the final countdown

They say that giving your toddler two reasonable choices is one way to defuse a tantrum. "Baby, you can have a cookie or cake tonight for dessert. You can choose."

Evidently, Chicken has been studying at a culinary institute in which "or" means "stuffed with"  and then "swimming in a pool of chocolate syrup and warm strawberry milkshake."

Frankly, I'm with Chicken on this one. That shit doesn't work.

He doesn't want to choose between two decent options when there's no earthly reason he can't frankenbake a masterwork using both. He wants a triple-layered cake and cookie lasagna with heavy cream poured over it, a fork, and a straw, and goddamnit this is AMERICA let's go to Red Robin!

He wants BOTH.

i would like this green foam stick
and also this blue foam stick
that has a thing stuck on it
you know, a thing
it's like a
monkey or something.
i'm being told it's a "john."
yes, i would like this blue foam stick
with a "john" stuck on it.
i would like both.

I know just how he feels.

We're filling out the financial aid paperwork for the boys' school next year. We really do not qualify for financial aid according to the school's guidelines, but we were advised to go ahead and apply to see what would happen.

Now excuse me while I fly off the fucking handle for a second.


Okay, say you're a family of four like we are, and that you have two kids that you want to put in a part-time program, like we do. If you enrolled each of them in the cheapest possible part-time program at this school, you're looking at 900 bucks a kid, per month. That's $1,800 a month, or $18,000 a year (you get summers off.)

In order to qualify to request financial aid at this particular school, you have to make NO MORE THAN $71,000 a year.

So. Say you take home $75,000 a year, you don't qualify for financial help to ease the burden of the $18,000 you'll spend at this school.

Is that kind of commitment possible? Let's take a look.

If you take home 75k, that gives you $6,250 a month.

Okay, it's March 1.

You've written the check to the school for $1,800. (Side note: Gosh, I hope everything went okay at the end of February! Because if you get paid on the 1st and 15th and you were tapped out on Feb 28, then you just got $3,125 in pay and turned around and forked over $1,800 for school which leaves you with $1,325 for the next two weeks... Anyway, back to the countdown.)

That leaves you with $4,700 for the month.

The *average* rent for a 2-bedroom apartment in Seattle is (as of December 2015) $2,085.

That leaves you with $2,615 for the MONTH, with which you will:

- buy food
- buy health insurance
- cover out-of-pocket medical expenses
- pay for a car/bus
- buy gas/parking
- maintain your car
- buy auto insurance
- buy renter's insurance/homeowner's insurance
- buy shoes and clothes for the kids when they grow out of them/destroy them
- stay current on your electricity
- and gas
- and sewer and water service
- and internet (this is 2016)
- hope your computer doesn't break
- hope your tires hold on for another year
- hope that partial crown doesn't break
- hope your cat doesn't get diabetes
- hope you don't have student loans
- hope you don't have a credit card balance
- hope you can get a good deal on birthday presents for other kids
- occasionally ask a friend to babysit for free so you can go out to a movie with your husband
- save for your kids' college
- save for next Christmas
- save for a rainy day
- stretch a little cushion to the next payday to make sure you can cover what needs covering when it needs to be covered so your account doesn't overdraw because those fees are absurd.

God forbid you own your home and need to replace the water heater.
God forbid you have to hire a lawyer, anytime, for any reason.
God forbid your kid doesn't have a serious food allergy.
God forbid nobody gets laid off.
God forbid you lost your fucking mind and need therapy because you know your insurance isn't covering that shit. "Psychology." Feh. It's a soft science and we at InsuraBalls only pay for rock-hard science like bone drilling after you've hit your $750,000 out-of-pocket maximum, but only if you go to our bone drilling guy. He's in Des Moines.

By the way, all of this is assuming that you don't need any additional child care.

But okay, say you don't have to pay for any additional child care, whether that's because one parent works exclusively at home, or because you are blessed with saintly and geographically convenient friends and relatives. Regardless, that budget is tight to the point of claustrophobic. You might be able to make it work, if nothing bad happens, and if you really like soup.

But Katie, you might be thinking, if you're a full-time stay-at-home parent, why do you need to put your kids in part-time school?

That's a fair question. School for a 1.5-year-old and a 3.5-year-old seems like icing, not cake.
But also:

New research emerges every day to support the claim that quality early childhood education (that's a real program, not a babysitter watching Dora, for a child under 5) is a major contributor to future successes - social, educational, professional, legal... Check out The HighScope Perry Preschool Study for detailed findings on how quality ECE positively impacted not only the next 40 years of the children who grew into well-adjusted, non-incarcerated, well-paid, self-sufficient adults, but also taxpayers who didn't have to pay for welfare, incarceration, or too-little-too-late interventions for these people.

Not to mention that while I am a loving, engaged, conscientious parent, I am NOT a loving, engaged, conscientious EDUCATOR. I struggle and lack perspective - these are my hearts walking around out there, and I'm simultaneously more likely to overreact to minor transgressions because I fear "ruining" them, and more likely to chuckle at food-stealing or deciding to have a dance party while the rest of the class is lining up to go to drama class.

NOT TO MENTION that when we decided to put Chicken in this great school, we made the choice to lay a strong foundation for him. Shouldn't his first experience in school be a great one? Shouldn't his soft, pulsing mind learn FIRST that teachers are respectful and kind, and that he is deserving of respect and kindness?

So, to answer your question, it is NOT optional for me to put my kids in an early childhood program. Just like it's not optional for me to change their bulging diapers before they start weeping hot pee tears down my boys' legs.

But Katie, you're surely thinking, you can find quality education for your kids for less than $1,800 a month.

CAN I? In SEATTLE? I've toured six programs that are "in my budget," and here's what I saw:

1. "Unfenced Outdoor School that doesn't know whether the groundskeepers (that make regular, friendly contact with toddlers and bring them fun little treats) have been background-checked." Seriously.

2. "Outdoor School whose teacher could not articulate to me how they deal with spirited two-year-olds. She stammered a little and landed on 'we do time-outs sometimes.'"

3. "Waldorf-Inspired School that doesn't use contractions or invite parents to visit during the day. Also, not fully licensed despite having been in business for more than 10 years." Red flags for me.

4. "In-Home Unlicensed Bilingual Daycare run by an abuelita who takes 3 or 4 toddlers at a time. She is obviously kind and loving, but also, sorry, old and slow. Chicken senses her weakness and darts from room to room, shrieking and flailing around on the floor when I finally catch him by the arm. She takes one look at Chicken's, like, honestly, pretty standard 2-year-old behavior, and says 'I don't think it's a good fit.'" Rejected. Also, agreed.

5. "Awesome program. We got on the list. In 2013. Still waiting."

6. "Awesome program. We got on the list. In 2014. Still waiting."

Oh, don't forget program #7! Which was awesome, in our budget, we toured it, loved it, it had a spot, so we whipped out the checkbook... and the program director said, "Oh, one little thing... the prices on our pamphlet are actually out of date..."
How out of date?
$800 a month out of date.
So as it turns out, #7 was not in the budget.

Which makes it just like the outstanding, loving, thoughtful school where Chicken has been going the last two years.

IMPORTANT NOTE: The school is not gouging us. It is expensive AF to rent and maintain a facility, staff it adequately, engineer its security, and pay enough that they don't shed teachers to more lucrative gigs in pest control or security at Guitar Center. They are doing a great job and we love them a lot, and I don't doubt that they are doing everything they can to offer education to all who need it and have some amount of money to pay for it. 

We've made choices to make this school work.

We don't travel very much, and when we do we tend to go cheap - stay with friends, eat at food trucks, go on hikes, buy Groupons in advance, take public transportation.

We cook at home almost exclusively - Friday night is pizza night and we go to Papa Murphy's where they add a large $5 cheese pizza to any order. We buy only a few things organic - conventionally grown bananas and avocados can go right on ahead and poison us to death more slowly, okay? We've got to save those pennies for berries, apples, greens, and peppers.

At the grocery store, Chicken asks me, "can we get grapes, or are they too expensive?" Child, have you lost your damn mind? It's FEBRUARY. Those grapes are $7.99 an OUNCE. We'll get raisins. They're just like grapes, only withered and brown and priced to sell. You'll love em. I'm both proud and ashamed that my child knows to ask if food is too expensive.

I don't want to make it sound like we're barely scraping by, bobbing just above destitution, starvation, or regular prostitution.

We're fine.

When I say, "we buy frozen organic berries at Costco rather than fresh at Whole Foods," I don't want you to think of me weeping, softly, as I turn down the thermostat to 61 to save money on heating oil, don my fingerless gloves, and begin to play the world's most irritating first-world violin solo, "oh how I yearn for fresh raspberries." No. Listen. We're fine.

But Chicken's school tuition didn't come out of the "Wheeeee!" Fund. We've made choices to make it work.

And now it's time for Buster to start a program and suddenly it isn't even about choices anymore. Or rather, the choices are not choices that we are willing to make. Vacations and eating out have already gotten the ax. Everything else is

Send 2 kids to school OR have a safe, well-maintained, insured car?
Send 2 kids to school OR pay back student loans?
Send 2 kids to school OR live in a well-kept house in a safe neighborhood?
Send 2 kids to school OR eat fresh fruit or vegetables? Actually, that wouldn't even matter... we spend $500 a month on groceries, sometimes a little more if we're throwing birthday parties or hosting friends for dinner. We could stop buying groceries and it still wouldn't send one of our kids to school. 

This is bullshit.

It's a complicated problem with more questions than answers. How do we subsidize ECE for all people, even people who make more than a little but much less than a lot?

I'm not trying to advocate for a world in which I never have to make any difficult choices. I just feel like Chicken right now,  like the world and my bank account are my Mommy, telling me that I have a choice: good school, or creature comforts?


Loving teachers, or save for a down payment and get regular haircuts?


Cheerful, well-organized classroom, or fat college funds and paid-off car?

I'm MAD.

I need some JUICE.

easy on the juice mommy
maybe some eggs
and a black coffee


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