Many families are stuck on child care waitlists. Here's how some are coping
Julie Cadwallader Staub is curious about the Vermont families who are on waiting lists for child care. “What decisions are they forced to make? How are they managing?”
So she put her question to Brave Little State, Vermont Public’s listener-powered journalism show that answers questions about Vermont that have been asked — and voted on — by our audience.
To answer Julie’s question, we visit with four families in wait list limbo, and learn about the tradeoffs they’re making.
Note: Our show is made for the ear. We recommend listening to the audio provided here. We also provide a transcript of the episode below. Transcripts are generated by a combination of computers and humans. They may contain errors, so please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print.
Brigid Vorce: Lily, this is Mae. Did your Mom and Dad tell you that there’s going to be a podcast? OK. Cool. So Mae’s going to have the microphone and she’ll just be like listening as we do art, isn’t that cool? That’s a microphone.
Mae Nagusky: You want to touch it?
Kid: It’s fuzzy! [Laughter]
Angela Evancie: Mae Nagusky, tell me where this tape comes from.
Mae Nagusky: Yeah. A couple weeks ago I drove to Huntington to talk to Brigid Vorce.
Brigid Vorce: So pack up your snack or take your last bite, and then we’re going to come over to the art table…
Mae Nagusky: Brigid has worked in early childhood education for a long time now. And right now she teaches an after school art class right at the town hall in Huntington.
Brigid Vorce: Yeahhhhh beautiful! Bethany, gorgeous!
Mae Nagusky: On the day I visit, the art activity is silk screening. So there was a bunch of paint and paper and markers and a lot of creative juices flowing.
Mae Nagusky: How’s it going for you?
Kid: This is really going well. Like, the first one here is not a good one. This one’s better.
Mae Nagusky: It was kind of funny. There was paint that was spilled on the floor out of nowhere, and there was this one kid who got really upset that the pink that they used was too light. They ran out of, like, blue and purple and that became one of the biggest catastrophes I’ve witnessed in many days.
Brigid Vorce: If you don’t want paint on that shirt, like to stay on it, go rinse it really really really good.
Mae Nagusky: This was an incredibly overwhelming experience for me. And all I needed to keep track of was my audio recorder. Brigid, on the other hand, the teacher, you know, she’s so experienced in this field. But she has an added challenge right now. Because she has a 1-year-old baby. But the problem is she doesn’t have child care. And so she’s teaching this art class with her baby strapped directly to her chest. While little kids are running around asking her questions...her daughter is literally screaming in her face.
[baby crying very intensely]
Angela Evancie: From Vermont Public, this is Brave Little State. I’m Angela Evancie. Here on the show we answer questions about Vermont that have been asked, and voted on, by you, our audience. Because we want our journalism to be more inclusive, more transparent, and more fun. Today –
Julie Cadwallader Staub: I think it was that article in Seven Days that talked about an eight-month, 10-month, year-and-a-half waiting list for kids. And that's what sparked this question.
Angela Evancie: A question about Vermont’s child care crisis – and what happens when families who want child care, and can maybe even afford it – can’t get a spot.
Julie Cadwallader Staub: What do families do when they're on the waiting list for child care? They have a baby, they have a young child, then what decisions are they forced to make in those circumstances? What are the tradeoffs? How are they managing?
Angela Evancie: Our winning question-asker is Julie Cadwallader Staub, of South Burlington. Her children are all grown up. In fact, she’s a grandmother now. But she’s no stranger to this issue.
Julie Cadwallader Staub: Thirty years ago, when we moved into Vermont, this was a very difficult struggle. Then, I remember our child care costs exceeding the cost of our rent that first year here. And now I have neighbors two doors down, who are struggling with the exact same thing, and maybe even more so.
Angela Evancie: Julie also spent her career working in early care and education, including advocacy here in Vermont. She’s still a member of Let’s Grow Kids, which pushed hard this year for legislation that would pour an additional $120 million a year into Vermont’s child care system – legislation that became law just this week.
Julie Cadwallader Staub: There's been so much advocacy about it. And that has, again sparked my curiosity. I've just been really curious about how how people are managing this now.
Angela Evancie: To answer Julie’s question, we meet four families who are “making it work” – or trying to – each in their own way. Brave Little State is a proud member of the NPR Network – welcome.
Angela Evancie: Well, Mae Nagusky, let's just stick with you for the next part of this episode. Earlier you introduced us to Brigid Vorce, the after-school art teacher who teaches with her 1-year-old daughter in tow. Can you tell us more about Brigid?
Mae Nagusky: Yeah, so, Brigid joined a child care waitlist a few months ago and hasn't heard back.
Brigid Vorce: They didn't even ask her name or anything, like maybe just my email is auto-added to a waitlist. So that felt very odd. And also, we're so rural out here. There's not, like, not many games in town.
Mae Nagusky: Brigid also has a 5-year-old son. And he sometimes joins her classes. But on the day of my visit, he ended up spending time with another family. I did get to meet him, though. I tried to throw a joke his way. But he's pretty shy. Brigid’s daughter, on the other hand, not so much.
Angela Evancie: So tell me about your visit.
Mae Nagusky: Yeah, Angela, I spent about four and a half hours with Brigid and I don't think I saw her take a break even once, like not even from my recollection to use the bathroom or take one of those big deep breaths or go on her phone.
Brigid Vorce: All day long. Every day, like, this is my normal, don't stop, do a million things at the same time. So I just run on, like, caffeine and adrenaline all day long. From when she wakes up at 5:45 until she goes to bed at like 6:30, 7 o'clock. And I usually pass out at 6:30 or 7 with her.
Angela Evancie: Wow.
Mae Nagusky: Yeah.
Brigid Vorce: I think motherhood gives you like superpowers, it supercharges you and you can do anything. I remember lack of sleep being a trauma with my first child, like, when you have a baby and suddenly you have to wake up several times a night. And then you get used to it. It's like your body reorients itself and that's your new normal. So, it's been just, like, me and my husband. You know, tag teaming everything for the last five years.
Mae Nagusky: During our interview, her husband Jeff showed up and picked up their son and they talked about who was going to take their daughter and their dinner logistics and bringing the sun hat to practice versus not. From what Brigid told me, that's sort of what a lot of the conversations have sounded like for the past five years between them.
Brigid Vorce: I feel like I rarely see my husband, I usually fall asleep during the little time that we would actually hang out. You know, those nights that I can stay awake, and we're both just exhausted on the couch. Like, we'll look at each other and say, like, “Hey, like, I still love you. Like, you know, you're still the one.” So yeah, like, we've had five dates in five years. I've had one night where I've been away from my son. That's it.
Angela Evancie: Mae, obviously the question we're trying to answer in this episode is, you know, how are families like Brigid and Jeff's who are on a waitlist for at least one child to get into child care, you know, how are they making it work and what tradeoffs are they making? So I'm curious what Brigid told you about what she thinks her big tradeoffs are.
Mae Nagusky: Well, in a lot of ways, it's her own personal time and personal, sort of, dreams with her job. Brigid and Jeff moved to Vermont right after her son was born. And, so, because of that, over the past five years, she's prioritized child care over a career and therefore has just picked up jobs here and there.
Brigid Vorce: Working at the preschool… a homeschool pod… working at a perennial garden, art sub position… nannying… etc.
Mae Nagusky: So over the past five years she's worked nine different jobs.
Brigid Vorce: So, yeah. It's really hard. Like an opening will come up. Like there's a woman in town who takes care of kids. And she had an opening. And I was like, “Oh, there's an opening. I don't necessarily have a job to apply to for this opening.” You know, so then do you just, like, sign your kid up and pay until you have a job, or a job will come up and you're like, oh my gosh, I want to apply to that job. That'd be a great job. But you may not have child care. So what I've been doing because I moved here without a job prior to being in Vermont, is I've just been, like, taking the job that I have child care for.
Mae Nagusky: Brigid also told me about some of their financial stress.
Brigid Vorce: Our dream is like, “Ooh, yeah, when we have child care, and when we have two people working, Wow, can you imagine the freedom we're gonna feel? Can you imagine the, you know, lack of stress we’ll feel in our life? That that's going to be living, you know.” I'm always thinking about what's my next step? What's my next move? What do I have to do for the next thing? And that's just like, so draining, in addition to keeping track of doctor's appointments, keeping track of, you know, like, dentist appointments, school events, everything that goes into, like, the mental load of motherhood.
Mae Nagusky: She worked a lot of her life taking care of kids. And she feels as though now that she has her own kids, everything's telling her to just, like, push them off to another person to take care of them. And that really isn't the way that she wants to live her life. But because of that, she feels like there's all of these outside pressures that she doesn't really have control over.
Brigid Vorce: I have spent three quarters of my life taking care of everybody else's kids and raising everybody else's kids, I feel like. And so there is a little bit of a bitterness in me that, like, to make all the pieces work, I have to pay someone else to raise my kids and, like, that's a really hard, I don't know, thing to swallow for somebody who has spent my whole life raising somebody else's kids.
Brigid Vorce: Everybody stops you in the grocery store to say, like, “Oh, enjoy it while you can. That goes by so fast.” It's like, “Yeah, But why do we have to be stressed out about everything else, when we want to just like, be present, and absorb these adorable little people in these years that they still want to hang out with us.” So, I, like, that breaks my heart, like, I'll get a little emotional about that. But just that financial stress and work stress and child care stress detracts from this precious precious time that we can't get back.”
Angela Evancie: Mae Nagusky.
Angela Evancie: Next up, Josh Crane talks with mom who has spent two years in wait list limbo. Here’s Josh.
Sammie Gorton: Welcome to our home. Just don't pet the cat. She doesn't like strangers…
Josh Crane: Sammie Gorton lives in South Barre with her 14-month-old son, Noah.
Josh Crane: Hey there!
Sammie Gorton: Ooh, you have the hiccups! Can you say hello? Oh, nice wave.
Josh Crane: We get settled for the interview on the couch. Or, I should say, Sammie and I get settled. Noah doesn’t really do “settling.”
Sammie Gorton: So, moving his body, being outside, he likes to explore everything. He's very busy. He doesn't like to stay still.
Josh Crane: Every time I look up during the interview, Noah’s doing something different: Playing with his truck (truck sounds), touching my microphone (mic noise), sliding down a ramp (“And now you’re going down again!”). The energy level is impressive, especially since Noah and Sammie didn’t sleep very much the night before. Sammie says it took Noah almost seven hours to fall asleep.
Sammie Gorton: So it was started at 8:30 and went all the way to 3 a.m. So I'm pretty exhausted.
Josh Crane: Mostly sleepless nights are unusual for Sammie, but being tired is not. That’s part of balancing a full-time job with being what she calls a “solo mom by choice.” Sammie had Noah by way of fertility treatments.
Sammie Gorton: So I basically was like, I don't need to force myself to fall in love and kind of follow the stereotypical family system in order to have a child. So I was like, I could do this on my own.
Josh Crane: How early did you start thinking about, like, or start planning for child care?
Sammie Gorton: When I found out that the pregnancy was going to be successful, and that I needed to get on some lists, I was five weeks pregnant. And I got on 10 different lists in the area.
Josh Crane: It’s been almost two years since then, which has meant a lot of waiting. But also, a bunch of false starts. Like when her friend’s mom tried to help out. She runs a day care for children over two years old, but she knew Sammie hadn’t gotten off any waitlists. So, she made an exception for baby Noah. The first five days went great. Except, they were also the last five days. Sammie’s friend’s mom realized it just wasn’t sustainable.
Sammie Gorton: And that's when I was just going back to work. And so then I had no one and I had to scramble.
Josh Crane: At one point, Sammie looked into starting her own day care. She did receive a lot of interest from local families. But between insurance costs and other regulations, it just wasn’t a viable option.
Sammie Gorton: I was very excited at the idea of being home with Noah and being able to care for other kids. But that was not something that I could financially sustain.
Josh Crane: Eventually, Sammie did get off one of the 10 waitlists she was on.
Sammie Gorton: And I had to really fight for that spot. And I got it.
Josh Crane: But her relief was short-lived.
Sammie Gorton: And then months later, they decided to close their doors to their infants and toddlers. So then we were back to waiting on the waitlist.
Josh Crane: Sammie says they closed due to staff shortages. In between all these false starts, Sammie’s mom filled in the child care gaps. And she’s still Sammie’s best option right now.
Sammie Gorton: Yes, yeah. Except for when she has an appointment and I need to try to scramble for someone to watch him. Unfortunately, as a solo mom, it's really hard for me to pay people more than what I get paid myself.
Josh Crane: Sammie works for Washington County mental health services. And she makes about $22 an hour.
Sammie Gorton: Which is pretty good. But child cares mostly are around $225 a week that people need to pay.
Josh Crane: Luckily, Sammie qualifies for subsidies, reducing the cost of care to around $50 a week. Of course, she needs to be able to actually find child care in order to get the cost relief. Now, she’s about to start a new job as a housing counselor. It’s not going to solve her child care dilemma, but she’s looking forward to the work itself.
Sammie Gorton: I've grown up in homelessness and poverty. So it's really a passion to help people who are also going through that.
Josh Crane: When Sammie was growing up in Vermont, she and her mom moved around a lot.
Sammie Gorton: So just constantly moving due to either lack of housing, lack of ability to manage money, being evicted. We just kept moving.
Josh Crane: When I first contacted Sammie for an interview, she said, “I would have never imagined child care being one of my most significant struggles.” This is coming from someone who was the first person in her family to go to college. Who went to great lengths to have a baby without a partner. And who’s figured out how to raise that baby in a stable home.
Sammie Gorton: That's something that I wanted so desperately as a child. It's amazing that I could give that to him.
Josh Crane: Sammie just has a way of making things happen. But, this child care thing — it’s been really hard. She’s basically putting all her paid vacation time towards filling the gaps. And she’s reliant on her mom in a new way.
Sammie Gorton: Now that she has Noah as a grandchild too, she's very motivated to being a part of his life and supporting me in helping him. And it's exhausting. My mom is on disability. So she, it is exhausting for her to watch Noah every single day.
Josh Crane: As for the possibility of child care in the near future, Sammie’s not optimistic. This fall will mark two years of being stuck in waiting list limbo. She wishes more employers offered child care for their employees. But until then, she has some advice for other people thinking of having kids.
Sammie Gorton: Yeah, get on waitlists as soon as possible. And then just keep reaching out. Checking in with them. Do you have any openings yet? Do you have any openings yet? Getting creative. Talking to someone about the care that you need, hopefully then they can find something through a means of, word by — spreading the word, I can't even think anymore.
Josh Crane: It’s getting to be the end of a long day, after a long, mostly sleepless night. Sammie says she has no regrets when it comes to being a solo mom. But that doesn’t mean she never feels lonely.
Sammie Gorton: On nights like last night, I was just thinking how hard it is sometimes to not have someone who could just be like, "Here, let me take him, go take a breather, take a shower, come back when you're ready." It would be so nice if somebody could just ask me how I'm doing.
Josh Crane: One of the ways she gets through is by leaning on her “village.” That’s what she calls her network of neighbors, family, friends and doulas.
Sammie Gorton: I think connecting with people is very important. And focusing on your own mental health so that you can be there for your children and get through difficult times. I think that’s really important.
Josh Crane: After the interview ends, Sammie and Noah walk me to my car. We say our goodbyes, and I start to pack up my recording gear. Before leaving, I turn around. As if on cue, I see one of Sammie’s neighbors step outside. He checks in with Sammie, plays with Noah, and then hands them dinner.
Angela Evancie: Josh Crane. After the break, a stay-at-home dad, who just hopes this is temporary:
Flavio Jiminez Alfonso: A mí me gustaría regresar a trabajar. Entonces, en un momento que se abre el espacio…
Angela Evancie: I’m Angela Evancie, and this is Brave Little State.
Flavio Jimenez Alfonso & Cat Bryars
[Chatter of greetings in Spanish]
Angela Evancie: When I meet Flavio Jimenez Alfonso, he’s holding his 6-week-old son Arturo.
[More chatter in Spanish]
Angela Evancie: Flavio’s wife, Cat Bryars, is offering a piece of pizza to their older son, Alfonso, aka Alfie. He’s 3.
Angela Evancie: Pepperoni, is that your favorite?
Angela Evancie: This family lives in southern Vermont, in Bennington. But this interview is happening closer to the center of the state, in Plainfield, at an Airbnb that they’ve rented. It’s Cat’s first week back at work after having Arturo, and she has to be at a two-day meeting in nearby Montpelier.
Cat Bryars: I thought for a brief moment I might drive up and drive home, and then realized that the only way to really do it was to bring my whole family. So now we're making a vacation out of being up here for a couple days.
Angela Evancie: The rental is super nice. But “vacation” might be a stretch. It’s been raining, so Alfie hasn’t been able to ride his little balance bike. And, there’s a new baby on the scene. That’s an adjustment for everyone. Here’s Flavio:
Flavio Jimenez Alfonso: Especialmente cuando Alfonso no va en la guardería, pues igual este, siento que Alfonso a veces requiere mi atención…[English translation]: Especially when Alfonso doesn't go to day care, I feel that he requires my attention, and what sometimes stresses me out the most is that sometimes I'll like to play with him or do other things, go outside, but sometimes you need to be with the baby and you can't do that. It's like today, just like yesterday, I wanted to go out but I couldn't because the baby is here. We can't go out, it's raining, it's cold. I get stressed when I want to take him out as much as possible so that [he] can learn other things, but sometimes I just put him there on the TV and he stays there. And for me, it's like, I wonder if I'm doing well as a dad. You always have those questions: What is it like to be a good dad? That is what I think sometimes, I worry...A veces me preocupo, ¿no? Sí, sí, por su desarrollo, qué tanto le estoy enseñando o no sé, sí.
Angela Evancie: To be fair, this week is an aberration. Normally, this family is at home at Bennington, where Cat works as the director of an affordable housing nonprofit. And normally, Alfie is in full-time, extended hours day care, while Flavio stays home with baby Arturo.
Flavio Jimenez Alfonso: Bueno, actualmente, pues yo la que estoy encargado de cuidar el bebé… [English translation] Well, currently, I’m the one in charge of taking care of the baby, for almost two months now. I stopped working. While waiting for child care, we were analyzing which one of us goes to work, doing the financial-economic analysis. Right now, it suits me to take care of the baby, because my work is a little more flexible or informal. I'm in carpentry and [Cat] is the one who covers most expenses in the family.
Angela Evancie: This is the family’s arrangement by choice. Cat’s relatively new to her job, and it’s a big job, with high demands, and enough income that they can afford to send Alfie to day care while Flavio stays home with the baby. And even though he’s not officially working, this setup leaves him with enough energy that he can do carpentry projects on their house, which Cat calls a classic fixer-upper. And most importantly for this episode: Arturo’s waitlist? They chose to be on it, because that day care is their top choice.
Cat Bryars: The waitlist that we're on is for the day care that our older, Alfie, currently goes to, and they don't accept kids until they're at least 10 months old. So the earliest that we can actually have a place is in February, and we are waiting for that.
Angela Evancie: All things considered, Cat and Flavio seem to have things well and calmly in hand. Maybe it’s because their kids, at least in this phase, are … dare I say angelic? Like, right now, Alfie is playing with a pack of Uno cards, on his own, not making a sound. And Arturo is passed out on Flavio’s chest.
Flavio Jimenez Alfonso: Todo bien, tranquilo. No, muy paciente. [laughs]
Cat Bryars: So yeah, low stress is also due to the lottery card that you're dealt, and we got a good lottery card twice now.
Angela Evancie: So. Easy kids? Check. Cat and Flavio say they also feel good about the exposure to Spanish that Alfie’s day care offers.
Cat Bryars: Something that was a nice surprise and one reason you know, we're on the waitlist for the day care that Alfie's at and why he's had such a great experience — we were super lucky in his first year there that one of his full time teachers was a native Spanish speaker from Mexico. She actually is not there any longer but a lot of the teachers love to speak Spanish with Alfie, the little words that they know here and there. So that's what I feel like, you know, we've got in the bag at the moment and we'll keep looking at different options. And we're not that far from Albany in Western Massachusetts, where there are concentrations of people that speak Spanish, so I feel like that's the next horizon for, frankly, having to, yeah, like leave Bennington to maybe find more — although that said I mean we've … Burlington, Flavio likes the idea of Burlington a lot … That said, I shouldn't short shrift our community of Spanish speakers that we have built, primarily people that have kids, and trying to spend as much time with them as as we can.
Flavio Jimenez Alfonso: Y, en el futuro, pues igual este, me gustaría que Alfie aprendiera bien las dos lenguas inglés y español…[English translation] And, in the future, I would like Alfie to learn both English and Spanish well so that when he goes to Mexico where my family is, he can communicate. I would like him to speak both languages, since where I was born, where I grew up, we spoke an indigenous language in Maya and I learned it, but now I don't practice — well, there's no one to speak it with. But I think that with speaking Spanish and English, it would be fine for us ...Creo que por lo menos que hablara el español y el inglés, ya con eso estoy bien.
Angela Evancie: If-slash-when Arturo gets off that waitlist, Flavio and Cat know they’ll have to do some recalibrating. Even if Flavio goes back to work, they’re not sure they’ll be able to afford day care for two kids, full time. So maybe Alfie goes down to a few days a week? Or maybe when he goes to pre-school, Vermont’s universal pre-K law will help a little bit?
Cat Bryars: So that's why we really do take it day to day. I mean, you might talk to us, you know, next February, where, oh my gosh, if we got a place in day care, but we may be having a really challenging moment of running the numbers in that moment. Does it make sense? Maybe it doesn't.
Angela Evancie: For now, this approach is working because it’s temporary. At least, Flavio hopes it is. He says he doesn’t want to be a stay-at-home dad forever.
Flavio Jimenez Alfonso: A mí me gustaría regresar a trabajar. [English translation] I would like to return to work. So, when a spot is open, I would still like to go back to work, because I still like being there, perhaps I'll feel a little better.
Angela Evancie: But no arrangement is perfect. Cat remembers that before they had a second, they were both working, with Alfie in day care. And it took a different kind of toll.
Cat Bryars: We constantly were put in the position of having to talk in ways around basically the question of whose time is more valuable when Alfie got sick and despite being in daycare but had to be home from day care. And that's the worst position to be in as a couple trying to have a healthy mutually supportive relationship, is having to use terms that are basically, well, is your time more valuable than my time today? So that's really kind of one of the tradeoffs or strategies is like, well, if if he's not working at least we're not having that conversation on a on a regular basis and that's way better for us as a household is to just think about this as a strategic, you know, short term thing — until maybe it isn't, when that when that space comes up at day care.
Angela Evancie: What Alfie and Arturo think about all this remains, for now, a mystery.
Angela Evancie: What do you think, Alfie?
Cat Bryars: What do you feel about day care Alfie? Who’s your teacher?
Flavio Jimenez Alfonso: What is your best teacher?
Angela: That’s how I feel when someone points a microphone in my face… [Laugher]
Angela Evancie: Thanks again to this family for making some time for me during their pseudo vacation. Our last profile today comes from Myra Flynn.
Emily Eley & Matt Kobzik
Emily Eley: Hi, I'm Emily Eley. And what's your name?
Bo Altis Kobzik-Eley: Bo Altis Kobzik-Eley.
Emily Eley: Bo Altis Kobzik-Eley.
Matt Kobzik: I'm Matt Kobzik. And we have little Lane Kobzik-Eley. Six months, well, five and a half, five and three quarter months old.
Emily Eley: Lane Avery Kobzik-Eley.
Matt Kobzik: Lane Avery Kobzik-Eley.
Myra Flynn: Emily, Matt, Bo and Lane all live in the Old North End of Burlington. I’m speaking with them during their evening dinner routine, and it isn’t easy to have a conversation. They keep jumping up to stir the food on the stove, bounce baby Lane and keep Bo, their toddler, from trying to share.
Matt Kobzik: Oh, he has salami. That's not — no, he can't have that.
Emily Eley: He can’t have salami, baby.
Bo Altis Kobzik-Eley: No.
Matt Kobzik: You can have that but he can’t have salami just yet, OK? But thanks for sharing.
Myra Flynn: Emily is 38, Matt is 33, Bo is three and a half and baby Lane is five and a half months. And baby Lane doesn’t know it, but he’s been on a waiting list for a while now. He was wait-listed in utero.
Emily Eley: I got pregnant in March. And like, essentially, as soon as we got a positive pregnancy test, I think like April, I started looking and started, like, figuring out waitlists.
Myra Flynn: Emily owns her own business, and it’s a pretty unique one. After years of grinding away in the non-profit sector, public service, and corporate America — she realized quickly how unsustainable most work models are, and now works to help others have a similar epiphany. She offers anti-capitalist business coaching for folks she believes have been historically left out of the business conversations altogether. Enter parenthood, a grind of a different kind.
Emily Eley: I don't have paid leave, so like, you know, essentially, there's a strong correlation, immediate correlation between how many hours I work and how much money I make because I'm not salaried. And so leading up to having Lane I had to, I like, essentially just doubled my hours so that I could then afford to take off two months.
Matt Kobzik: Well, my current company, I only got one week.
Emily Eley: Honestly it felt like just a slap in the face. I was like, “Why did you, why are you? Why even bother? Why did you even bother offering leave at all?” Like, you get more vacation time to literally vacation than you do to have a baby.
Myra Flynn: Matt, Emily and Bo moved to Vermont in 2020, from Montclair, New Jersey. Starting fresh, and forming a community, buying a house and having two kids has all happened for them in a mere three years. So it hasn’t been easy. But the waiting game, that tipped the scale from hard to unbearable.
Emily Eley: It was all prior to him being born we were on waitlist, but a lot of them, they were like, We're not sure what our waitlist will look like, we can't give you definite answers. We can't confirm that you're actually on a waitlist, even." You have to send in like I think it was like a $35 check, $25 check, something like that, to even be considered for the waitlist.
Myra Flynn: Wait, you had to pay $35 to be waitlisted on a waitlist? [Laughter]
Myra Flynn: Bo is in day care and Emily says his center offers a discounted rate for siblings to attend. So the Eley-Kobziks were counting on their kids attending the same place, under the same care. Only one problem:
Matt Kobzik: They had shut down their infant room.
Emily Eley: So they were like, "You're on the waitlist for the infant room if the infant room opens, but we can't tell you if the infant room will open and if it does, we don't know when."
Myra Flynn: Why was the infant room closed?
Emily Eley: They didn’t have enough teachers.
Myra Flynn: This is a pretty big deal in the world of parents and guardians. Infants who go to child care centers are so vulnerable, which is why federal regulations require infant rooms to have more staffing and extra care. So, here they are. Emily worked twice her hours — while incredibly pregnant — got little Lane on a waitlist in utero only to have him and have no one to care for him. The Eley-Kobziks moved into what I like to call pivot parenting.
Myra Flynn: First — they got organized.
Emily Eley: So, yeah. He was on those three waitlists. And then we had like a whole spreadsheet of entertaining other places. A lot of folks were just like, we won't even let you on the waitlist, regardless of what year it is, like, good luck. "Talk to us in five years" kind of thing.
Myra Flynn: Then, they talked sacrifices. And even before Lane was born, they talked ultimate sacrifices.
Myra Flynn: Were you ever, like, maybe we just won't even have a second kid? Like, “Maybe we'll just stick with one because we can't afford to have another?”
Emily Eley: I actually explicitly remember a conversation, where, I don’t remember how the conversation started. But Matt, my partner, was like, “Well, what are we going to do just not have a second child?” And I was like “Oooooh.” It hadn't occurred to me prior to that conversation that having a second child might become a decision based on financial necessity versus, like, desire to have one.
Myra Flynn: Here’s some financial context for the Eley-Kobziks. Matt makes about $95,000 a year working for a business based out of Houston. Emily about $50,000. These incomes don’t sound too shabby in the grand sense of economics and households. But factor in a mortgage, child-care and you know — life stuff — these folks say their income doesn’t actually grant them a day off from constant financial stress. And they’ve realized that in the system of kids, guardians and teachers, parents aren’t the only ones feeling that crunch. One of their day cares reached out to them for help.
Matt Kobzik: Late last year, they did, like, a food drive for, like, food insecure teachers.
Emily Eley: For their teachers. They asked us to bring food in.
Matt Kobzik: I'm like, we already pay, you know, $1,500, $1,600 a month for Bo for four days a week. And yet, somehow they, you know, the teachers are still food insecure. I'm like “This is so…”
Myra Flynn: I’ll note here, as a parent, that I too have played this game and it’s a nasty one. Parents and guardians pay way more than they can afford, while teachers are woefully underpaid, and yet somehow that’s all supposed to work out?
Myra Flynn: So the Eley-Kobziks made a final pivot in their waiting game. They decided to start over — with a new plan. And throw money at that.
Emily Eley: This month, we will spend $4,000 on child care between two nannies and day care. Like, just to cover, yeah, the days.
Myra Flynn: And even that pivot, the pivot to two nannies, wasn’t easy.
Emily Eley: We had two nannies say they were on board both no-showed the first day. I had consolidated my work hours to 15 hours a week, I was working 15 hours a week, running an entire business on 15 hours a week. Matt was showing up for work completely sleep deprived five days a week.
Myra Flynn: And now…finally. The Eley-Kobziks are getting a chance to stop pivoting. Lane has been accepted to day care. Not the same one as his brother’s — but that’s not a sticking point for them right now. They’re just limping towards the finish line of relief.
Emily Eley: Yeah, so Lane will begin June 20, which feels crazy to me.
Myra Flynn: How are you both doing? Are you hanging in there?
Emily Eley: Matt and I have this insane ability to like, only get stronger and more connected, the more trials and tribulations you throw at us, and I'm like, now crying. But um…
Matt Kobzik: This has definitely been harder, the hardest. This was harder than Bo, even with COVID. You know, and like Bo being born and then, like, COVID happening. This has been harder for sure.
Emily Eley: This has been the hardest. Sometimes I feel like we're like roommates, you know, like, I feel like we're just like friends or roommates.
Matt Kobzik: We're still FWB’s, right? FWB.
Myra Flynn: What is FWB?
Matt Kobzik: Friends with benefits (big laugh)
Myra Flynn: Oh, OK. Yeah, got it. Got it.
Myra Flynn: We mentioned above that Emily is an anti-capitalist coach for small businesses. The irony of her job, and her family's recent journey toward such an expensive endeavor, was not lost on me.
Myra Flynn: How do you reconcile your personal involvement in capitalism, specifically when it comes to some of these needs you’re talking about?
Emily Eley: Yeah. First I would say, I in no way shape or form, like, blame the schools, the teachers. I think it's really unfortunate that, like, we've built a system in which education has become privatized. I would say that's my biggest gripe is, like, the fact that day care is privatized. So, first and foremost, day care should just be universal.
Myra Flynn: I asked Emily if she had any words of wisdom for parents and guardians currently suffering through the insufferable waiting list game.
Emily Eley: I think especially for mom-identifying folks, there's such a strong narrative in capitalism, that it is your fault and you should be able to figure this out, and you should be able to push through and you should be able to multitask and you should be able to cook an amazing f****** dinner while taking care of your two children, while simultaneously posting your new products to Etsy. Like, f*** that. That's not true. There are anomalies. And so if you're struggling, if there's no spot on day care, if your business is starting to feel like it's failing, if your boss is pissed that you're not showing up on time, these aren't reflections of personal failings. These are reflections of a system that was not built with you in mind. And so instead of beating the f***out of yourself, and trying to push harder, or trying to have more discipline or any of those things, like it's OK to be pissed.
Myra Flynn: So, don’t blame yourself, don’t compare your story to anyone else's, get pissed — but Emily also suggests that when you're in the thick of it, stand still. Don’t forget to look around a little.
Emily Eley: This is like the life we're living right now. And do the best you can to get through and find solace and small pieces of joy. And also, like, they're not this small forever, as I'm listening to my tiny baby laugh. Like, this isn't our problem forever, right? There will be other problems in the future, but they do grow up.
Angela Evancie: Myra Flynn.
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Angela Evancie: Thanks so much for listening to the show. And thanks to Julie Cadwallader Staub for the great question.
This is my last episode of BLS for a while — I’m stepping in to be the interim head of content here at Vermont Public, and leaving this show in the capable hands of our senior producer and now interim managing editor Josh Crane. And that’s not the only change afoot! Our colleague Myra Flynn is spinning off our series "Homegoings" into its own show — you can find all the details at homegoings.co. And not to worry, BLS is going to keep answering your questions — we’ve got some great episodes in the works for this summer, so keep listening, and asking, and voting.
This episode was a true team effort, with reporting, producing and mixing by all of us — Mae Nagusky, Josh Crane, Myra Flynn, and me. Our theme music is by Ty Gibbons; other music by Blue Dot Sessions.
Special thanks to Jan Buonanno, Rob Gurwitt, Peter Engisch, Maria Aguirre, and all the folks who replied to our callout for this episode, to share your own stories about child care waitlists. We are rooting for you!
And our show gets lots of help behind the scenes, so a special shoutout to our colleague Bryan Holland for starting to get our episodes up on YouTube.
I’m Angela Evancie. We’ll be back soon with more people-powered Vermont journalism. Until then.