Out of curiosity - if you have a plan for illness, there must be some sort of backup system for when you can't take the child. Would that same system work for last minute schedule changes?
No. On the rare occasion that I am too sick and contagious to care for Bob, one of his parents will take the day off to care for him.
You are right that it is hard to find reliable childcare that can be available on short notice.
I have Bob today, and Jan dropped him off (usually it is Dan, Bob's father). I took the opportunity to have a quick chat with Jan about the last minute schedule changes and how they affect me.
In short, I am taking Bob on Thursday. However, I let Jan know that I'd planned a few things for that day, including a dr's appt (that was actually the easiest thing to move). I told her that I need a full week's notice.
Apparently, there have been shift/schedule changes that she has turned down because it only gives me a day or two notice. But she asked if we could make some sort of arrangement for these. This is our compromised, and I am quite happy with it:
When there is a shift she wants to take at work, she will send me a message. I have facebook open nearly all the time and my speakers turned on, so I hear the beep when I get a message. I have promised to respond asap, as long as I'm around. She can expect a response from me within an hour if I'm at home, and within 6 hours if I'm not (or first thing in the morning if she messages me after I've gone to bed). This gives me the chance to pick up extra work if I want it and turn it down if I can't, all without causing her any problems with finding last minute care.
Bob is her first child, and before her mat leave, she would change shifts around without a second thought. She is a nurse, and I know from other nurse friends and family that getting your schedule then adjusting it to suit you is just the way things work.
I'm happy with this arrangement now. I don't feel the pressure to accept if I can't take Bob on any given day, and it also affords Jan some flexibility in adjusting her schedule.
The whole reason why Jan and Dan opted for me as the daycare provider was for flexibility (and security). I am willing to keep Bob after 6pm if needed (for a small fee) and take him before 7am if needed (again, for a fee). They know that there is at least the occasional willingness to do weekends (a huge bonus for both of them, because good luck finding that anywhere else).
So this has been resolved to my satisfaction. Although I did end up taking him, by not agreeing right away and by letting Jan know that it was actually kind of inconvenient, it's changed the dynamic slightly.