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Childcare crisis! Why is it so hard to find a good babysitter?

Like many others in my situation, I entered the world of online matchmaking hoping to find The One. I knew I should appear confident, but the scars of bad relationships past made my desperation hard to conceal. I had been looking for my match for three tumultuous years, and I didn’t think my standards were too high; I was simply looking for someone to babysit my three-year-old son. Was it too much to want someone to keep him safe, not have a criminal record, preferably not complain about him, not be as needy as him, and last for more than two visits?

Before I ventured online, I tried to find The One the old-fashioned way: through friends and introductions. A local mom posted that she had a babysitter, Anna, who was looking for more hours. I called Anna, and she came to meet my son, JJ. She arrived in a whirlwind, busting out of her tiny camisole and running her fingers through her hair as she flipped open a notebook. “See? See all these names? These people want me. I am verrry busy. You’ll be lucky if I can fit you in.”

For nine months, I had stumbled through the days, weighed down by the sling and the helpless feeling of being a newcomer in town. Anna could ease my pain. And she knew it.

“Oh, of course!” I said brightly. “I’m very flexible. You can make your own schedule.”

Over the next few weeks, she took care of my children and, mostly, herself. The first week, she exclaimed, “Oh, my sinuses! Can you find some medicine for me?” Next, she brought a basket of vitamins and powders that she had to ingest at specific times. Although she demanded a lot, she allowed me the sweet luxury of going to the chiropractor for neck pain (from the sling) or to the dentist. I needed five hours a week without the sling, so I desperately tried to keep her happy. Once, as I climbed into my car, she yelled, “Do you have a lime? I always like a lime in my tea.” “Argghhhh, that JJ,” she grumbled about my son. “He breaks my back. The crying! He makes me hold him always!

On the way out the door, she stopped to ask my husband, “Do you have any cookies?” When he gave her one, she grabbed another.

After two months, I realized that she gave me a bigger headache than the sling or my kids.

Why, you might wonder, did I put up with Anna? Because I had done my research. I knew what was out there. I had friends with babysitters who showed up late, exercised during their time with the kids, and ordered Panty-grams online. All of which was better than no one or, God forbid, someone abusive. One friend’s husband couldn’t understand why his wife put up with her babysitter’s antics. She said to me, “He doesn’t understand. I am at her mercy!” But boy, did I understand.

Too tired to play? Relax.

Lime for your tea? I’ll get one.

Sore back? Let me hold the baby for you.

Sinuses? Here’s something for the pain.

The next woman seemed so perfect: an energetic college neighbor who needed a job. In her words, “I looooove babysitting. I used to babysit the kids down the street all the time. Any time you need me, just come knock! Any time!” But forty-five minutes into her first (and only) time sitting for us, she called to say, “I don’t know what to do, Amy. He won’t stop screaming. He sounds like his appendix burst or something!”

I rushed home and my son, sitting in his wagon, stopped wailing to say, “Hi, Mama.” No more screaming. And no more sitter. The next week, she told us she was too busy to sit anymore. The situation was so grim that for a while my husband and I gave up the babysitter search altogether. Eventually, though, our friends convinced us it was time to get back in the game, find The One so that we could have a life outside our four walls.

So there I was at Sittercity.com, the online matchmaker of babysitting. I decided to be totally upfront in my ad so I wouldn’t have to deal with the heartache later. I would reveal that my son was wild and that he would cry when I left. My ad read: “Looking for sitter for very active three-year-old boy for Thursday afternoons. Must be comfortable with his separation anxiety. Must have reliable transportation.”

First response: “Sounds great! Need live-in nanny job now. Don’t have car. Need house. Will care for your children all week.”

I weeded through the other obvious weirdoes and wackos and people I was scared to meet, never mind to take care of my child. Then I noticed an ad: social worker at an elementary school, looking for Thursdays. I tried not to get my hopes up. Her picture looked so cute! So smiley! Her name was Meghan, and she said, “As a social worker, I work with children with emotional, social and behavioral issues and can provide support in these areas if needed. I am mature, responsible, dependable and most importantly I genuinely love working with kids!”

When Meghan arrived to meet JJ for the first time, she was smiling and fully-covered – no teensy camisoles. She looked like a professional, like the first-grade teacher you’d want to have. Her smile was warm, and as JJ peeked from behind me, she got his attention naturally and effortlessly: “Hey, JJ? Is that a dino shirt?”

From there, it was magic. They played together; he showed her his “jumpy bed” and his dinosaurs. I was ecstatic to feel like a third wheel. At the end, I stood at the door saying goodbye, trying to sound nonchalant. “Soooooo, I’ll email you, and you can let me know if you’re still interested.” In my head, I thought, “Please. Please come back. Please take care of my child and be as loving and non-judgmental as you seem.” I also refrained from saying, “I will somehow pay you much more than I advertised if you can help end this house-arrest I’ve been under for three long, lonesome years!”

Last week, Meghan sat for JJ for the first time, even picking him up from pre-school. I came home and anxiously walked up the steps. I opened the door. No screaming. No crying. What was that? Little giggles from the den? I peeked around the corner to see JJ, head thrown back, laughing, as he sat on Meghan’s lap. They were engrossed in a tractor book.

“Hi, Buddy!” I grinned.

“Hi, Mama,” he smiled. “Look what I’m showing Meghan.”

I sighed with relief, but I could have squealed with joy.

Meghan walked to the door and said, “Things went great. We had fun. Went outside. Read books. Played in the basement. I’ll see you next week, OK, JJ?”

They hugged, (yay!) and then she whispered to me, “I caught a mouse. He’s under that bowl by the door. I didn’t want JJ to be scared, so he doesn’t know. See you next week!”

Not only had Meghan taken great care of my child, but she had done so without complaint. She thought he was cute and sweet! She did not ask me for one single thing: not a lime or a cookie or a vitamin. And she was utterly unfazed by catching a mouse on her watch. I am trying not to get ahead of myself, but Meghan just may be The One that I’ve been waiting for.

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