April 19, 2009
I did not have the intended response to the front-page article in the 'O' section of today's Oregonian. The writer meant for me to be sympathetic with the plight of the family depicted; two parents in what seemed a loving, functional marriage with two children under four. I think it was the way the writer approached the story, obvious scrabbling to paint a sad picture of a family left exhausted and strung out, juggling two jobs and only one car.
While I can relate to the stress of the enormous, far-too-dear cost of child care for young children, I came away from the article wishing to share my perspective as a mama of three boys, having drastically changed my work schedule in the past year; though I fear the chasm between the ways we look at life is great. The two parents are working alternate schedules; mom at Costco, dad in sales at a construction and industrial supply company. They pay for only about nine hours of day care a week, or $480 a month, and together make $64,000. They live in a two-bedroom, 800 square foot apartment somewhere in Tigard. No, their schedule doesn't allow for matinees, pedicures, or post-work beer with the guys. Yes, they're "trapped" with one parent, and the car, at work when it rains. The fun for the kids, according to the article: a walk to a toy store, cartoons on 'On Demand,' the shopping mall play area. [The article's writer explained the day she followed the family, it was raining, so they decided not to go to the park; there are parks close by, though the original article wasn't clear on that fact.]
I wish I could fix it for them. What's obvious at first is that we all need a better link to community; to friends who can share childcare providers or swap care for free; to people who can provide that post-work beer experience with the kids; to occasional potluck dinners so each night doesn't seem so harried and lonely. My life today is not perfect (far, far, far!) but thanks to my perspective I can see a number of choices that are worth re-thinking. The sidewalk-less suburb is just one; I know that prices don't vary much from the middle of my neighborhood in inner SE Portland to Tigard, giving the parents far more places to connect and allowing mom & dad to get rid of the car altogether, choosing Tri-Met or the bike for commuting. Then maybe one parent can quit or reduce hours, relieving the pressure and the exhaustion considerably. Harriet calls this concept "householding," and I'm a big fan. (After hearing from the writer who wrote the story, I deleted my comment about food.)
Instead of sitting here frustrated at how isolating, stressful and perhaps more expensive than necessary are the lives we're asked to sympathize with in the Sunday paper, I'll make a challenge. [And judging from the age of the photo illustrating this post, it's a challenge I need badly.] I'll make it easy, because frankly, sharing child care is enormous thing to think about on such a beautiful day. Invite someone over for a potluck dinner -- or invite yourself to their place, if they have more room to set plates and cups. Connect in a simple, relaxed and nonmaterial way. Spend as little money as possible; yes, a carrot and lentil chili and a big salad, with water or homemade iced tea to drink, is perfect. Skip the cartoons and toy stores. Talk about the best place in your neighborhood for nature walks. Make it a regular thing. Start the change small, and see what happens.