Anne Tergesen

My employer makes a lot of accommodations for working parents. Perhaps no one knows that as well as me: for the past six years, I’ve worked a part-time schedule. Among the other benefits working parents here enjoy are flex time and the ability to work at home one day a week.

Then, there’s backup childcare. We’re entitled to use a local day care center 20 days a year for just $20 a day per child. Sounds great. The only problem? Each time I’ve had a childcare emergency, they’ve had no vacancies.

I may just have bad luck. The first time it happened was in August—a tough time, given that schools have yet to open, but camps are already closed. But it’s happened at other times of the year, too. Yesterday was the latest example. Our nanny called just after lunch to tell me she didn’t feel well. She said she’d try to stick it out for the rest of the day. But since she so rarely plays this card, I decided it must be bad and headed home. En route, I called the backup childcare center to reserve spots for my three sons the next day. No dice. Not even one slot—never mind the three I need.

What’s a working parent to do? My oldest son is nine. He loves to read and could probably be counted on to sit quietly in my office after school, doing homework and reading. But my other two? Forget it. They’re lunatics. I called my parents and my brother, who (quite understandably) were too busy to drop everything. Then, I asked our nanny for names. One of her suggestions came through. While I haven’t seen this woman in about five years, I know her well enough to be comfortable—although, unfortunately, my sons don’t remember her at all. Of course, it won’t be cheap. But I guess it’s better than having no safety net at all.