought the TV was for us parents to use at home!)
  • The super exclusive centers, where teachers whisper “Your presence is disturbing Carlton,” as said Carlton smashes an abacus against the wall and reaches into his diaper. They have nothing available, anyway.
  • Pissed off providers (“Ha ha, you’re so funny, Johnny, you just told your mama to shut up!” “Ima smack my moron son upside the head after y’all leave!”). True story.

And just last week, I kept being called my child’s grandmother during a visit. Really, lady? What gave it away? My two gold teeth? A mumu emblazoned with AARP insignia? (That’s not a quality thing, just throwing it out there.)

Daycare woes is another reason why American motherhood is a lonely road – on top of no paid maternity leave, the wage gap, lack of women in leadership positions and workplace discrimination for maintaining a human they birthed (birthing being everyone’s business until it’s over and done.). It is a broken system that makes a woman pick between a career and a child because she can’t afford both. In the meantime, here’s to auspicious daycare searching to all those who seek.

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