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Jul 31 2014

Am I Missing the Mommy Gene?

By at 11:01 am

baby-crying

They say a mother can always recognize her baby’s cry. Well, that didn’t happen for me. When my son was an infant, there were plenty of times when I’d walk into our day care center at pickup time to the sound of a baby crying, and I’d honestly have no idea if it was my son or another child.

And that’s not all. Growing up, we basically didn’t bother with thermometers, because all my mother had to do was put her hand to her children’s foreheads to check for fevers. I, on the other hand, need a fancy digital thermometer to even have a clue in that regard.

I often wish I were one of those mothers to whom these things came naturally, but the older my son gets, the more I realize there’s no denying it: I just don’t seem to have that mommy gene. Sure, I’m more than capable of showering my son with love and affection, but even though I’ve been doing the parenting thing for more than two and a half years now, there are still times when it just plain doesn’t feel natural.  Read the rest of this entry →

Jun 12 2014

Why Are There No Pre-Ks for Middle Class Families in NYC?

By at 12:12 pm

PRE-k-chesler

A couple of years ago, my wife and I were touring a local preschool when my wife hesitantly inquired about financial aid. “We consider attending preschool to be a privilege, and so there is no aid,” we were told. We never returned to that school again. Instead, we found a preschool that was willing to take account of our middle-class income and offered us a discounted tuition. And that was that.

But pre-K is different. It is no longer just a privilege for some. And rightly so. A significant body of research shows that young children who participate in high-quality pre-K programs enter school more ready to learn. These children also show significant academic gains. Fortunately, thanks in great part to our city’s newest mayor, New York State’s government was convinced of the importance of pre-K for all children and recently funded a universal pre-K program, thus making a free pre-K program available to all.

Earlier this year, my family moved near a public school with an established pre-K program in the hopes that this would give my 4-year-old daughter a good chance to win the admissions lottery for the school. When it came time for applications, we applied to that program and four others in the Upper East Side of Manhattan, where we live. Read the rest of this entry →

Dec 12 2012

The Euphemisms We Use Instead of “Nanny”

By at 10:49 am

Parenting is full of euphemisms. It all starts with the “baby bump,” then we get “nursing,” followed by “fussy” and “number two.”

I’ve now started using my own parenting euphemism: Sometimes I say my son has a “babysitter” instead of a “nanny.”

At a recent event for families with young children at our synagogue I was chatting with another mom who has a young son. I’m still in the dating-new-mommy-friends phase (you know, trying out new friendships, wondering if the other mom really likes you, hoping she will call or email you)–when you have to find someone who has the same work schedule, whose child naps and eats on a similar time table as your little one, etc. I didn’t want to further complicate matters by having this woman think I was a rich and spoiled diva. So instead of saying my son has a nanny during the week, I said he has a babysitter. Read the rest of this entry →

Nov 1 2012

This Mama Pays Child Support

By at 2:00 pm

As part of our month-long series dedicated to Women, Work & Money, Sarah Tuttle-Singer shares her child-support strategy.

Last month I had a grand total of 42 shekels in my bank account and no place to sleep with the kids. Nights get cold here, now. The sun sets early, and the usual standbys–the pool, the pub for dinner, or sleeping in a tent–are no longer options.

But the most stressful part of all of this was I couldn’t pay child support for two months. Read the rest of this entry →

Oct 26 2012

The Nanny Murder Case

By at 5:44 pm

By this point, you have probably heard about the horrific news story that hit every mother like a ton of bricks when she heard it: the Upper West Side nanny who, by all appearances, fatally stabbed her 2-year-old and 6-year-old charges in the bathtub while their mother was out with their 3-year-old sister.

We read the story and find it unbearable to live even a sliver of that mother’s nightmare: coming home to a dark apartment, asking where her children are, and then turning the lights on to the knowledge that life can never, ever be the same. Even thinking of that mother puts a terrible taste in my mouth, sour horror tinged with a metallic panic.

We read the stories, cringing at the idea that the nanny, the babysitter, the person whom we trust with our children, whether for days and nights or hours at a time, could possibly be suspect. Obviously, there is no “best case” scenario for children being murdered. But somehow, the idea that such a horrific crime against such beautiful innocence could be perpetrated by someone that we ourselves let into the house and our lives adds yet another terrifying element to an already awful scenario.

What is there to say? We feel unspeakably bad for the parents and the sister of the victims, and their entire families. We feel profoundly unsettled at the idea of our trust being betrayed by someone in whom we have placed the ultimate trust – the safety of our children. Read the rest of this entry →

Aug 23 2012

Your Child Will Cost $226,920

By at 11:28 am

Well, isn’t this depressing? A few highlights: parents have fewer friends, lower IQs, and “wrecked” sex lives. Happy reading!

Costly Kids
Created by: EarlyChildhoodEducation.com

Jul 16 2012

Do Kids Raised by Nannies Really Turn Out OK?

By at 12:42 pm

nanniesThe NY Times Magazine cover article this past weekend was called, The Other Mothers of Manhattan.” In my opinion, the photos were romanticized and at the same time, bleak, and the essay was trite and superficial. Well, you want to know what I really think, right?

Yet again we read a piece from the points of view of the mothers and the nannies. What always seems to be missing in these articles is the point of view of the children, arguably the most important actors in this story. The grown–up children, I mean–people who were raised with nannies, who by now have some perspective on the experience. Wouldn’t it be interesting and important to hear from them?

Or, I should say, us. Read the rest of this entry →

May 26 2011

Who Takes Care of Your Kids?

By at 9:04 am

Violet Jones helped care for Renee when she was young. Here she is in 1988 at Renee's daughter's bat mitzvah.

Unlike the time in which I raised my children, it is pretty much impossible for a family today to survive on one income. Child care options are tensely examined, researched and chosen, often with reservations, second thoughts and regret. It is incredibly stressful for you young parents.

The choices seem to boil down to care giving at a day care center or by a nanny. Each option has its advantages and disadvantages. But what I react to, based on what I read and observe, is the sense that the people who are doing the care giving are grossly underpaid, often overworked, and sometimes, most terribly, treated poorly.

Two recent, prominent articles in the New York Times discussed Ai-Jen Poo, a woman considered to be the Norma Rae of nannies, who leads a coalition fighting for the fair treatment of domestic workers. The article mentions, “the professional couple bringing in six figures a year…( and) the nanny or maid without whom the couple would not be able to practice their professions.” On average, the article notes, the nanny’s salary is less than $15 per hour with no benefits. Even more troubling is the lack of respect and dignity these workers, who give their hearts to the children for whom they care, often endure.

One family I know pays $12 per hour which seems to be the going rate in the neighborhood. This made the nanny ineligible for Medicaid. The family made the illegal, but, in my opinion, the ethically imperative  choice to partly pay the nanny in cash so she could keep her (meager) medical benefits. (We do have to wonder: Can someone really live in New York City on $12 per hour and be expected to pay for private health insurance?)

I have no experience hiring a nanny. I was lucky to have been a happy, full-time stay-at-home mom until I went back to work in a home-based business when my youngest was 5-years-old, and back to my profession in an office when he was 8.

But I grew up in an unusual 1950s/1960s situation: My parents had full-time help. And my mom didn’t work outside the home. Violet came to our household when I, the eldest child, was a year old and left when I went off to college. She worked five days a week for 12 hours a day and until after lunch on Shabbat. She cooked, cleaned and took care of the three kids. She picked us up from the school bus stop, took us to the park, and gave us dinner. I have more memories of being with her than I do of being with my parents. I have so very many good memories.

I learned a lot from Vi and from how my parents treated her and expected us to treat her.

This was before the civil rights era and Vi was a black, religious Roman Catholic from St. Thomas, the Virgin Islands. I was not allowed to call her our “maid”–she was the “person who helped my mother” or the “woman who took care of me.” I was not permitted to have her “clean up after me.” She was treated with all the respect and dignity due a human being, especially one so important as to be taking care of the kids in the family. She knew all about us, but we knew very little about her and, as an adult, I have often wondered who was taking care of her daughter while she was taking care of us.

In a very real sense, Vi was my most important teacher and the moral center of my childhood. I learned tolerance and gained understanding about different races, classes, and religions. I knew about Lent, the Pope, and the changeover from the Latin mass. I saw the Daily Tribune (a tabloid) in her bag and the Times on our table. Vi taught me how to sew a hem to shorten my dresses to mini-skirt length. She taught me how to dance, shmoozed with all my friends, and evaluated my boyfriends. I stayed in touch with Vi until several months before she died (that’s another story.) She was at my, and my siblings’, weddings and at my son’s bar mitzvah (as our guest at a hotel in the Catskills.) I do not underestimate the impact she had on my life and I always tried to let her know how important she was to me.

I believe, inferring from my parents’ values and behavior that she must have been paid fairly for the times. I am quite sure that she was treated better than one would have expected in those days.

The point I want to make is that how we treat our help, the people who work for us, influences our children from the minute they become part of our households. How we speak to our nannies and day care workers, our cleaning ladies and housekeepers, what we say about them, what we expect, is absorbed by those little heads from a very young age. Especially when you share child care responsibility with someone, when you entrust your most precious child to someone, that someone deserves the utmost respect, dignity, gratitude, and appreciation. And a fair wage.

Our children’s caregivers are essential to their well-being and to the smooth functioning of our households.

They should be our heroines.

In grateful memory of Violet Jones 1923-2001

We all have opinions about who should raise our children. Read here for one mom’s search for Mary Poppins and go here for a dad’s take on why nannies are for people who shouldn’t have kids.

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