I have written here before about the difficulties of attending conferences with a baby in tow. This is on my mind because CCCC is coming up, and the Bean and I are flying there alone. I am lucky because my parents live fairly close to Atlanta, and they are going to come help out so that I can attend my panels, meetings, and a memorial dinner and know that the Bean is safe with Nana and Pops.
At one point, though, I thought I would need to use the conference's recommended sitter service. (And I am imagining there are others who have no choice.) Mind you, this is not childcare provided by the conference. Several months ago, when I emailed the NCTE offices to find out about conference-provided childcare (because I know I had seen a drop-in option in the past), I received a note saying that they stopped arranging for on-site service. The note went on to offer information about a recommended service and the charges. I thought I needed someone for two hours, and with all the additional charges (including some mysterious "referral fee," parking, and a minimum four-hour charge) it was going to cost me nearly $90.00. I wondered on facebook just how many CCCC attendees with small children could afford that sort of fee. I suspect the answer is not that many.
Since I am planning to attend NCA in New Orleans this November with just the Bean, I decided to look up their policies. This is even better. My search for the term "childcare" of course turned up nothing, but digging in the conference FAQs, I found this gem:
Q. Can my partner, child, or family member accompany me at convention?
Absolutely! NCA’s annual convention, for many members, is a family affair. The NCA convention has many social aspects in addition to its fine intellectual tradition. Your family members or friends do not need to pay the membership fees if they do not plan on attending programs, convention receptions or visiting the exhibit area. For a $50 registration fee, they are welcome at all sessions, events and receptions.All partner, family, spouse registrations must be purchased onsite in New Orleans.
So I emailed someone at the NCA offices asking whether the conference provided any sort of childcare or at the very least recommended a service, like CCCC and MLA (MLA, which provides vouchers to help curb the cost of the service, is starting to look like the winner here). Here is the response I received:
Hello Debra. NCA does not arrange special childcare services but often the hotel can recommend local services. I would suggest contacting the concierge desk at the hotel at which you are thinking of staying. Thank you!
Michelle Randall, CMP
Senior Manager, Convention and Meetings
National Communication Association
1765 N Street NW
Washington DC 20036
In case you have just been skimming, let me sum things up for you: the NCA encourages people to register their spouses and kids--that is PAY to bring them to the conference--but they will not lift a finger to arrange a certified care provider for people traveling with children to their professional conference. Note that I am not asking NCA to pay for childcare, just to make a service available for women (or men) who need to bring their children along with them. Though I do think they ought to also consider at least partially subsidizing childcare for contingent laborers, assistant professors, and graduate students.
I am not sure where the women's caucus is on this issue, and frankly, I would think that NCA would want to be in line with the large conferences and have some sort of childcare procedure in place if they really want to claim to be "family friendly" as they do when they brightly announce the registration fee for spouses and children.
So here is what I am thinking of doing in New Orleans: I will pay $50.00 to register Nora. She will wear the nametag (a strangulation hazard for a toddler, if NCA must know), and she will come with me to my presentations. I will announce at the beginning of my presentations that I am performing what NCA must think we need to do with our families, and I will let her interrupt my presentation or run around the room as much as she wants. Perhaps I will buy her a noisy tambourine, adorned with the NCA theme, "Voice," just for the occasion.
I will call it a "baby-in."
I want to clarify that I do not think this issue rises to the level of import of the labor issues that NCA has turned a blind eye to in the recent past. But I do think turning a blind eye to the conditions of their conference attendees is of a piece with that very mentality.