Marijean Jaggers cringes when she thinks about the time she strapped her vomiting 4-year-old daughter into the backseat of their car, gave her a towel and a bowl, and then drove 45 minutes to her office to pick up work she had to turn in that day.
"My husband was out of town, I'd been up all night, and my priorities were completely jumbled," recalls Jaggers, of St. Louis. Halfway there, she came to her senses, called the office, and asked them to e-mail the files to her at home instead. The message from the boss? "He said I needed to find backup child care when my kids got sick -- and that I should get my 'a-- into work.'"
Generally, it's not a big deal if either of Amy Williamson's two daughters gets sick. Williamson, a financial advisor in Raleigh, North Carolina, and her husband, Ray, a real-estate broker, take turns staying home. But last winter, both 9-year-old Ashley and 6-year-old Audrey came down with the flu at the same time -- the one week it was impossible for either parent to be out of the office. That's when they called in the reserves: "My mother lives four hours away," says Williamson. "She took two days off so that I didn't have to."
Wendi Jacob, the director of Lil' Critters Child Care in Hillsboro, Oregon, can tell a much more extreme story. She called the parents of one 14-month-old who started throwing up after naptime to ask them to come get their child. Neither could: The father had recently started a new job and was afraid he'd be fired. The mother had been home the previous week with the child's older sibling, and her boss told her she'd be docked pay if she left again. "So this mom stuck her finger down her throat and vomited all over her office carpet," says Jacob. "The boss sent her home sick, and she was able to pick up her child."
Sound over the top? Yes. But these women's situations illustrate the lengths working parents must go to when their carefully calibrated child-care arrangements fall apart. Many use all of their resources to get through a typical day and have little flexibility and no Plan B -- no grandparent, friend, or neighbor to step in if a child is ill.