Saturday, December 31, 2011

Do You Want to Be My Babysitter?

Ok, well, you probably don't. If you've read any of my posts, you are probably thinking that hanging with my daughter is about as fun as a root canal, and at the rate we are going, finding care for her will likely be just as expensive.

I've noticed that childless people don't really get the childcare problem. They make comments like "how hard can it be to find a babysitter?" and tag on things like "especially in this economy?" as if particle physicists and rheumatologists are banging down our door to earn $10-15 an hour.

People with kids understand. It is hard to find affordable, consistent, compassionate, attentive care. Very, very hard. At least if you are looking for someone with a car, no criminal record or super annoying habits, and whose presence you can tolerate without worries that they are going to be pawing through your underwear drawer (or hacking your bank accounts) the moment you are out the door.

When you hire a sitter, you are hiring more than someone to just keep your child safe, fed, and occupied (in roughly that order). You are hiring someone who will have full access to your world and be responsible for the most valuable thing in it. This person will shed their influence - not to mention the cloud of their bad grammar and scent of their lotion, perfume or cigarettes - on your child. And since much of the time that I have a sitter I am actually still at home, writing or otherwise taking care of businesses, I have to like our caretakers as much as our daughter. I have a low annoyance threshold and my husband is a curmudgeon with somewhat unreasonable standards for most things.

Which brings us back to the particle physicists and rheumatologists.

In the two years since my daughter was born she has had four sitters. All are incredible young women - bright, funny, outgoing, accomplished, and attractive. They have been students, usually at some kind of cross-roads, finished with or nearing the end of their respective programs,  and we were lucky enough to take advantage of their availability during a transitional period. But bright, outgoing people tend to move on to more promising things than digging Play-Doh out of sippy cup lids (unless, of course, they are parents) and because such people tend to get snapped up for jobs, internships, teaching assistant positions and the like...well, we tend to lose our sitters to jobs, internships, teaching assistant positions and the like.

I'm pretty sure we could hire people without graduate degrees, or ambition, and be just as happy with their care, but part of the problem has been a lack of access to sitter networks that might have been available to us had our daughter been born in a city where we had friends or family. Living in two totally new cities has forced us to rely on sites like or where we automatically end up treating potential sitters like job candidates. We check references. Obsess about their spelling and grammar and profile pictures. One person even showed up with a resume. It's a far cry from hiring a friend's daughter, or the kid down the block - which we would gladly do, if we had friends or neighbors younger than 83.

I started babysitting when I was fourteen. Let me say that again. FOURTEEN. This seems impossible to me now, not to mention ludicrous and likely illegal in some states. I would never hire a fourteen year old to watch my daughter. I'm iffy on anyone under twenty (or over eighty). I didn't know CPR or any kind of emergency care. If anything had happened on my watch I probably would have called my mom instead of dialing 911.

But even more baffling than the fact that some clueless parents actually left their children with me for extended periods of time - that's right, I said children: I was taking care of a three year old and a newborn when I was roughly twice seven years old - is that I was actually able to do the job. And apparently I did it well, or at least not terribly badly, because they asked me back and recommended me to their friends. In fact, I babysat all through high school and college without any major mishaps. So why is it that now I have my own child, taking care of one two year old pretty much reduces me to rubble every single day, and the idea of even beginning to think about considering the possibility of maybe one day talking about the timing of having another baby turns me into a blubbering, terrified wreck?

I'm sure it has something to do with the child in question being my own, and also with the difference between being responsible for a child in blocks of two to four hours rather than 24/7, and also with my daughter being roughly 400 times more intense than any child I ever cared for, and also with my being old. Gone are the days of blithely tripping into someone else's house with my babysitter's bag of crayons and Dr. Seuss and Richard Scary books, gamely playing endless rounds of tag and Candy Land, and coming up with silly tricks to entice chubby, happy babies to eat carrot puree.

Apparently I wasted all my good parenting and animated Richard Scary-reading on children who weren't my own, not to mention most of my functional brain cells on drinking and reading Heideigger.

Still, I do have some thoughts about who should be taking care of my child when I am in need of an hour, or eight, to myself. And like any boss who expects her new hire to outshine her, and then acts pissy when this actually happens, I also have some standards. So if, for some reason, you want to play Melanie Griffith to my Sigourney Weaver, but where our business has to do with making mac and cheese, rather than acquiring radio station conglomerates or Harrison Ford, then here are a few words of advice. (If that reference made no sense to you, then you are probably too young to take care of my daughter. But keep reading. You may learn something useful. Whippersnapper.)

1.) If you are going to post a profile picture on a website like, do not use your naughty pirate Halloween party photo - ditto drunk girl at bar photo, ditto creepy glamour shots, ditto crazy girl alone in her dorm room pics. We have all been there, sweetheart. But just because most moms out there have had our own dirty pirate days doesn't mean we want you to care for our children while you are living out yours. Think about it. Boozy floozy photographs are a turnoff; they say "flaky" not "good family fun." You're not trolling for dates here. Or at least you shouldn't be. And while taking care of my kid may not be as fun as dating, at least I pay you for your time.

2.) Spell check your personal information. Also consider proof-reading. It's not that a couple of missing or misspelled words reflect badly on your character - or your love of children. But when I'm scrolling through hundreds of profiles late at night, half asleep and three-quarters strung out, the former teaching assistant in me rears her ugly head and I'm going to look for any excuse to redline you, especially if the next profile I read is by Ms. I-graduated-from-Elmo-University and speak six languages and used to run my own daycare before I joined the peace corps. Just sayin'.

3.) Respond promptly. Whether to an email or my daughter trying to jump off a bookshelf, I value the fact that you pay attention. Do not assume that danger is ok just because I seem unphased by her antics. I can't catch everything. Feel free to stop my child from damaging herself. And do not wait days or weeks between communications if you are actually interested in working with our family. Again, this isn't dating. But even if it were, desperation is never attractive while attentiveness usually is.

4.) That said, do not spend all your time on your phone. I text, I email, I obsessively check to see if anyone has read my blog. I saw The Social Network. I get it. But still. I'm paying you to put the phone down when you are with my daughter. She gets enough neglect from me. If you want to pay me to get off the phone, I'll gladly watch my daughter for you.

5.) Do not tell me embarrassing or incriminating stories about yourself or refer to yourself as a "spaz" or "ditherbrain" or the like. Do not moan about failing classes or partying too much or getting dumped again. Everyone needs a filter. (See #1). What you do with your own time is your business, but I don't need extra worries. My husband is already giving me crap about kidnapping.

6.) It would help if you actually seemed like you liked kids. Maybe it is the economy, but nothing is a bigger turnoff than your looks of distain and horror when my daughter does normal kid things like pooping, crying, or having a tantrum. How will you be able to handle it when she starts acting like herself and combines all three in impressively terrible ways? There's a saying about heat and kitchens; there probably should be one about children and childcare.

7.) You can gain extra credit sitter points by giving me reports on what actually happened while you were hanging with my kid. Did she nap? Poop? Eat? Say a new word? I'm not trying to hovercraft my kid but sometimes the little things, like knowing how long she slept, or whether or not she ate, can make a huge difference to planning the rest of the day. It doesn't take that much time and it makes you look like a champ.

8.) Do not look through my underwear drawer. Do not hack my bank accounts. Do not drink my bourbon.

9.) If you are a particle physicist or rheumatologist, please contact me immediately. If you can perform a root canal, even better. Naughty pirate photo and all.


  1. I'm gonna let you borrow mine. Sitter that is. Found on Craigslist of all places. She is amazing. And my neighbor has some good recs too. Or let me borrow your little fire ball. We like her :)

  2. There's something to be said for dropping your child off at a home daycare -- what you don't know can keep you from getting annoyed. Licensing has been done by the state and the average age is 40ish. It freaked me out for a few weeks not to know exactly how much he ate, slept, and pooped, but I ask directly when I pick him and get good enough info. Based on his pretend phone conversations and ability to identify Spongebob cartoons it's not all wooden puzzles and story time over there, but hey, I get my 9 hours a day to work.

    Which is all just to say... Wow, I don't envy you the sitter search!

  3. @Miss M: You are welcome to borrow the Fireball. She just got a Little Housekeeping Trolley, so maybe you can put her to work?

    @Hawk3ye: THanks for the thoughts - sounds like you've got a good thing going. I'm pretty sure that being home with me my daughter is learning to curse and throw things. We were looking for a home daycare (among other options) but it was hard to find one close to us...we're moving, so maybe better luck in the new 'hood? Fingers crossed!