Monday, November 10, 2008

It's All About the Moola

This morning I was thrilled to attend Firstborn's very first Kindergarten performance. With it being a Remembrance Day service, and knowing the disruptive mischief Rosemary's Baby would get up to, I booked him in for a couple of hours with a local babysitter I use from time to time. She's another stay-at-home mom just like me, and she takes kids in during the day to help make ends meet a bit. Rosemary's Baby loves it there and I never have to worry that he's doing anything dangerous because I know in my heart that he's in great hands. But I have one major issue with the Sitter, and here it is: she charges 3 bucks an hour.
If you work out what that'd cost for an average workday plus travel time, here in Western Manitoba, the sum is comparable to what you'd pay for one child in a daycare centre. In short, it's perfectly average for where we live.
Here's what bothers me. If I need my car, computer or refrigerator fixed, my labour cost alone is anywhere from $30 to $75 an hour. I may grumble about paying that kind of cost, but I pay it anyway and accept that that's what things cost these days. At least my car mechanic is making a living wage.
Do you see what I'm getting at here? I pay more for an oil change than I do for a day of safety, security and emotional health for my own child. I may claim he is the spawn of Satan, yell at him for doing stuff I won't even remember tomorrow, and whine that I have no "me time" anymore, but when it comes down to it, when I look at the big picture that is my existence on this planet, my children are the most precious things in my life. Since having them, I've been able to let go of stupid little things like owning nice stuff, taking fancy vacations (okay, okay, I never did that anyway, but one can dream) and having the all-important career that exhausted and frustrated me every single day anyway. Life isn't all about me anymore. I don't fear my own death like I used to. I fear theirs like nothing I ever experienced before. Life is just bigger now.
Why, then, am I resigned to the idea that it's normal to underpay the people who are put in charge of the most important things in my life? All I hear on and on from my working friends is the horrendous cost of childcare, and I agree that if you have to (or want to) go back to work, the cost is heavy, and often not worth the trouble. I frankly don't know how people manage it. But this is where the government should be stepping in. Other countries have national childcare programs that recognize the need for quality educational experiences before the age of 5, and every study done on this tells us the cost to the taxpayer is worth it in the long run. But the nearsighted leadership in this country is unlikely to ever see further than the next four years, so the point is moot. Let's move on.
Recently, a column in my local small-town newspaper suggested that teachers should be designated an "essential service" so they couldn't inconvenience parents and students by going on strike. Having done the job myself a few years back, my hackles were raised. I whipped off an email taking the offending columnist to task. I then deleted the email without sending it because I didn't want to become known as the town crank. But that's not the point. What got my back up was the suggestion that it's okay to manipulate an essential services designation to limit the very basic right of public educators to take job action against a system that routinely short changes both them and the students they strive to teach. No one dies when a teacher doesn't go to work. They're important, they're necessary, and they're very often unforgettable. But they're not essential in the technical sense of the word. And they take enough crap year-round not to be begrudged a decent wage and reasonable working conditions. Enough said.
After leaving Rosemary's Baby for about 90 minutes, I handed the Sitter a $10 bill and refused to take any change. It was still less than she'd get working at McDonald's. In my perfect world, people who take care of our kids would be compensated based on the importance of the job they do. Good educators and child care providers shouldn't come cheap, and we shouldn't be electing people who expect them to.

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