Posts Tagged ‘weirdness’

I had no idea that one of my biggest side hustles as a mom would be trying to find a babysitter. Maybe this isn’t true for everyone – especially if you have nearby relatives who are happy to take a kiddo for a few hours – but man it has been true for me: I spend a ton of energy trying to find and keep babysitters.

It took me an embarrassingly long time to feel comfortable leaving Carla with a sitter AT ALL. Our first regular sitter lived down the street. She’d just graduated college, she had a bunch of siblings and a history of taking care of kids in the neighborhood. Plus, she was a former lifeguard so I knew she was a) CPR certified and b) schooled in handling emergencies.

At one point, she was always busy when I asked her to watch Carla, so I stopped asking. (Who knows – maybe she really wasbusy. But if she was just uneasy telling me she no longer wanted to babysit, I wanted to take the hint.) That was a sad loss.

I tried one of those websites where you can find a sitter… but I have to be honest. I freaked me out. Too many options, and too much potential risk, I guess? I know many people have used those sites with great success. But it’s not my thing.

A neighbor mentioned that her high school son would be interested in sitting for Carla. But… Carla is scared of him for some reason. Maybe not scared, but totally apprehensive at the idea of having him watch her. So that’s off the table. (And, I’m sure, so is asking his older sister; talk about insulting!)

Finally, we found a sitter who worked at Carla’s old daycare. Again, I was delighted! She and Carla knew and liked each other. She’d been vetted by a place whose very business was taking care of kids. Plus, I just liked her. But she moved out of state. Before she left, she recommended one of her former colleagues from the daycare, who was also a great find. But then she had a baby and I never heard from her again.

Just a year ago, I felt flush with an abundance of sitters. Carla’s swim instructor was happy to babysit. And one day when she was unavailable, she recommended a friend who is a speech pathologist and works with high-needs kids. We met her and she was excellent. So that’s TWO sitters to call on if we need it. But they are both really expensive, which is a factor.

So when Carla literally picked up a sitter at camp this summer, I was over the moon. (I showed up in the car line on the last day of camp and Carla dragged this young woman over, and the young woman said, “Hi! Can I give you my number so I can babysit Carla sometimes?” Um. YES.) She was Carla’s swim coach at camp. She was a high school student, so she commands a lower fee than the two adult professionals we’d been using. And she was wonderful. Full of energy and obviously deemed capable of wrangling a bunch of five year olds – in the water, no less – by Carla’s school. We had her over to watch Carla and Carla had a blast and keeps asking when she can come over again.

My husband and I haven’t been on a date in MONTHS, so I am ready for one. And I want to sign up for this Sur la Table class so I can cross it off my to-do list. So I texted the sitter… and she hasn’t responded. I am going to give it until this weekend to follow up (she’s in class during the week, obviously), but I am worried about how best to contact her. I could email her… but do kids these days email? Or I could call her… but do kids these days use the phone? (I doubt it. I don’t use the phone and I’m a billion.) Probably I’ll just text her one more time and then if she doesn’t respond I will begin the grieving process. Because I don’t want to badger her.

Did I ever tell you about the horrible babysitting experience I had in grad school? I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned it here. As with most of my past (a phrase that makes my earlier years sound unnecessarily mysterious; they were not), the incident is kind of fuzzy. I have a truly dreadful memory. But the broad strokes and the pervasive dread have stuck with me.

I had a professor that I loved. He taught a class on my all-time favorite author, and we spent the semester reading books I loved and delving into the author’s craft and I loved every minute of it. Much of the reason I loved it was the professor, too. He was engaging and smart and he seemed to value my contributions – slim though they were; I once got an A- in a class I otherwise excelled at simply because I didn’t speak up enough – and I really liked him.

One day, he asked if I would babysit his two young kids. I can’t remember if he put the request out to the class or if he asked me specifically. But I said yes and gave him my cell number so he could send me details. I sat for the kids one time and it was… rough. I’m not much of a kid person as it is; I don’t really know why I said yes in the first place. I have a very blurry recollection that maybe the professor was in a bind and I said yes reluctantly just to help him out. I’m pretty sure I told him right then that it was a once-in-a-while deal, that he should not count on me as a regular sitter. But maybe that’s one of the tricks your mind plays on you, after the fact, filling in what youshould have done. Maybe I was eager to help out, at the time.

So I sat for the kids and then I was done. Once was enough. Again, I don’t have anything specific to hang that reasoning on. Maybe the kids were unruly or mean or fought a lot or cried a lot. Maybe I felt overwhelmed or realized, yeah, I don’t like kids. Maybe the parents were late coming home or I felt uncomfortable in their house. I have no idea.

But he asked me again and I said no, I couldn’t do it – blaming it on some other commitment, feeling horrible for leaving him in the lurch.

(A little part of me can empathize with him, now that I’m well-versed in trying to find a sitter for my own child. You find someone you like, and you want that person to be Your Person Forever. When you have no other options, you might be a little more willing to be annoying in pursuit of getting what you want.)

And then he called me again, to ask me to babysit. And I declined again. And then he asked me again. Did I go back and sit for the younger kid, one more time? I think maybe I did, but maybe I wanted so badly to say yes and stop the badgering that I invented that memory. In any case, he called again. And again. I stopped answering my phone when he called. I felt guilty about not wanting to help, and uncomfortable about lying about my other commitments, and awkward about having to see him in class.

And then, in class, he started telling us stuff that struck me as really inappropriate. Stuff that maybe you shouldn’t share with your students. But it sounded like he and his family were going through a really rough time – my memories here are more specific, but I don’t want to share the details because a) they aren’t mine and b) if I ammisremembering, that makes sharing them even worse; suffice it to say it was really, really disquieting stuff – and so I can understand that he might have been so consumed by what was going on that he lost his sense of judgment about what he should and shouldn’t share. Or hey, maybe it was perfectly reasonable for him to tell us what he was going through, and my particular high-boundary personality coupled with my strained relationship with him is what made it seem out of line.

He would talk about these things they were going through, and how desperate he and his wife were to figure them out, and how they had all this time they had to spend away from the one kid while they were struggling to help the other kid.

In any event, it made me feel awful. Sad for him and his family. But also like he was guilt tripping me about not babysitting for them. In front of the whole class. He and his wife neededsomeone to help them out. The younger kid neededsomeone to be there for them, while her family’s lives were in a tumult. And I couldn’t even be bothered to babysit???

I realize that a lot of this is my own personal interpretation. And you weren’t there, and you aren’t getting his side of the story. But I hope you believe me when I tell you I felt a tremendous amount of pressure. And I felt I couldn’t do anything about it, either. I couldn’t drop out of the class – it was too far along in the semester by that time. I didn’t feel that couldn’t go to anyone in the department, because it’s such a small department and he had such standing in it that I didn’t think anyone would believe me that it had become a bigger issue than a stupid babysitting request. I didn’t even tell my closest grad school friend about it, because I was afraid she’d say something and I’d get blackballed by the department.

Writing it out even now, it seems ridiculous. How could an entire semester be ruined for me because someone wanted me to babysit his kids and I didn’t want to? And of course, I’ve lost (or blocked) the details so I can’t lay it out for you to fully examine. Instead, you get these shards and fragments. How can I expect you to form a clear enough picture that you understand?

Well. This is all I’ve got.

And it did ruin the semester for me. Worse, I haven’t picked up a book by my once-favorite author since.

Like I said, I do have some empathy for him. Now. After the passage of many years has softened the anxiety and discomfort I felt at the time. And knowing what I do about the singular desperation a parent feels in the face of losing a perfectly good babysitter.


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