An Informed Choice

I am very lucky.

I'm married to Superwoman. If it sounds like I'm sucking up, I am. But it's also true.

For the past five years, she's built a career as a free-lance writer and editor from home, while also raising our three kids. That means balancing interviews, writing and research with wiping noses, cooking lunch, playing and cleaning up the seemingly unending mess of crayons, Dora the Explorer or whatever else little hands and minds are enthralled by at the moment.

By no means are things perfect. She sometimes works well after everyone's gone to bed, laments not spending more time reading to the girls and occasionally grows frustrated at the swirl of demands from children, work and home.

She's had help, mostly from her mom, not as much from me (hence, the sucking up). But even on the days when deadlines, doctor's appointments and mini-disasters turn into a three-car pileup that jams our lives, we're lucky: My wife is able to raise our kids.

When we first became parents, though, we turned to daycare for help. Daycare is a fact of life for many families. More than 250,000 children were enrolled in Ohio's licensed child-care centers and family child-care homes as of December 2004. Yet, too many of those families are making one of the most crucial decisions of their young children's lives without enough information.

We were one of those families.

Eight weeks after my son was born, my wife returned to the insurance company where she worked as a supervisor. Like many women who go back to work after having a baby, she hated to do it. But we couldn't afford to do otherwise.

So my wife called around to child-care centers, visited a few and asked the questions she picked up from reading those books for first-time moms. She even started her search early into her pregnancy (despite my refrain that the baby wasn't even born yet). When none of the centers fit our needs, she got a list of home-care providers from a local church and the quest began anew.

Somewhere between desperation and despair, she found a home-care provider she liked. The woman had kids of her own, watched only one other toddler and had her teen-aged daughter helping out after school. But after my wife arrived one too many times to discover the daughter in charge and the care provider nowhere to be found, we left and never went back.

Our second home-care situation went much better — until the woman called with no warning and asked my wife to come pick up our son. She was having a crisis in her personal life and couldn't watch him anymore.

Family helped us through our sudden loss of child care until we could get our son in a brand-new center in the Detroit-Shoreway neighborhood. It was everything we could ask for: a well-trained director, energetic teachers who loved children and programs that mingled the kids with the seniors who shared the facility. And even though my son cried when the teacher told him to leave his favorite blankie in his cubby for the day, we knew we'd found a good fit for all of us. He was given more structure, encouraged to make friends and offered the freedom to play and learn.

When our older daughter was born, we decided that my wife would stay home with them both — even if the work was difficult. Since then, the older kids have gone to a great preschool just down the street where the directors have taught a generation of children in a nurturing, instructive, inquisitive and playful environment. Their lessons include singing, reading, computers, science and a whole lot of asking, exploring and having fun. It's a great complement to what we strive for at home.

It's what most parents hope for, which is why Cleveland Magazine is devoting this month's cover story to this important issue. Our family's child-care journey has taught us a lot. We started early and thought we were prepared. We made some mistakes, dealt with the unexpected and found what we were looking for.

And for that, I am very grateful.

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