I've just prepared my taxes for 2013, and that hammered home what I already knew: 2013 was a terrible business year for me. We paid more for childcare than I grossed.
I need to work, and I want to work. When I don't dedicate a fair amount of my time to ideas outside myself and my home, I go nuts. I feel absolutely zero guilt about this, so don't gird yourself for a post about parental guilt. I have none. And though in 2013 the math of my business didn't land me in the black, I have no regrets about our childcare expenses.
My work is an amorphous beast, and it will always come in torrents and dribbles. Which isn't to imply that I have no control over it, but it is to imply that I have no illusion about it ever being steady. I do freelance work as an editor, I write books, I speak at events and conferences, and I teach.
When O arrived so suddenly at the end of 2010, we handled it like champs, if I do say so myself. What I realized toward the end of last year, though, is that part of how we managed to handle it like champs was that, without consciously deciding to do so, I pretty much threw my business under the bus. For example, Craftcation was the first conference I traveled for since 2011. In that time, Instagram has replaced Twitter as the, “Oh, I know you from ____!”
I went back to work when O was four months old and the manuscripts I'd lined up to edit before he came around started coming in. We hired a part-time nanny, who moved on to have her own baby five months later, and then we hired Em, who was O's part-time nanny until he was almost two-and-a-half.
I thought that was all perfectly ideal. We couldn't afford a full-time nanny, but we also didn't need one because I didn't have full-time work. I thought it was pretty great that I could give O hugs at lunchtime, and part of the reason Em was such a good fit for our family is that I loved having her around, and since I work from home that was pretty important.
Eventually, it started to become apparent that O's behaviour was way better on days he got to play with other kids versus days it was just him and Em or him and me. And so we started to get twitchy about daycare. We'd been on a couple of daycare lists for over a year at that point. Out of our control, and stressful, that was.
And then we got The Call, and were offered a spot in our top-choice daycare, and were told they couldn't accommodate our request for three days a week, but could accommodate four. So we took it, and four days of daycare was less expensive than 3.5 days of part-time nanny, so that was nice, too. Em got a new job and O started daycare, and suddenly my work time was in an empty, quiet house.
After a few months, we decided a more structured, consistent schedule would be better for all of us, and in around September or October, O switched to attend daycare full-time.
I've made more money from editing contracts in the first quarter of 2014 than I did in all of 2013. I've been approached for all sorts of projects, some of which have been a perfect match and some of which haven't been. I've said yes and no and maybe, and all the while I've had work to do.
It's not a coincidence that my work life has thrived in the time since full-time daycare became a part of our lives. I have a consistent, dependable work schedule. I have flexibility to schedule phone meetings and in-person meetings and work-related travel. I have the quiet and space I need to utterly zone out, which is an essential part of my work that I rarely had an opportunity to achieve before.
No guilt. O is so happy and stimulated at daycare. His teachers are wonderful human beings, and he's made many friends. He's far happier there than he was spending most of his time one-on-one with an adult, that's for sure.
Last year, it was all I could do to write my book and try to start up a doomed magazine business. When that magazine project crashed and burned last June, I was stuck with a whole lot of time I'd set aside for it and not filled with freelance work. After panicking for a short while, I hustled, which is part of why the end of 2013 and beginning of 2014 saw an uptick of editing contracts. It's daycare that allowed me to recover so relatively quickly, because it gave me space and time.
I may not make a ton of money in 2014, either, but I've already filled my quota of doing meaningful work that's the kind of work that forms a foundation for more work. My kind of work takes a long time to ramp up. It takes a long time to prove yourself an asset to conferences and workshops, to line up clients who will hopefully come back again and again, to plan the promotions that will hopefully lead to a best-selling book, to be consistently visible and smart and vibrant and fun so people looking for those qualities in a collaborator find you and come calling.
This year, I've stopped doing the things you're generally supposed to do, and started only doing the things I know are worthwhile and meaningful and good for business – where business = making money. Goodbye Mailchimp, hello TinyLetter. Hello Freshbooks. Hello Year of Making. Goodbye any amount of focus on Facebook for business. Hello Instagram. Goodbye “I'm a freelance writer”, hello “I'm a freelance editor, specializing in helping authors produce outstanding self-published patterns, craft books and non-fiction.” Hello, “My new book is coming out in the fall, please pre-order it, for I think you'll enjoy it.” Goodbye trade shows. Hello book tour.
For the first time in more than three years, I'm on the right track, mostly because I'm simply on a track. I've pulled my business out from under that bus, resuscitated it, and gently nudged it back into the world.
Daycare, man. Changed everything.