Thursday, June 19, 2008

Babysitter Lust by Jenny Gardiner

My teen daughter has become the object of lust. Grown women are clamoring for her; I’m starting to get a little edgy about it. You see, my daughter is now officially of babysitting age, and moms in my neighborhood are trying to sink their claws into her early and often and it’s making me feel quite proprietary.

I can still taste the babysitter lust I developed when my children were little. Finding a good sitter was akin to finding the secret to longevity. Once I got hold of one, there was no way to wrench the secret from my lips. To find an energetic, clever, creative, helpful, intelligent, and responsible girl to help tend to your brood so that you could get needed respite from the demands of mommydom was crucial. But tell me, how many kids out there actually fulfill the terms of those qualifications? Believe me, not many.

At one point we were so desperate for sitters we went to the local Catholic Church to cherry pick from their teen youth group. We figured good Catholic girls (as opposed to priests) would make ideal sitters. One of the girls we landed from that attempt was Patti. Tall, sweet, kind, very involved with her church. Even traveled all the way to the big Pope-a-thon when Pope John Paul held a youth powwow in Colorado. We were impressed, even though she did say, “Wow, cool, dude” a bit much.

She was nice to our kids, she rinsed the dishes after they ate. Had the kids to bed on time. No disasters, no broken bones on her watch, nothing. And then she showed up one night for a babysitting job reeking of pot. And I don’t mean the kind you plant seeds in. Rather, the kind that comes with seeds.

Boy was I bummed. We’d had fun plans to meet friends for dinner; I hadn’t been out kid-free in ages. I assured myself that I was imagining things. After all, how could our goody-two-shoes Pope-visiting youth-group-attending babysitter be anything but on the up and up? But then my husband came downstairs from getting dressed and walked over to me asking, “What’s with the reefer smell in here?” This from same person whose sense of smell is so bad he’d probably not notice a rotting cadaver at his feet if he had to rely solely upon his olfactory system. Well, that was the end of Patti the Pothead. We showed her the door and stayed home that night.

Our next great sitter was Amanda. Cute as a button, senior in high school. Older, responsible. She’d be a great keeper of my kids on occasion, I reasoned.

She came one day to watch the kids so that I could run errands in peace. When I returned home I chatted a bit with her as she helped me unload my groceries. Turned out her dad was a Fed. FBI. Hated by the right wing militia movement for his perceived involvement in the Ruby Ridge showdown. Amanda and her siblings were actually under an FBI watch, I learned, as they’d had death threats made against them. That would the same Amanda with whom my childrens’ lives were entrusted. In my house with all the big windows so that psychopaths who wanted to kill her could take good aim. I couldn’t get rid of her fast enough that afternoon. And later that night at dinner, our kids told us that she’d had a few male friends visit that afternoon and made the kids sit alone in their bedrooms. Yikes. And she seemed so nice!

One sitter my kids adored was Eliza. She was so young she played with the kids as if their peer. At nine years of age, I guess one would expect that. But she was an ideal little mother’s helper who played with the kids while I cleaned the house and such. And then I found out one day that Eliza’s drug-addicted 18-year old stepbrother had a court order against him and was forbidden from going with 100 feet of Eliza or her family. Well, I was none too comforted with that bit of bad news, and couldn’t see risking my kids’ welfare with her after that.

Another sitter we hired only once was the sister of my son’s friend. We figured she was a sure-thing. Till we came home and found out she’d hit my son, just as she would have hit her brother if he’d made her mad.

Then there was Maura. A fourth-string referral I found when desperately dialing for sitters one day in the hopes of going out to dinner to celebrate my birthday. I’d called someone who gave me the name of the most wanted sitter in the neighborhood. When I called her number, her mom, tired of fielding sitter calls, gave me the number of another sitter. Her mom gave me the number of another sitter, whose mom gave me the number of Maura. You’d think I would have wondered why she was still available when every other sitter had been scooped up.

Nevertheless, Maura seemed pretty nice. We came home after dinner to a clean house. The kids were safely tucked in bed. But as my eyes adjusted to the dimmed lights in the house I noticed something. My house wasn’t just clean. It was immaculate. Eerily so. Even the dog bowl had been scrubbed clean of that slimy dog-saliva build-up that most dog bowls get. Wow, I thought. She sure is a clean thing. Lucky me: sitter and maid all wrapped into one.

As my husband drove her home, I came across the note. Now, taken at face value, it was just a sweet note. But something about it was a bit stalker-ish to me. It read something to the affect of “Dear Jenny, I hope you had the best birthday dinner ever. You are the nicest person in the world, and I love your kids and your dog, and your family, and your house. I would love to babysit for you all of the time. Please call me ANYTIME and I’ll be sure to come whenever you need me. EVER.”
Well, that was right around the time that movie “The Hand That Rocks The Cradle” was playing in theaters, and psycho-babysitters were a scary concept to me. Suffice it to say, we said “sayonara” to Maura.

I won’t bore you with the details of the lovely sitter who we subsequently found out was on several anti-psychotic drugs.
We eventually settled on a few sitters who were golden. Dream teens who played with our kids, read them stories, fixed them snacks and cleaned up after their meals. Picked up the toys when the kids had gone to bed. Essentially done more than I would have had I been home with the kids myself.

And you know what? I wouldn’t have disclosed their names to anyone unless my life depended on it. They were my hard-fought find, and I was damned if I would allow another mom access to my perfect sitter.

So now I sit, with an energetic, clever, creative, helpful, intelligent, and responsible (if I may be so humble) daughter. And I understand the desperation in the voices of these moms calling at all hours to track her down. Willing to fudge the truth about their little darlings, claiming they’re sweet and cooperative when in truth they’re wild banshees willing to put my daughter in a pot of boiling oil if the spirit moves them.

Claiming they’ll be available all night while they’re out if there’s a problem, all the while leaving their cell phones securely nestled in the glove compartment of their cars, turned off. Promising they only need my child for a short while, yet not arriving home till hours after the 10:30 p.m. stipulation I’d placed on the babysitting deal. Or promising a “mother’s helper” job watching six kids for two hours, which actually was watching 14 kids for three hours. With no extra pay.

So now that I’m on the other side of the fence, my babysitter lust has turned to babysitter police. I’m out to protect my daughter from the vagaries of desperate moms, because now I realize that there are a lot of moms who will do practically anything to get hold of a good sitter.


Kalynne Pudner said...

(Long comment coming - sorry! But my history of Babysitter Lust is particularly intense.)

When my kids were young and I had The Lust, I recruited from amongst our homeschool group; these were the only girls who could handle my family's demographic (8 children under age 9). Of course, so did every other mom in the group (average family demographic = 5 children under age 10). Eventually, the girls' moms got so frustrated at their daughters' inability to get any schoolwork done in the scant time left over from babysitting that they pulled them off the market.

So the next time I found a good one, we made her part of our household. Like those girls in Waco, but without the reproductive duties.

That's karma. I remember at age 16, walking down a neighborhood street with my nose in a book, being accosted by a couple of cute little girls. Their mother came out soon after, with what I now recognize as The Lust in her eyes. The first time I babysat for her, I discovered those two cute little girls were the tip of the 6-kids-under-8 iceberg. But I cleaned their house every time, and 30 years later, I still write her fan letters.

HRH said...

This is rings so true. All that ringing is drowning out my laughter. Oh, and I demand your daughter's number immeadiately.

You have inspired my next animated post which has the working title, "When Holly's dentist referred a babysitter because when they called her to set up her yearly appointment she collapsed in tears saying that she had lost 3 babysitters in two weeks and even if she could get a sitter she certainly wouldn't fritter those precious moments at the dentist office. amen."

You rock girl.

Judy Merrill Larsen said...

Oh, man, I hear you. It takes me back. My best deal was when I found sisters--one was almost always available. And I paid really well so they wouldn't look elsewhere. But the path to getting to them, sounds similar to yours. . . . the pothead, the partiers, etc.

So glad I'm beyond all that.

MargyWrites said...

Because I am a teacher I had the power. I had rigorous on-the-job pre-screening and a new crop of sitters to choose from every year- although often I would keep the good ones for years beyone eighth grade. I misguessed only a few times -and never badly - the worst transgressions were too much phone time, too much missing food- and those girls were sad not to get called back-- it's a treat and a privilege to sit for your favorite teacher.

I had some real gems. Sparkling kitchen, clean and happy kids, toys put away, etc. Some tried to refuse to let us pay them. There were several we considered never taking home.

Nancy Ford said...

We call them the babysitter's from H..l
The first was a stepdaughter of my cousin. We thought she's family we can trust her. When I called home and asked to talk to my 7 year old she told me he was "in bed". TWO HOURS before his bedtime. This child never cooperatively went to bed in his life. I sped home to discover that she had 2 guys there that she had met at the mall that day.

The second was a 15 year old boy who old was the darling of our new neighborhood. He babysat for us for 6 months and loved to play fun games.My 2 boys had a wonderful time with him. At Christmas we discovered that he was stealing presents from under the tree and later figured out he had been carrying things home for months.

We decided to stay home most of the time.

Barb McKone said...

Love the post! Classic babysitter tales. I never had the Lust, because boy oh boy, I had the List. If you want the Master Babysitter List, (although several of them were still wingnuts) marry a teacher. Everyone wants to babysit for their Math teacher! Extra credit!

Elissa said...

Patty the Pothead. Classic.

We never got a sitter other than my parents and some good friends of ours. I am scared of The Lust. Even more scared of the Patty Potheads out there. Sigh.

Sleeping with Ward Cleaver said...

hi guys! thanks for your comments. I am traveling with little internet access so only now getting to them!

Laura said...

I have a much-desired babysitting daughter, too. She's sleeping off last night's gig right now, poor thing. Four kids--a pastor's children. I'm going to supplement her pay because it's hard work and the pay isn't great.

I was the worst babysitter in the world--though I NEVER would've had boys in the house. (At least when the kids were awake!) ;)