Tuesday, April 4, 2006

In Search of a Babysitter

In Search of a Babysitter
Stacey Greenberg

One of my new year’s resolutions was to find a babysitter. This was going to be no small task as my mom has been doing a bang up job for several years now, and is a hard act to follow.

Several people suggested I join the Midtown Babysitting Coop, and I liked the idea of that, but all of my calls to the president remained unreturned. Next, I emailed several friends in the area to see if anyone knew anyone good, but I got nothing. A friend suggested calling the Rhodes Career Center’s babysitters’ list. It seems like I would have thought of this myself since I actually used to be on the list as a Rhodes student.

I called as instructed, but the recording clearly said that the list of babysitters was for occasional gigs only and that if I wanted a regular babysitter I should fax or email a “job description.” So I did.

Dear Babysitting Coordinator,

I live on Court Avenue not far from campus. I have two young boys--ages (almost) 2 and (almost) 4. I am looking for someone who can come on a semi-regular basis on weekends so my husband and I can go to dinner and a movie. (i.e. every other Saturday night from 6-10pm). My husband will be out of town for several weeks (but not weekends) and I may have to make presentations for work on weeknights. In that case I would need someone on pretty short notice to come for a 2 hour block. There is also a possibility of morning or afternoon babysitting on weekends depending on our schedules.

I am looking for someone (male or female) who has experience with high energy toddlers and likes to play legos & trains, build forts, wrestle, etc. While we are out, I would expect the babysitter to serve the kids dinner (it would be pre-cooked), play with them, give them a bath, and possibly get them to sleep. The four year old is potty trained and the two year old is working on it (i.e. a diaper change may or may not be required).

Before officially babysitting I would like to speak with the person on the phone and then have them come meet and play with the children for a half hour to an hour while my husband and I are home.

I don't know what the going rate is. I'd like to pay $10 an hour, but if that isn't realistic I am happy to negotiate.

Thank you,
Stacey Greenberg (Class of 1994)

And then I waited for the calls to start flooding in. For weeks, I got nothing.

I started to obsessively reread my job description. Should I have left off the “high-energy” part? The diaper changing? Was $10 hopelessly low? Was the pre-sitting interview too much?

I called the Career Center to see what was up. “We put everything in a binder,” the student worker informed me, “and it is up to the students to flip through it.”

“Okay,” I said, trying to sound patient and kind.

There was a long silence.

“I’d really like to find someone soon,” I added in my best I am a nice person voice.

More silence.

Then finally, “I can move your job description to the front if you want. Then more people might notice it,” she said.

“Really?” I asked excitedly. I was envisioning a very large binder.

“Sure,” she said, seeming happy that she had made me so happy. “I actually have a friend who’s been wanting to babysit, I can give her your number too if you want,” she added.

“Great!” I said. “Thank you so much.” You are the best student worker ever!

A couple hours later I got a message from a nice girl named Linda. Linda was available on Saturday and willing to come on Friday to meet the boys. I immediately called Warren to tell him the good news.

“Did you check her references?” he asked.

Uh, no.

“Does she have any experience with young kids?”

I don’t know.

“So a complete stranger is coming to watch our kids?

Not exactly.

When I was a babysitter at Rhodes, no one ever pre-interviewed me or asked for references. I was welcomed into large homes throughout the city solely based on my status as a Rhodes student. It was a Memphis thing that Warren didn’t understand.
Next, I attempted to share my excitement with my internet friends.

I wouldn’t have her bathe the kids, they advised. Too much danger of drowning.

How do you think they will react to a new person changing their clothes? they asked.

Having a babysitter was beginning to seem scary. I decided that if we liked her on Friday, we’d have her come just for an hour or two on Saturday while we went to dinner. We’d feed the kids before we left and we’d bathe them when we got home. Linda would just be there to play and keep them from hurting each other, or themselves.

Thursday night I started cleaning up and thinking of things to ask Linda. Satchel and Jiro were jumping up and down in the living room and I heard a big THUD. “What was that?” I asked Satchel. He gave me a blank look. They both seemed fine so I went about my business. Fifteen minutes later I went in and realized a framed photograph had fallen off of the wall and landed behind the bookcase. As I moved the bookcase to retrieve it, my hand brushed against the baby monitor plug which was extremely hot. I pulled it out of the wall and the entire outlet was black! If I had waited a few minutes longer, we might have had ourselves a full blown electrical fire.

Moments like this really make me wish Warren was home during the week.

I decided we needed to call it a night and gave the five minute bath warning. As I was loading the dishwasher, Jiro came into the kitchen and started messing with the oven dials. “No, no,” I said as I continued to scrub grime off of a knife. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him trying to open the oven door. Before I could put the knife down, Jiro was laying on the oven door. As I went the three feet to grab him, I saw the entire oven come crashing forward. He saw it too and started frantically trying to scoot himself out. I grabbed him just as the oven hit the floor with a resounding boom. He was fine, amused even, but I felt my heart attempting to pound its way out of my chest.

There’s no way I can leave these two with a babysitter! I thought.

All night I worried about the house burning down, but fortunately it never did. I woke up calmer and decided to go ahead with the pre-interview. Warren could ask her anything he wanted, she could meet the boys, I could point out safety hazards…everything would be okay.

Linda showed up right on time and appeared to be very nice and not scary at all. Satchel immediately bounded over to her and started showing her his toys. Jiro seemed equally excited to see a new person. “Thanks for coming,” I said. “This won’t take long.”

“No problem,” she said, “The opera doesn’t start for an hour and a half.”

The opera! I took this as a good sign.

“Oh, Don Giovanni?” I asked, trying to sound smart. I listen to public radio.
She smiled.

I went through a string of questions and determined that Linda was from Alabama, she was a sophomore, and a history major. She had babysat for several families in Memphis, but didn’t have too much experience with young kids. “I asked my mom about younger kids and she said that I should just focus on playing with them and keeping them safe,” she said.

Linda had just scored major points. “That’s about right,” I said light-heartedly. “I don’t care if the walls are painted and they are covered in chocolate as long as they are happy and in one piece when we get back.”

Linda seemed a little apprehensive on the diaper changing front so I assured her that it would only be an issue if Jiro pooped, otherwise his diaper would easily last the two hours we planned to be gone.

The whole time we were talking, both Satchel and Jiro were romping around happily. I asked Warren if he wanted to ask Linda any question and he said no. “No?” I verified. Mr. Twenty Questions has no questions? Mr. ‘She’s going to kidnap our babies’ has no questions?

I think he felt obligated to say something so he said, “Hey Satchel, Linda is going to come stay with you tomorrow night while Mommy and Daddy go out to dinner.”
Satchel stopped romping around and stared at Warren, then me. His face completely dropped. He clearly did not like the idea of being left.

Before he could go into a full-blown pout/tantrum, I said, “Ok Linda, I guess you better get going to the opera, we’ll see you tomorrow at 6:30!” and rushed her out the door.

“I don’t want to stay with Linda!” Satchel cried.

“It’ll just be for a little while,” I said. “You can show her all of your toys and play with her and it will be fun!”

“NO!” he said.

Good job, Warren.

I took a deep breath and changed the subject.

On Saturday afternoon, Satchel and I had the following conversation:

“I don’t like Linda’s face,” he said. “She has a funny face.”

I looked at him unsure as to what to say.

“She doesn’t have a cool face like you do, Mommy.”

A cool face? How cute is that? “Well, I bet once you get to know Linda, you will like her and her face,” I said.

He gave me a look that said he didn’t believe me, but he’d take my word for it. For now.

By the time Linda showed up, I had fed the boys dinner and given them a popsicle. All of their art supplies were out on the dining room table next to a stack of new coloring books. I even put out the play-doh. I had both TVs on with pre-approved shows and had hidden all of the remotes and extra DVDs so Jiro wouldn’t drive Linda insane with his desire to have a new movie on every five minutes. I left a list of snack ideas and our cell phone numbers. I made sure Satchel peed and I changed Jiro’s diaper.

As Warren and I made our way out the door, Satchel and Jiro were both engrossed in coloring and barely looked up. Linda sat down and started coloring with them. It was a far cry from the dramatic exit I had feared.

After two hours of drinks, dinner, dessert, and adult conversation Warren and I happily returned home. Satchel, Jiro, and Linda were all sitting at the kitchen table playing with the play-doh. There was a cushion fort built in the living room, a bowl of half-eaten popcorn on the counter, and discarded socks and shoes strewn about the dining room. Satchel barely looked up from what he was doing to say hello. Jiro gave us a big smile and pointed enthusiastically at his play-doh creation.
Mission accomplished!

I thanked Linda and said, “I hope this was easy money.”

“Oh it was,” she said. “I look forward to coming back in two weeks.”

Once she was gone, Satchel said, “Mommy! Mommy! You were right. I got to know Linda and she does have a cool face!”

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