Monday, April 15, 2013

Babysitters. Or, how we realized we are irrevocably now grown ups.

Babysitters.  One undoubtedly took care of you, at least occasionally, when you were a child.  Babysitters.  It is incredibly likely that during high school and college you either were or dated one (or, for some of you, both).  Babysitters.  You've heard the word for a good chunk of your life, and I do not presume to speak for all parents, but for at least My Wife and I the word now carries all manner of new meaning.  One of the banal realities of having children is that they need to be watched.  Whether it be a simple "keep them fed, changed and from obvious dangers", or the more involved "keep them in the line of sight at all times because they are walking mayhem", children need to be watched.  Although we want to be the ones doing all the watching, at certain times we need to be relieved of duty for short stints.  Doctor's appointments, emergencies, special events, mental health breaks (trust me), etc.  So who watches when the watchers need a break (quis custodiet pro custodes, if you will)?  Babysitters.

As first time parents, we predictably turned to Abuela and Nana for babysitting needs when Sidney was still in the "newborn" phase, and as new parents we defined that as until he hit around 8/9 months; although, if anecdotal evidence bears weight, for the next kid we will define that as "until My Wife and the baby are discharged from the hospital."  But, of course, we could not only use Sidney's grandparents (or other family) for our babysitting as there would be plenty of times that the need would arise because they were not available, or they too would be attending whatever event that called for the babysitter in the first place.  And with this came the first new meaning for "babysitter": a person that needs to be vetted.  

With thoughts of backgrounds checks that would make Secret Service agents nervous running through my mind, My Wife discovered that there were, thankfully, already a few networks in place for us to tap that had "pre-vetted" the candidates.  One was word of mouth from mommies she trusted (hold on that one for a second) and the other was a babysitting service run by Barnard College.  At the least, these gave us places from which to start the interviews; plural, because you are going to need to keep a roster of babysitters, not everyone will be available at all times, so have a deep bench.  As for the babysitting service (there are others similarly run all over the place it turns out), the babysitters submit for a background check by the service and list all of their references, etc, so you have a bit less legwork to do.  You get a list of qualified and vetted candidates to bring in to try out.  It is a bit like the drafts in professional sports.  You can concentrate on a smaller pool of known talent.  On the word of mouth, I was informed, other parents will give you their "back-up" babysitters in order to hoard the "first stringers" for themselves ... I do not blame them.  You go through a lot of trial and error before you find a sitter that is reliable, available and your kid likes (see, below).  Think of it as declaring franchise players vs. leaving players in unprotected free-agency (it's physics or sports metaphors people, deal).  So, the pools of available sitters are established, we meet them, we (and by "we" I mean "My Wife", who am I kidding) ask them all manner of questions and then we create our short list.  And with candidates being narrowed, we come to the next new meaning: a person Sidney has to interview.

Let's face it, the babysitter and your kid have to get along in order for the relationship to work.  Sidney, much like his father, figures out whether he likes people within the first few minutes of meeting.  He might warm up a bit after a while, but for the most part it's a read/react situation.  You can see him working through his feelings on the person.  He looks them up and down, waits to see what they have to say, gives them a good stare in the eye ... and then either smiles or starts bawling.  Someday he'll replace that last bit with something more subtle (I hope), but it is good to see he has the mechanics of it down.  To be fair, my reactions tend to be along similar lines, except instead of bawling at people I am not fond of I tend to just make small talk and nod until I can escape their presence (although, to think of it, bawling might be the way to go as it ends the conversation considerably sooner).  We've been very lucky and Sidney has taken to several of the babysitters quickly.  He has his favorites and those are the ones we always try to go to first, but they are all great young ladies.  Which brings us to the last new meaning: someone that makes you feel really old.

It is not so much that the babysitters tend to be from their very late teens to their early 20s (although, let's face it, that alone can make you feel old), it is that they refer to us as Mr. and Mrs. [Redacted] (you people know too much about us already, no way you are getting the surname).  Now, professionally I am quite used to being called Mr. [Redacted], but when done in a personal setting it always makes me spin around and look for my father; Abuelo is Mr. [Redacted], damnit, I'm the young buck.  But, alas, I am no longer.  I am now also Mr. [Redacted], Sidney is the young buck.  My Wife reacts similarly, although for her it is the memory of how she thought of the Mrs. So-and-Sos she'd babysit for, ie, "Grown Ups."  Her reaction upon having our first sitter call her Mrs. [Redacted] was along the lines of: "Oh my god, I'm the mom ... I'm the old one ... she's the young one ... shoot me."  You'd think having the kid would have been enough to make us feel old, but no, it took an innocent, and very respectful, third-party to hammer the reality home.

In the end, all that matters is that we have people we are comfortable with to watch Sidney on those rare occasions that we need to be out.  It is good for him to be exposed to new people and it is good for us to continue to have adult corners of our lives.  Ostensibly it is good for the babysitters too, as it is a (relatively) easy way to make a few extra dollars and Sidney is a great kid, but someday a babysitter will call them Mrs. So-and-so and they'll think "she's the young one ... crap."

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