M. Felicity Chapman, a local entrepreneur, wife and mother of two, opened the doors last week on Cubes & Crayons, a new business that provides office space along with onsite, affordable child care for infants and children under 5 years of age.
Chapman's mission is to help working professionals maximize their productivity and efficiency by giving them a place to get things done — on a drop-in or pre-scheduled basis — and a community for working parents to network and engage in intellectual dialogue with other adults.
"I think this is a 'freedom endeavor,'" Chapman said, "to give women freedom to make the choices they want to make, and not feel that they are pigeonholed into giving up their career or staying at home. I can't tell you how many stay-at-home or part-time moms miss adult interaction and talking about something besides diapers...
"These are professional women who are used to being powerful in the working world. These are people who need to say that they are still working, they want to work and talk with other women and figure out how to be a lawyer, mom, wife and all the things that they've become."
Chapman says that she expects fathers as well as mothers to utilize the center, located at 1122 Crane St. in Menlo Park. The private office spaces are appropriate for small meetings or for personal use and have wireless Internet capabilities, though clients must bring their own laptops. A fax machine, scanner and kitchenette are also available to clients.
"This is a huge resource for moms and dads in the community, for everyone who wants to mesh work and home," Andrea Katz said during her visit to Cubes & Crayons' recent open house.
Chapman's business idea was inspired by her own experience trying to balance career aspirations with the joys and demands of motherhood. After her first child's birth, Chapman needed to find a way to spend time with her daughter while continuing to run her interior-design company.
"I didn't want to give up my business, and I didn't want to give up my daughter," Chapman said. Watching her daughter grow and develop was a priority. Professional growth was, too.
"I had to meet clients at odd times, and it was impossible to find someone in child care who had a flexible schedule," she said. Although she could have hired multiple babysitters, Chapman was wary to do so because of her conviction that this would compromise her child's need for consistency and stability.
Many local families share Chapman's child care concerns. Finding reliable child care is a challenge, particularly when affordability concerns and scheduling flexibility matter, according to Corrie Reynolds, a Realtor.
"It becomes a full-time job looking for someone who is warm enough and vigilant enough to care for your child. And then, when you have to change caregivers, you have to go through that [search] process again. This idea can address problems for a lot of people," said Reynolds.
"I'm really surprised that there aren't more of these. It would have made life easier over the last couple of years," said Frank Brucato, Reynolds' husband and the senior associate dean of finance and CFO of the Stanford Law School.
The couple's work schedule, combined with no-show babysitters and last-minute appointments, presented challenges for them after their son, Max, was born. Reynolds said that babysitters were not always available when she needed them, but that hiring a full-time nanny did not appeal to her.
Cubes & Crayons offers parents like Reynolds and Brucato a place to spend time with their kids while fulfilling work goals, providing the flexibility of a full-time nanny without taking away from parents' perception that they are the primary child care providers.
An advantage of working at Cubes & Crayons over working from home, according to Chapman, is that adults can do their work in quiet environment while feeling secure that their children are well-attended and close-at-hand.
When you work from home, you can't always take a conference call because you don't want your child screaming in the background, Chapman said. Cubes & Crayons aims to relieve some of these concerns. And when parents need a pause in their work, they can join their children in the playroom or the infant room.
"This is a community, and if you want to go back and play with your kid, you should be able to do that. My daughter is thrilled that she can be at work with Mommy, and if she needs Mommy, Mommy is around," Chapman said.
According to the AFL-CIO and the Economic Policy Institute, there is currently a widespread need among the national workforce for more flexibility in addressing family care responsibilities. In fact, the Economic Policy Institute cites the need for greater flexibility as one of the most pressing issues that a comprehensive national family policy program should address. ( http://www.sharedprosperity.org/bp190.html ).
At least for the time being, Chapman intends to address families' need for flexibility through the business marketplace rather than the political arena. In her business, she hopes to make a profit and give back to the community, reinvesting in local families and organizations and working for the greater good.
Rates at Cubes & Crayons vary depending on whether parents prefer buying a monthly package or simply dropping in. Clients who do not become members can pay as much as $22.50 per hour, though if a parent becomes a member, the rate can fall to as low as $9.60 per hour, depending on the age of the child.
If parents choose to, they can join the co-op at Cubes & Crayons. Co-op parents commit a designated amount of their time to the community, donating personal talents including web and Internet expertise, legal expertise, child care coverage, planning and organizational skills, or other needed assistance. The per-hour rates for toddler and preschooler child care are reduced to as low as $9 for such members.
At present, Cubes & Crayons has only one location, but within two to three years, Chapman hopes to have locations throughout California, and within five years, she hopes to have facilities nationwide.