It wasn’t a mission or some kind of plan never to hire a babysitter. I’ve got plenty of ridiculous mom resolutions I hold firm on (talk to me about pre-packaged kid’s lunch meals!), but babysitters were never something I established a policy on. It sounds ridiculous to even consider that I would have thought of one.
And yet my son will be 6 in just a few days and he’s never had a sitter.
Lest you think I have pride about this, please allow me to pop that bubble swiftly. What I have is the opposite of pride. What I have is a bizarre sort of guilt or shame. It comes with the realization that for six years, my life has completely orbited around my son. It also means I completely suck when it comes to making plans.
I am incredibly lucky to have a mother who steps in with childcare whenever I need it. This is very significant. I’ve had to go out of town for work or attend a local seminar and my mom has stepped in to help make it possible. We all live together, so I am very appreciative when I have the occasional dinner with friends and she agrees to put my son, W, to bed.
While I know her offer to help will always be there, I never want to make the assumption and take advantage of it. However, my mom is pretty amazing and can read me very well. When it is clear I need to get out of the house, she starts giving me the nudge.
“Any movies out that look interesting?”
“When is the last time you had dinner with your friends?”
It usually takes a few weeks of nudging before I finally feel like she REALLY means I can go and she is OK watching W.
There are two ridiculous things about this: 1) My mom has told me repeatedly she does not mind watching W so I can go out and yet I constantly put her in the position of being proactive about kicking me out of the house, and 2) I could also hire a babysitter and go to the movies or out to dinner WITH MY MOM.
I know the importance a babysitter can hold in W’s life. I started babysitting at a scary young age. It’s just how it was in the ’80s — the generation who put all the members of The Babysitter’s Club up on a pedestal. I was in the fifth grade and taking care of infants and toddlers. I loved it and I was good at it. Babysitting taught me about time management, following established directions, and I learned a lot about the dynamics of other families.
Babysitting also made me feel normal in a time in my life where I was noticeably becoming a theater dork. Having a typical tween gig of watching neighborhood kids somehow vouched for my averageness. I mean I couldn’t be TOO weird if other people were letting me watch their children. I couldn’t be TOO quirky if other families were anointing me with so much responsibility.
I became close with many of the kids I watched. One of the families lived next door and we essentially grew up together. I was a stable person in their life while their parents navigated a brutal and loud divorce. I was someone who could be counted on always to be fun and silly in a time when things were often hard. Their mom went out several times a week to take continuing education classes and sometimes she would go out to meet up with friends.
When I think about W and the significant lack of a babysitter in his life, this is why I view it as a loss, as a misstep that I have made. It isn’t just that I’m not getting “me time,” a phrase that always makes me laugh, but it is that my kid isn’t getting “other person time.”
His time with his grandmother is fantastic and special and not to be overlooked, but an awesome babysitter is a different animal than an awesome grandmother.
I know I am not the only mom who has felt this weird kind of shame when she realizes her kid has become her entire life. Single mom and actress Selma Blair recently talked about the close bond she has with her 4½-year-old son, Arthur.
“As a mom, there’s almost a shame in feeling too attached, like there’s something shameful in saying, ‘My kid is my life these days.’ There’s a time and a place, especially when they’re this young. Let yourself enjoy it. I wish people talked about the love more.”
I get where Blair is coming from with this, but I am wondering, as I am on the cusp of my son turning 6, if it just might be time for me to let go more. W needs room to grow and evolve as a person, and the more trusted people he has in his life to know, the better. For all I know it will be a babysitter who teaches W precisely what I can not. I’ll never know what that is unless I let go.More On