Author’s Note: I originally worked on this blog over December but between the shopping, the baking, the gift wrapping, the cooking, the shipping, the decorating, the filling of Advent calendars, the hiding of gifts, and the ever present whining from my children of “WHEN WILL IT BE CHRISTMAS MOM? IS IT TODAY?! HUH? HUH? IS IT TODAY!??!,” I never got it finished. So just amuse me, pretend you are reading this deep in the trenches of the holiday season. Happy 2013 everyone!
With the holidays upon us, it can only mean one thing for us parents: babysitter wars. Maybe “wars” is a bit of a hyperbole. Battles? Skirmishes? Scrambles? Kerfuffles? Whatever the exact word, what I am trying to convey to you is that it is a difficult time to find a sitter. In our childless days, accepting an invitation to a party, a dinner, a cocktail hour, or an ugly sweater party was as simple as checking the calendar to make sure that no conflicts existed. Today, we are at the mercy of a handful of young women who hold our social life by the balls. Without them, we’d have to spend EVERY WAKING HOUR with our children with no breaks, no grown-up time, no fun excuses to wear an outfit without the stains of a million spaghetti dinners while holding a festive cocktail and looking like you belong in an ad for a Vegas nightclub and not a commercial for Mom jeans.
Now after seven years of this parenting gig, I have developed a network of wonderful women who look after our children with care and kindness. This network is an ever fluid thing that requires constant nurturing, pruning, and attention. Just when you’ve gotten a lovely girl groomed and ready to step in at a moment’s notice, they are snatched away from you by life’s other opportunities. We’ve had babysitters leave for graduate school, international internships, new jobs, relocations, and even marriage and their own children. We have one high school sitter whom we adore and my girls and I are already sadly counting down the days till she will leave us for college even though it is more than two years away. Is it wrong to hope she goes the community college route instead of spreading her wings out of state? If it is, then book us and throw away the key.
While a part of me wishes that our sitters weren’t so darned ambitious and smart and they’d just be satisfied living at home with their parents and watching my girls in perpetuity, I know that it’s all for the greater good that they move on with their lives. But it leaves me always scouting, always recruiting, always looking for new sitters- like some creepy cult leader trolling for converts to support my lifestyle. Right now, we have a pretty solid stable of go-to sitters (knock on wood) but during my ever constant search for “good help,” I’ve observed a few things about the world of babysitting and sitter etiquette.
#1- One of the most closely guarded secrets in parenting circles may be the contact information of their babysitters. Ask most parents about advice regarding sleeping, feeding, product choices, school enrollment, and they will bare their souls. Parents can talk about their kids and subjects related to their kids almost ad nauseum…believe me, I’m one of them. But ask them about their babysitters: you get clamped lips, furtive looks passed between the husband and the wife, some mumblings about the lateness of the hour, and a cloud of dust where they were sitting just mere moments before. Sure you might get some names during the summer when students are back home from college but really, those are just a temporary supplement to the troops you’ve already built up. I have only had a handful of friends volunteer their regular sitter’s names and numbers but it’s usually with the understanding that…
#2- You will never poach or actively recruit someone else’s sitter without the expressed permission from the originator of said sitter. We all get in a pinch sometimes and need an emergency fill-in. Finding a last minute substitute can often mean calling in all your favors and signing an oath in blood that the booking is one-time only and you will never, ever, ever call that person again. Sometimes though….
#3- A sitter will offer their services to you, unbidden. I’ve had a couple of sitters approach me with their phone numbers when they are actively looking for extra work. But even then, I feel a little dirty and slightly paranoid…like I’m embarking on an affair with a married man. What if their original employers find out? Will they think that I was the one who asked first? What if I’m labeled as a “babysitter stealer” and get black listed from mommy happy hours and playdates? But honestly, who can blame these industrious young women? Gone are the days when I was a babysitter myself and counted myself lucky to get two dollars an hour. During the 2012 elections, when politicians asked if voters felt they were better off today than they were four years ago, I think all of our sitters could answer…
#4- “Yes we are!” They name their own price, make their own pay adjustments as needed, call their own hours, turn me down if they have a better offer, and I just come back for more. Because unless they do something absolutely egregious like actually lose my child or host a kegger at our house, I will take whatever measures necessary to keep them under our employment. Luckily, our sitters are wonderful and I don’t feel a moment’s remorse compensating them but let me be clear, they definitely have the upper hand in this scenario despite the fact that I’m the one writing the checks. At least it’s a familiar situation I find myself in since most days, my 6-year old and 2-year old wield more power than I do in this household.
Hopefully, you too have someone dependable, fun, and loving to watch your kids while you escape what can be a daily zoo. Because we all need a break – whether it’s by ourselves or with friends or with our spouse (remember him?). And all I can say this holiday season is, “God bless our babysitters, every one!”