I thought working part time until Little A turns one would down shift the pace of family life nicely. In some ways, it works great. I get lots of time with my girls and don't feel the same kind of guilt for working that I did when I worked full time during Big A's infancy. But the childcare situation with two kids is an ever-dizzying spiral of complexity.
Back when I worked full time and had one child, daycare was simple. I had a full-time babysitter and Big A got dropped off and picked up at her house the same times Monday through Friday. Then after Little A was six months old, I went back to work part time. At this point I started dropping off both girls at the babysitter two days a week. Not as consistent as before, in terms of my work routine, but still familiar and easy to keep track of.
Things got more complicated when I realized that two days a week without the kids was simply not enough time to adequately finish my freelance projects. I needed at least another day of babysitting each week. But due to the high cost of childcare, another day per week at my regular sitter would actually put me in the hole at the end of the month unless I opted to go full time. A friend of mine was in a similar predicament and after ranting to each other about how the cost of daycare for two kids makes part time work practically impossible, it suddenly dawned on us that we could defray childcare costs by swapping babysitting services with each other.
So for awhile, on Mondays and Wednesdays I had my girls at the regular sitter's house. On Tuesdays I babysat my friend's two boys so she could work, and on Thursdays my friend took my girls so I could work. It was definitely more complicated, but still something I could easily remember after I got into the rhythm. And I got an extra day of work without paying any more for daycare. It was great!
Enter preschool. Big A's program is only in the afternoons on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I wanted Big A to go to her old babysitter in the mornings on Mondays and Wednesdays (along with Little A) so I could work more hours those days. But the babysitter said she was going to charge me the same $60 per-day, per-child rate whether Big A was at her house for 3 hours in the morning or the whole freaking day, which made that option completely unaffordable.
But, my friend's eldest son was also going to preschool at the same place Big A was. They were originally going on different days, but we switched them to the same program so their time there synched. That allowed us to further the swap and get a few more hours of additional childcare per week from each other. But this is when I also lost ability to keep track of my kids' whereabouts without writing it down. Here is the new schedule:
Monday: Little A goes to the "real" baby sitter's house at 9 a.m. Big A gets dropped off next at my friend's house at 9:15. My friend serves Big A lunch and drops her off at preschool for me at 1 along with her eldest son. That means I get to work from 9:30ish until 4, at which point I pick up Big A from preschool. I pick up Little A from her sitter no later than 5.
Tuesday: I stay home with my 2 girls and my friend's 2 boys. My friend works 9:30-5.
Wednesday: The same deal as Monday, except this time after Little A goes to her babysitter at 9, I rush home so my friend can drop off her oldest boy at my house by 9:15 so she can work for the day. I watch the two big kids, serve lunch, and then drop them off at preschool by 1. Then I have three kid-free hours to work until preschool is over at 4. Once again, Little A gets picked up from the regular babysitter by 5.
Thursday: Both girls go to my friend's house between nine and five. I work 9:30-5.
Friday: Little A stays home with me all day, but Big A is only home in the morning and has preschool 1-4. Sometimes I manage to get some work done while Little A is napping and Big A is away, sometimes not. It's a crap shoot.
Adding to the complications is the fact that my friend and I originally met through my old babysitter, back when we each had only one child, still worked full time, and both had our kids there five days a week. Even though it is the baby sitter's own rate policies that led my friend and I to get creative with our childcare, we still know that the baby sitter would be miffed if she heard what two of her formerly full-time clients were doing. Since I still send Little A to her house, we opted to just not tell the baby sitter about what we are doing on the side. But I always feel a little awkward when I got to pick up the baby from the sitter's house on Monday and Wednesdays, because Big A is with me and has turned into quite the chatty girl. I fear she's going to innocently rat me out about the other childcare arrangement one of these days.
Who knew that child care could have so much intrigue?