I was a Babysitter. I like to think I was a great one. For my first job at age ten I packed my Mickey Mouse tote bag full of the most fun things I could think of along with a game of my own design. For those first few years I watched kids while their parents were home paying bills, doing dishes or spending time with a younger child. Now that I’m a parent myself I have started to fall behind in these same areas and so it is that at age 33 I now find myself……… looking for a babysitter.
Times have changed. Back in the day I printed out a bunch of business cards and left them in every mailbox in my subdivision. And people actually called me. A lot of people. As the only older girl in the neighborhood I had my own babysitting monopoly that spread over time to other nearby subdivisions. By the time I graduated high school I had a list of about 40 families and their phone numbers posted on my bedroom wall. The expectation then seemed to also include light cooking and cleaning, laundry, and other odd tasks. And all for a mere $2.50-$5 an hour. I offered a sliding scale. Man was I nice. These days it seems like parents don’t let their kids start babysitting until they are much older. This is probably for the best. When I think back to how much I didn’t know it kind of scares me. Needless to say no local kids have stopped by begging for a few hours with my children.
The students at the nearby college have the option of adding their names and numbers to an online babysitting call list. They can also list their experiences, whether they are CPR certified, what they are studying, where they want to be in 5 years, who they voted for in the last election and lots of other information that only serves to distance me from them. It’s almost like the more I know about them the more I know they are not the Perfect Babysitter for My Kids. Not to mention that a person could have lots of experience and just not really enjoy being around kids that much. This matters to me. Which is why last week when I walked into the campus coffee shop I bought a drink, took one look at how the cashier was interacting with my 2 year old and I Knew. I had found our babysitter.
I invited her over before I could stop myself. I did not inquire about what she is studying or her driving record. Instead I tried to be guided by my feelings of which there was no shortage. What I never realized when I was on the other end of this situation is that every one of those mothers listed on my bedroom wall probably had some pretty big feelings about getting a babysitter themselves. Until now I don’t think it was possible to understand that. These are not just any kids. These are my kids. I have kept them out of childcare and left them only with family members and only for very short periods of time. This means that my husband and I have changed nearly every diaper they’ve ever dirtied, fed them nearly everything they’ve ever eaten, and been there for every new development along the journey to now. But now someone else is going to come over and take care of them, someone else is going to know things about my kids before I do. It’s inevitable of course and I have probably held out longer than most but it’s still hard. The thought of missing a single part of their lives fills me with a type of despair.
Looking back I can still picture all those other moms and dads driving off to dinner and the movies. They looked cheerful and upbeat, some were gussied up for the occasion. I try to imagine myself in their place- my arm waving through the open window as I pull out of the driveway calling, “Have fun kids!” But I can’t. Maybe it will just take a little time. Or maybe they were braver than I.