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The Tiny Titans: Class of 2018

“Somehow you’ll escape all that waiting and staying. You’ll find the bright places where Boom Bands are playing.” – Dr. Seuss, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

Hey, everybody: we’re finally graduating from daycare!

After thirteen years spent plugging the preschool meter, we’re pulling away from the curb. New adventures await us. Our kids have been weaned. They’ve given up diapers. The youngest of our five kids is headed to Kindergarten. We’ve paid our tuition. We’ve paid the pied pipers. And though we may not be cruising away in style – our 2005 Honda Odyssey, minted our first year at the UW Oshkosh Children’s Learning & Care Center, is a bucket of bolts – when we hit the road, oh, who knows what places we’ll go!

In honor of our forthcoming commencement, we’ve done the math. Are you ready for this doozy of an arithmetic lesson?

For full-time childcare in Oshkosh, WI, you’d pay $13,364 per child for each of the first two years. As children gain independence, and the teacher-child ratio changes, a two-year-old’s safekeeping costs $11,752 per year. You’d need to cough up $9,828 more for each of the fourth and fifth years. The grand total is $58,136 per enrollee.

At five kids in 13 years, had we not cut corners, we’d have paid a whopping $290,680.

We skimped (and continue to skimp): as a university professor, I graded papers from home, and my criminal-defense attorney husband schlepped kids to court and jail. “Take Your Child to Work” was our favorite holiday. And in summertime, we went on daycare hiatus. I wrote poems by midnight oil, prepared my fall semester courses on weekends.

Oh, all those places we didn’t go! Friends camped at Yellowstone National Park; we pitched tents in our backyard. Colleagues flew to Paris; we flew kites. Neighbors swam with the stingrays in Mexico; we swam with bluegill at Otter Lake. We got “all the splash for a lot less cash” at Noah’s Ark in Wisconsin Dells, just up the road, a daytrip we splurged on.

And how could we have traveled far anyways? Daycare superseded vehicle maintenance. The steering wheel vibrates like the MedMassager MMF06; the undercarriage rattles like a cheese grater shredding cheddar along the highway. We’ve reached 200,000 miles just from crisscrossing town.

With the laughable “sibling discount” of $1 a day, we estimate having ponied up $174,408 in thirteen years, more than the cost of our mortgage. K-12 is a 13-year span of time for a single child; we spent the same number of years as a family at the Children’s Center.

When our youngest was born in 2013, my husband activated the daycare countdown clock. F-I-V-E years left. By 2018, he measured, we could really begin living. Mountains, oceans, deserts, canyons, waterfalls, skyscrapers, maybe even volcanoes. Oh, the places we’d go! And now, at long last, that little window is opening. We’re like giddy teenagers having landed first jobs, 40 years old, feeling, if only slightly, the thrill of financial freedom. So, this is what they meant by disposable income. Maybe we’ll drive East or West on a full tank of gas to “join the high fliers who soar to high heights.” Dr. Seuss is calling our names with his rhythms and rhymes, nickels and dimes.

In the meantime, already foggy-eyed, I’m practicing my graduation hoots and hollers. Our youngest son, ensconced in a little black robe, mortarboard cock-eyed on his blonde mop is tall for his age but a Tiny Titan nevertheless. Of course, our oldest is also graduating from middle school. In four years, she’ll be college-bound, and the cycle will begin again. Long live our educated youth!

And while we’re thinking about college tuition, at $12,844 per year the big boys and girls who cash in on the four-year Titan promise pay only $51,376 for their college education.

“We’ll just start writing checks again,” I say. “Except we’ll send them over to the Bursar’s Office across the street instead.” In the meantime, we’ll relish this reprieve. Oh, the places we’ll go, all seven in tow, having shed tuition for four years or so. We’ll shift into neutral, push the van if we must. Say it with me now, Honey, family road-trip or bust.

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