Why Is Summer Childcare Such an Expensive Nightmare?

Childcare is both a working mom's nightmare and her salvation. Find a good place for your children to spend their days and a weight will lift off your shoulders, allowing you to concentrate on your job without a worry. A bad place will send you into a tailspin of phone calls and compromises. If I thought it was difficult when my kids were toddlers, I had no idea what was in store for my eight-year-old and the hell that is summer vacation.

When a child is going into third grade, he's a big kid — not old enough to stay home alone for 10 hours, but too old for most childcare centers. He falls into a limbo that companies and organizations are quick to fill with summer camps.

These are not the sleep-away camps of the East Coast with letters to home on stationery stained with dirt and paint detailing archery lessons and lanyard braiding. These camps are week-long "experiences" lasting from four to eight hours a day, usually four days a week, and filled with exciting activities for the low, low price of half your paycheck. They know they have working parents over a barrel.

My childcare needs for the summer are two days a week, 10 hours a day. The one affordable option had a wait list the day after they opened registration. So I, like so many of my brothers and sisters in the world of working parenthood, began to cobble together a hodgepodge of solutions determined not to break the bank.

I called my son's friends' moms and begged for all-day play dates, carefully scheduling them far enough apart so that no one feels overwhelmed by having my not-so-little bundle of energy day after day. I called my sister — a busy, working mom herself — and asked for help to fill in the gaps. I searched for a teen babysitter to fill in, wincing at the quoted price to play Minecraft and eat pizza with a child all day. I scheduled vacation hours for the days I couldn't find anyone. And I crossed my fingers.

I remind myself of friends in the 80s – the latchkey generation — being home alone from first grade on and then scratch that idea off the list. Something in me rebels at the idea of my eight-year-old wandering our house for 10 hours alone. I comfort myself that perhaps next year he’ll be old enough while knowing I’ll most likely think not.

This carefully constructed house of cards is one sick child or one unexpected visitor from out of town away from tumbling. I take it week by week, shifting and adjusting as needed. It's the second week of no school and I already feel my shoulders at my ears. 

I’m two weeks in and already can’t wait for school to start.