We don't really have a village, to be honest

Mieko Ozeki of Burlington feels very fortunate to have found a spot for her daughter, Naomi, in a high-quality child care center. Throughout her entire pregnancy, she and her husband searched for a child care opening that could accept an infant. Mieko notes that they felt “a sense of panic,” and regrets that the solutions available to her parents’ generation are no longer practical. She says, “We knew we were going to have to be a two [income] family. I grew up in New York City, but in a totally different time. My mom volunteered to take five years off from her career to raise me. But you can’t do that in this time.” 

Just before Naomi was born, Mieko received a call from the YMCA in Burlington, letting her know that they would have an infant spot for Naomi. This experience is not the norm: in Chittenden County, the state estimates that there are 2,252 infants likely to need care, and 56% of those have no access to regulated care at all.  Mieko was relieved, of course, but immediately saw that she was lucky in a way that wasn’t possible for many other people: “You don’t realize, honestly, how lucky you are until you see how many people are on the waiting list… But that’s also what makes me cry. If you’re in a decent situation financially, putting … $30 to be on a waiting list is one thing. But for a lot of people, they can’t do that. It’s crushing.” 

In her role as the founder of VT Womenpreneurs, Mieko sees another perspective on the child care crisis here in Vermont. In addition to the pressure it puts on families and budgets, considerations about child care can adversely affect the entrepreneurial spirit that Vermont values so highly. Mieko says that child care challenges can make it very hard to take professional risks: “[U]nless you’ve done some really great calculations…, you’re limited by how much you can dream.”  

Without a safe and trustworthy child care arrangement, women who run their own businesses can feel isolated and limited. Mieko relates, “It’s just you personally trying to a run a business, you trying to be a professional, all of these things are so much more complex. And we don’t really have a village, to be honest, and we can’t delude ourselves that we do.”