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Child care patchwork sometimes unravels

We started in May with Jan Zimmerman, a chatty woman who normally dog-sits and house-sits, but agreed to babysit Toby an hour and a half a day until summer.

The job passed in August to Sharon Davis, a retired nanny who missed doting on little ones.

A month later the gig went to Jeileen Molina, a senior at Hudson High School who could watch Toby in the early afternoons because she didn't have a seventh-period class. And throughout it all, there have been friends and neighbors who cared for Toby in a pinch.

Apparently it does take a village to raise a child. Or at least a succession of caring villagers.

Toby turned 1 last month, and already we've been through several caregivers.

Jan agreed to help out temporarily until my husband's summer break. Sharon needed to scale back her babysitting hours when some minor health problems arose. And once soccer season started, Jeileen needed to be playing with her teammates instead of playing with my son.

Now we are nannyless.

From the outset my husband, Wayne, and I were resolute on raising Toby ourselves.

We staggered our work schedules to avoid day care: Toby spends mornings with me while my husband teaches, then spends afternoons and evenings with Wayne while I work as the night editor.

But there's a midday window where our jobs overlap, and we needed someone else to watch the munchkin.

Finding someone was hard enough. Finding someone three times in a matter of months was simply draining.

I searched for retirees and stay-at-home moms. I chatted up the neighbors. I placed an ad in the Beacon Woods newsletter, which led me to Jan and Sharon, and a friend referred us to Jeileen.

I interviewed them, checked their references and gave them the grand tour of how we do all things Toby. And each time I lost one, it became harder to find someone else.

At one point I became so discouraged, I started looking at day care. I reminded myself it's worked out well for some of our friends. I told myself Toby would benefit from the interaction with other kids.

I set up an appointment to visit a reputable day care in the area. That morning I told Toby it would be like going to preschool - an optimistic pitch more for my benefit than his.

The day care was fine. The preschoolers seemed quite happy, laughing and running around. But the noisy commotion echoed into the 1-year-olds' room, where the babies were too young to care about doing activities or playing together. They just looked tired and listless.

I left with a knot in my stomach. I wasn't ready to leave Toby in someone else's chaos.

The nannies all raved about Toby. Nanny No. 2 (Sharon) happily watches Toby on occasion so Wayne and I can go out. Nanny No. 3 (Jeileen) promised to return to the daily watch once soccer season ends early next year. But that still left me without someone for a few months.

Which is where my boss came in.

No, North Suncoast editor Bill Stevens isn't watching my kid, but he's doing the next best thing. He's letting me work the first part of my shift from home so I can watch Toby. I just log on from my home computer while Toby naps or otherwise amuses himself (often this involves hiding wooden puzzle pieces around the house, sifting through the papers in my trash can or making a mad grab for the keyboard, inserting something like xfzsfdzcvxcvzc into whatever I'm working on).

I was pleasantly surprised my boss would let me work from home.

"Well, that's what a flexible work schedule is all about," he said matter-of-factly.

Turns out the village is bigger than I'd thought.

Bridget Hall Grumet can be reached at (727) 869-6258 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6258. Her e-mail address is bgrumet@sptimes.com.

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