kid stuff · righteous feminist anger

An Ode to Campus Daycare

This is an ode to campus daycare. Pick your own wildly positive metaphor: I won the child care lottery, can tell the Cinderella story, will fly high the banner of Hildegard Marsden Cooperative Day Nursery.

For 40 months, since my daughter was 11 months old, until the end of August, just before she starts junior kindergarten, she was enrolled in campus daycare. The staff was well-trained, kind, fun, and personable. The meals were supervised by a trained dietician, prepared on-site by a part-time cook, from a six-week rotating menu that varied from season to season. The hours were great, the location fantastic–a 15 minute walk from my office, a 10 minute walk from Daddy’s office. It was accessible by bus, which allowed us to remain a one-car family. It was close enough to the office that sudden weather closures or even more sudden fevers could be addressed immediately.

She learned her alphabet, her manners, a million songs, how to play well with other children, how to bond with adults who were not us. She came home every day full of stories and hugs for us, and with inventive crafts to cover every magnetized surface in the house. There were field trips, and French lessons, and visits from the librarian. There was curriculum, and there was 2 hours of outdoor play every single day. There were naps and bandaids and–on the last Friday of the month!–cupcakes.

What a wonderful, wonderful boon this was, to all of us. This safe, loving, healthy environment for our girl, so close to our workplaces, allowed our family to grow and develop, allowed all of us to have the security and confidence enough to develop as our own selves–a little girl getting bigger every day, an assistant professor deeply invested in her work, an academic administrator in charge of huge numbers of files and details and work.

Daycare on campus was an unalloyed good for us. I cried when we emptied out her cubby for the last time yesterday.

Every one who wants it should have access to this kind and this quality of care during the hours in which they choose to–or have to–work. Too many parents are turned away from these daycares for reasons of space. Many others, even if they were lucky enough to get the phone call offering an open spot, can’t afford to pay the fees that sustain trained staff and a healthy environment.

We were incredibly lucky to secure her a spot in the infant room at the end of our parental leave: on this campus of more than 29,000 students, 1000 faculty members, and 2200 staff there’s only room for 10 infants. We put her on the waiting list before I told my department chair I was pregnant: she was “Baby Barber,” sex TBA, on the pre-enrolment form. Never mind that for six months, the fees we paid ($1045) were higher than our mortgage ($991).

Let me be perfectly clear: I could not be the professor that I am if it were not for the support this daycare offered to my family. 

An equitable campus provides for the children of its community. All of its community, and all the children who want it, and for less than the cost of a mortgage payment every month.

So this is an ode to my daycare, and a lament, I guess for the rest of you, who never made it to the top of the waiting list before your kids started high school.

“My teacher taught me how to tie my shoes!”

8 thoughts on “An Ode to Campus Daycare

  1. Dear Aimée – Hear hear! What a great post! Can you please send it to Stephen Harper, and anyone else who thinks that Canada doesn't need/shouldn't offer this kind of childcare universally?

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  2. Yes, absolutely. I second all you say here. And so few employment situations have this luxury, a luxury in my case that kept me sane as I adjusted to the overwhelming changes in my life that came from having a baby, allowing me to connect with my children keep breast-feeding (after totally failing at pumping) by strolling over to the daycare midday.

    I lament the fact that it is no longer possible to have the level of childcare I have at Guelph, which closed the infant program that allowed me to put both of my children into childcare part-time before they were a year old.

    Why is this kind of childcare not a basic right but treated as something the state can't afford? It is a given in most Scandanavian countries, and Quebec has better availability and affordability (try having two kids in daycare at once and your mortgage looks like peanuts) than the rest of Canada.

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  3. Susan, I can't imagine paying for two kids in daycare at once. It's incredibly expensive, a really significant expense for us to consider–and my family falls into a comparitively very high income bracket.

    Lindy, all the Harper horse manure about 'letting families choose'–what kind of choice can I make if a) THERE ARE NOT ENOUGH OVERPRICED DAYCARE SPACES EVEN IF I WANTED TO PAY FOR THEM, and b) what the hell kind of child care choice can I make with $100 dollars a month, on which I AM TAXED??

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  4. We were never able to get our girls into the campus daycare. Probably couldn't have afforded that since we were a single-income family most of that time, to boot! But it's heartbreaking to see campus daycares be cut or stagnate precisely when demand ramps up from staff, students and faculty!

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  5. Hello Janice — I find it surprising, the mismatch between what universities say they promote in terms of recruiting and retaining women faculty (for example, never mind staff or students) and what they actually provide. At my institution, a 'visioning' statement around child care on campus was produced in 2006 (it's here) and the official line on recruiting and retaining women at the institution stresses childcare (available here). And yet, still only 10 infant spots, and a lot of fundraising by parents.

    We're finally working on this at UW, but the first thing they've done is decided to move the daycares further off the main campus. Um, no?

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  6. We too were never able to get spots in the on-campus daycare. We were fortunate to find another option not too far away, but I often imagined how much better it would have been to have come in and left all together, without the extra drain on time and energy of dropping off and picking up at other locations, and to have been able to stop in and check on my children if they (or I) were having a bad day of some kind. (And this is without even considering the issue of expense, which as people have noted, is astonishing for spots in private centers.) You'd think self-interest alone would motivate institutions to step up here, as I could have worked longer hours and been less stressed out and distracted with campus-based care. Don't studies show that both morale and absenteeism are very positively affected when employers provide good child care?

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  7. Rohan — yes! We're just transitioning our daughter to school, and the back-and-forthing of planning the commute and who is going to go where and when and how and getting a different parking pass and not being on the bus route … it's increased our stress and bother by quite a lot, actually. Location is really important, on top of everything else.

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  8. Aimee, your daycare experience was very similar to mine. Before we got our live-in nanny, and before our twins were born, our eldest daughter attended daycare three days per week, for three years—while I was finishing my Ph.D. and then doing sessional work, and while I was on maternity leave with the twins. After that, when my husband and I both got full time jobs, we got a live-in nanny. More on that in another post sometime.

    People still ask me how on earth I got my daughter a space at such an excellent and well-known campus daycare. Not only did I put her name on the list as soon as she was conceived, but I also made myself physically present at the director’s office at the daycare at least twice a week, making my case and telling her how much I wanted in. It was the only quality daycare in the city that would take children under a year old. I needed in at 6 months because I needed to finish my dissertation. I simply wouldn’t take no for an answer.

    I think it’s worth noting that besides the space and expense issues which you’ve articulated so accurately, there’s also a class issue being played out in Canada’s daycare system. While there seem to be in every large city a few really high quality daycares, like the ones that you and I have participated in, there are a plethora of smaller, usually private and for-profit daycares that are generally not high quality. While the high quality ones are most often frequented by professionals and business people with good salaries and some flexibility, the low-quality for-profit ones are generally frequented by the working class. Unfortunately, I’m starting to see the same kind of segregation play out in the school system. My province has recently opted not to mandate children to attend schools in their communities. Instead, parents can “choose” their schools. Of course, professionals and others with high salaries choose the most highly ranked schools. Those who don’t have the means to drive their children to school or the flexible work hours to do so remain in schools closer to their community, highly ranked or not. But once again, I’m moving into entirely different territory and a different issue here….

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