Call us neurotic, obsessed, and on the brink of irreparably screwing up our children. But with mere weeks to go before yea and nay letters are sent out, I, like many other nerve-wracked New York City parents, am captive to the craziness of contemporary preschool admissions. No matter how much you bemoan the system -- which requires "interviews" with two-year-olds, has involved a scandal over stock ratings in exchange for a coveted spot, and demands hours during out of the workday for open houses, tours, parents interviews, and the like -- any parent with a prayer of educating children in the city is forced to play.
Now comes the disheartening news via Sue Shellenbarger of The Wall Street Journal that pregnant mothers around the country are putting their fetuses on waitlists: for daycare and pre-preschools, so few are the spots in quality programs. This isn't just a New York City phenomenon. Shellenbarger quotes moms like Kim Angelini of Exton, Pennsylvania who got waitlisted for infant care when she was so neglectful as to wait for her maternity leave before applying. What used to be something wacky Londoners did, has apparently reached our shores. Given the paucity of decent childcare in this country, you can only wonder what took so long.
Part of the problem is a glut of children under five. We're in the midst of a baby boomlet. According to the Census Bureau, in 2006, more babies were born in the U.S. than in any year since 1961, the height of the big Baby Boom. In New York City, not only are more babies being born, but those babies are no longer swiftly car-seated out to the suburbs the way they once were. With the city richer, safer, and more kid-centric than ever, parents here are sticking around. The under-five population in Manhattan rose an astonishing 26% between 2000 and 2004, even though the borough's population rose only 1.5% overall. Trouble is, there aren't enough preschool spots available for them. At one Manhattan nursery school open house I attended (for the kind of low-key church-basement type school that would have blended in easily in a middling 1970s suburb), more than 600 parents showed up. The number of available spots for three-year-olds? Fourteen.
Adding insult and anxiety to neurosis are the tuition fees for these preschools and the costs of childcare. According to the government, even the nation's wealthiest parents, those with an average household income of $108,700, spend a mere $2,690 on childcare and education during the first two years of a baby's life. Um, gosh, where? The reality, per the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies, a network of more than 805 child care resources and referral centers, is that the average cost of childcare for an infant ranges from $3,803 to $13,480 a year. And that's not even reality in New York City: According to a story in this week's New York Observer, nannies in New York cost between $40,000 and $62,000 a year. Sensible folks outside of Manhattan tells us nutty New Yorkers to just send our kids to day care instead. But then, some of us forgot to put our fetuses on the waitlist.