Monday, March 1, 2010

The mythology of on-campus childcare

You know how when female faculty are being recruited, and the administration and others around like to make sure to point out the WONDERFUL ON CAMPUS CHILDCARE option(s) like a shining beacon of hope for the women of science? How they have one care-worker for every infant, and the little babies get a curriculum of tummy time, teething rings and naps. How it is just one of the things that {insert institution here} does to make life easier for female professors on the tenure track, along with turning off the tenure clock and giving actual parental leave. They draw us in, getting us to trust them that EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE OKAY, YOU CAN HAVE IT ALL.

But I was e-talking to Isis today about my childcare woes, and she helped me realize the truth. On campus childcare is like the mighty unicorn, with its strong mane and glowing horn to light us to a new age of working motherhood. The unicorn that lives in rainbow land, dancing from baby to baby bestowing its magical wisdom into their tiny brains.

But you see, also like the mighty unicorn, on campus childcare is ACTUALLY NOT REAL. You get to see this cute, rainbow happy place with all (*8 of*) the little babies there (for a campus with thousands of faculty, at least a few tens of whom, if not hundreds, are probably gestating/newborning at any given time... not to mention the tens of thousands of students/trainees) and think "How wonderful! Here's an institution that is ready to support working moms!" But if you look real close up, such as when you're actually trying to get a spot in it, you see that the unicorn is actually a mutated goat with sparkle hair paint sprayed on (please see Figure 1 for illustration--note*: style copied directly from Isis for this message).
When it comes to putting the money and resources into something that would actually WORK for students, postdocs and faculty, it all gets revealed as an elaborate hoax. Just like unicorns, it's a lovely idea but must be a fantasy because your kid will never get to hold one and pet its sweet, shiny hair. You'll have to settle for the former petting zoo pony at best--at least it doesn't bite.


24 comments:

Isis the Scientist said...

HA HA HA HA!!! You are a marvel!

Becca said...

Our main campus (where carebear is located) on-campus uni-affiliated sunshine-lollypops-rainbow-unicorn childcare has, I think, 21 spots for babies 0-3 years. (they will be expanding, maybe, in the next several years once my littlelizard will be schoolage and we are [hopefully!] the heck outta here).

Both the main campus and the med school campus (where I am) have on-site corporate childcare of petting zoo ponies. We enrolled littlelizard in both, to alternate back and forth.

Then we got an email that they actually had a spot for our kid at unicorn land. But unicorn land can't split the time- we'd have to pay for full time. There's no way we can pay for full time up there + part time down here (actually, don't even get me started on how much debt we might have to go into paying for any childcare at all...). So I'd have to live without my son all the time, instead of half the time.
So I told them, no unicorn land for littlelizard. Part of me felt like I just doomed my child. DOOOMMMMMM!!!!

ScientistMother said...

I live in a city where their are 2 universities each with on-campus childcare. University 1 is affiliated with but not run by the uni, and if you are a staff or faculty you are pretty much guarenteed to get a spot by the time our 1 year mat leave is over. That is where monkey was at first.

Uni 2 is insane and you have to wait at least 2.5 for your first kid to get. However, now that monkey is in, any additional children we have are first priority...

the fact of the matter is the uni's need to step up with funding. Every new research building should come with funding for childcare. its not about supporting women. its supporting families. Lack of quality childcare effects BOTH parents.

Arlenna said...

wupppahhhappaahhhahahapaaaahh...

ONE YEAR MATERNITY LEAVE????

WHY do I live in this country? WHY????

drdrA said...

Pretty much. Our campus has a child care center which is very good, they just got rid of their infant room... in which they only took 6 infants to begin with.

ScientistMother said...

I think its because depending on who is your president, you could get more research funding. But really that only is true if we are in one of our weird moments when we vote conservative as a country (which has happened a minority of times in our history). Really I don't know why you live in your country, we have 1 year mat leave AND universal health care.

LabMom said...

Our on campus childcare is:
1) Outrageously expensive
2) Not stellar compared to programs offered at other centers
and the big one:
2) NOT ON CAMPUS.

WTF?!

I could rant about this topic all day long.. (that and our"abundant access to lactation facilities") What a freakin' joke.

If on campus childcare is a unicorn, a specific pumping room is the easter bunny.

Arlenna said...

Yeah, seriously. My pumping room? Gonna have to be my office. While the door does close and lock, my students have a key and their food fridge is in there (only place to have it since it can't be in the lab where their desks are). We'll have to have a "do not disturb" sign, and even then, I know it will make them feel uncomfortable to know their boss is pumping in there.

AB said...

I work in a research lab at a hospital. The affiliated daycare had 12 infant spots for 9000 hospital employees (650 of those research and clinical fellows). There has always been a rumor that MDs have priority. It's a complete joke.

Now we do have a nursing "lounge". In the past it was shared with the clinical population of the hospital (moms with babes in surgery, NICU, etc). Waiting times were long and frustrating. After much lobbying, an additional nursing room was set up for the research building. But not before my advisor told one woman (with absolute authority and conviction) that she could just pump at home at night. And then I got to explain the biology to this senior prof (MD/PhD). And explain that if it was that simple, we all probably would have figured it out.

another young FSP said...

The university childcare knew I was pregnant before anyone but my husband. I'm still not going to get into the only-slightly-off-campus childcare before my teaching responsibilities start up.

I'm going for the mythical unicorns in rainbow land of hoping my baby will be well-behaved, so I can bring it in to my office while working part time over the summer until I can get childcare.

I have no idea what I will do in the autumn when classes start up; I can't sling a baby for a large lecture course.

Becca said...

@LabMom- thanks for reminding me it could always be worse. I've got some Easter bunnies around here. Granted, my lab is in a building contiguous with the hospital, so there's one up on the 7th floor in peds (same one they send some of the postpartum women to). There's also one on the third floor in the BMR (biomedical research building) where I work. Both of those have hospital grade pumps, and the later has a little nook with baby magazines and a copy of what to expect the first year, a wall to post pictures of your little one, and a notebook so all of the 'milk mamas' can keep in touch. We also have lactation aids available (only 3 days a week, but still), and they got me a free filter thingy so I could use the hospital pump.
The nearest bathroom to me also happens to have a nice couch in a room-before-the-bathroom, and when I got pregnant somebody somehow got the message out and we got a curtain in there.
I guess I'm super lucky.

I don't know any grad students with offices here. I did, however, discover that a baby monitor will work between our one lab (which is BSL1 and we eat lunch in, and gets little use) and our main lab (which is BSL2 and radioactivity and I'm not so comfortable with littlelizard being in).
A little creativity...

Cloud said...

I only had peripheral exposure to the on campus day care, via friends. I think their day care was excellent, but so is mine. I work in industry, at a small company, so no worksite day care for me. I envied their ability to stroll over and check on their little one.

BUT... the dirty secret no one tells you is that this "drop in" thing is a BAD idea once your baby hits about 9 months old and separation anxiety sets in. Baby will wail everytime you leave- do you really want to do that more than once a day? Also, I treasure the 10 minute drive from work to day care as one of my few "solo" times of the day.

On a practical note, if you're looking for day care, the YMCA often runs a listing. You'll still have to check each one out on your own, but it will give you a more inclusive starting point than the yellow pages, which will only have the big centers. We're in a big center and love it, but I have some friends who have found absolutely marvelous spots in little operations run out of someone's home.

I live in California, where they are required by law to provide a pumping room. The one I use now is also the storage site for our regulatory documents. Luckily, our document manager is also a working mom, and understands to knock before entering.

I worked elsewhere after my first baby was born, and had a private office. That was FAR superior. I don't care if anyone was creeped out by the fact that I was in there pumping- I could be much more productive! My first action once I started my new job (I was still pumping) was to insist that a computer be put in the lactation room. I'm in charge of IT at my company, so I got my way. At least I can check my email.

Dr. O said...

Wow - between you and Isis, I'm getting kind of scared of my breeding and science plan right now. ;) On the other hand, it's good to be aware. I've heard such good things about women, families and science in European countries. Why can't we have something a little more like that here?????

Jennifer said...

Please forgive the re-post of my response at Isis's blog:

It's not a myth - it's real and it's AMAZING!!! Of course, it took a miracle to get there though. When I interviewed for my postdoc position in June 2005, I registered my son for the MRU childcare (to start in the 1 year old room in 2006). As of 2008, I still hadn't gotten a call back. When I was pregnant with my second child, I heard a rumor that a new center was opening in the Health Sciences Center of the MRU. That very day I went back to the old center to put both children on the waiting list for the new site - just in case. On Jan 2, 2009, the myth became reality!!!! Singing, laughing, wonderful fairy teachers cuddling my children, and even a nursing room so that I could drop in any time my daughter was hungry. No more panic when the 4 pm seminar runs on and on knowing that I have to run halfway across campus and fight traffic to get my children from daycare in time. Wonderful good mommy feelings when I'm able to just go downstairs to have lunch with my son, read a book to the classes, or chaperone a quick nature walk while my gel runs. And - we even have a student/postdoc rate that is much lower than the faculty rate.

I don't write all of this to just rub it in. But I want all of your readers to know how important these centers are to the future of science in that they can help science moms "have it all", and that we must all work to make these places more of a reality for more of the parents who want them. My day care is sponsored by the college of medicine, so it is only available to students/postdocs/residents/ faculty in the COM. It costs the college a lot of money, so it was a hard sell. But it brings so much - not just to the parents. The Psychology department now has subjects for the study of early learning / speech development / etc (of course after proper IRB approval and parental consent!!). The nursing, OT and PT students can observe normal childhood development (which they say is a wonderful experience after observations in the NICU). Students from the college of education can gain experience in early childhood development and complete masters projects. The list goes on and on....

So, we have to continue to pursue "the myth." Promote this to your department chairs and deans. Sell it however you have to - for you, your future postdocs and students, and the for the good of research throughout the university. See if you can get on the Advisory Board of the day care, promote fundraisers to help expand the centers (we're trying to get funding now expand the "old" one here that has the huge waiting list - 6 baby spots for 45,000 students + faculty???). If your local University day care is no good, work until you get a good director and curriculum.

The reality is too amazing to let it slip away.

Aurora said...

LOL. The only time I tried to use an on-site day care I got a call 2 hours after leaving my child there the first day. Evidently they dropped him on his head and he wouldn't stop crying. I rushed over in a panic. Baby was okay. We never went back. They refused to give back the hefty deposit.

It was a bad deal from the start. The barbed wire fence surrounding the daycare should have clued us in. Then the machine gun toting guards should have done it. No, we had to wait till they dropped my baby on the head to finally realize the place sucked with a capital S. They can't even run a decent daycare ...

Kate said...

Europe ain't all ponies and sunshine either. I'm living in the Netherlands where we get 4 months (1 of those is before birth - interesting how they tell you you MUST stop working). Most women here (w/ or w/o kids) work part time. After I return to work, the only thing I'll have to look forward to is dirty looks from everyone because I'm a horrible mom who thinks working full time might be a good thing. And my pumping room? Set up myself in the warehouse, seperated with cube walls. Good thing the air compressor is in there and is noisy already.

Dr. O said...

Yikes Kate - and the Netherlands was one of the countries I heard good things about. I guess the grass is always greener...

Cloud said...

Dr. O- yeah, we all assume that Europe is better for working moms, but that is not universally the case. Germany has a name for us- it translates to "Raven mothers", and implies that we don't care about out kids.

Kate- good luck with your return to work. I've done it twice now, and it is definitely an adjustment. But overall, I think working makes me a better mom. There is a lot of evidence that seriously unhappy mom = problems for baby, and not everyone is cut out to be at home with an infant full time!

Arlenna said...

Jennifer: thank you! I know, it really is a wonderful thing when you actually get into it. We need both sides, one telling everyone how awesome it is to have and the other saying how it sucks to not get access to it even when we can see it right in front of us. Then maybe we will be able to push it forward.

canuck_grad said...

I hear good things about Sweden! Sweden is the utopia of family living! If only it was a small island off the coast of Canada where English was the main language, I would move there in a heartbeat!

Cloud said...

canuck_grad- I don't want to burst your bubble, but I recently read a report that indicated that Sweden is not the gender equality utopia we think it is- that women are predominantly employed in the public sector and a glass ceiling remains in the private sector. I found a write up about it here:
http://www.thelocal.se/23184/20091110/

However, they do speak English really, really well. I spent a couple of months there in grad school and met exactly two people who didn't speak English- a recent immigrant from Estonia and a crazy guy on the subway.

I can't help you with the geographic location, though!

katherine said...

I realized that I had no hope of getting my son into my on-campus day care center. They wont take children under one year old.
Thankfully my spouse has an adjustable schedule so that we can trade off child care.
Unfortunately my campus isn't exactly family friendly and there are no changing stations in any of the buildings. On the plus side there are lounges and my professors (I'm an undergrad) have been very understanding.

Anonymous said...

Yep, at our university, the waiting list for the 8-baby room is 2 years, so you either better decide to apply over a year before you start "trying," or hope for just the right amount of infertility so the trying takes an extra year of FSH shots (which would have worked out about right in our case!) Admittedly, they did call to offer a spot almost exactly 2 years later. Imagine their surprise that we had made other arrangements!

I also noticed that several of the employees of the daycare seemed to have their own children there, so it looks a bit like a scam to get paid to parent.

Anonymous said...

After years of serving on the 14th failed committee to get childcare on our campus (one genius dean wanted to see a "cost-free" model), something dawned on me: I'm not that impressed by the way the campus cleans the bathrooms. I don't really want them in my childcare picture. I love where I work but I'm happy to choose my childcare based on quality.