Apr 19, 2010
A friend of mine – one of nine children – once told me that the babysitters his parents decided to enlist were a couple hippies who lived down the street. They made the little ones sing Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin songs while dancing around a pretend campfire. Following this activity, they’d all sit down, combing and braiding each other’s hair and giving each other fake tattoos. I told him his remembrances made me want to throw on some bell bottoms and watch Woodstock clips on VH1.
My own walk down babysitter memory lane was a tad different. My older cousin watched us siblings, and as she microwaved our ice cream because it wouldn’t readily come out of the carton, we listened to Boy George asking if we really wanted to hurt him and Michael Jackson insisting that Billie Jean was not his lover. Our parents let us rent a scary movie, and as we all viewed it together, my cousin covered her eyes for most of it, asking if we shouldn’t consider a different film.
As an adult, I strived to be babysitter par excellence when parents entrusted the lives of their precious offspring to me. I once babysat my cousin and godson together, creating an elaborate haunted house inside my apartment in order to entertain them, only to find out my cousin was scared of ghosts, goblins and anything that said, “booooooh, scaaaaaarrryyyy” in the dark.
Luckily, I had the opportunity to watch them on a few other occasions, and I vowed to make up for the fright night fiasco. Because my music producer boyfriend had his recording studio in our place, I thought it would be a great idea to give the two boys a recording session. They grabbed the microphones, sang and rapped to their hearts’ content and seemed to genuinely enjoy themselves. Years later, their mom told me that they still talk about that day. I was overjoyed. That is, until she told me that that what they talk about is what a weirdo my boyfriend was, not the session. Well, A for effort.
When I considered a babysitter for my own little guy, a friend recommended www.sitters.co.uk. I looked at the site, agreed with what the founders were trying to provide – a convenient, reliable service that allows busy parents an opportunity for an active social life while their little one(s) are looked after – but I wasn’t comfortable with a complete stranger watching over my son so my husband and I could have some dry martinis.
I secretly conceived plans to convince family and friends to move to London. For if they were in close proximity as opposed to thousands of miles away, I might have a few selfish hours to paint or photograph. No, instead, I’d catch up on reading my Gourmet, Modern Painters or Parents magazines still in their plastic wrappers from ten months ago or the 237 unopened emails in my inbox. No, wait, I know, I know. I’d take a run in Regent’s Park. No, no, no, better yet, I’d take a blanket and my iPod to the park and find a nice spot to relax, but only after I had a two-hour massage. Or, I’d just sleep. Oh, to daydream.
Since daydreams allow the brain to make new connections, I contemplated my head-in-the-clouds spell in the bright London sunshine (well, in the dazzling artificial light inside our flat). I opted to read my Parents magazine while my son slept. There was an abundance of information on how to choose a babysitter, babysitting blunders, reporting bad babysitters, hotel babysitting, and separation anxiety.
Now feeling as though I was a part-time student in the Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Babysitting, Knowing Full Well Your Issue Is Separation Anxiety course, I made myself find a childminder. I found the babysitter extraordinaire – the instructor in one of my son’s music classes. She was the only person I trusted to watch my tiny little fella at the time, and she proved to be not only a wonderful babysitter, but also a fantastic friend.
More recently, I started to participate in a babysitting ring. We are a group of moms who have agreed to babysit for each other on a pseudo barter system. At the initiation of the ring, each of us was given an equal amount of pegs/clothespins. When one of us babysits, we are given a peg by the mom who procured our expert childminding services. When we enlist, we give a peg to the mom who babysits.
Meanwhile, another mom mentioned to me that she uses Miss Software Application as her babysitter. She, like me, has no family in the country and has difficulty trusting Sally down the street or Betty up the block, so she opts to use Skype as her babysitter. She sets up her toddler daughter in front of the computer, calls her mom on Skype, and while the tot and her gran “visit”, my friend is able to do some laundry, dishes or other household tasks in the vicinity. She says she sometimes hears her daughter run to her room to grab a toy or paper to show grandma through the webcam. I think to ask my friend if she’s ever had to consider installing a secret babysitter cam to make sure there’s no “wrongsaying” on the part of her mom during the Skype session. Just a little technology humor.
While I haven’t used Skype, I have used Tarzan, Aladdin and Nemo as babysitters. A gal has to shower, ya know. And, cooking meals with a monkey on my leg isn’t always straightforward, especially with stir fries. There is also a lot of effort required to talk on the phone while my little man sits next to me imitating the roars of Allosauruses and Baryonyxes. So, I don’t feel too guilty getting by with a little Disney help.
The reality is my little prince and I are quite attached, and it’s been a difficult journey for me to leave him with a babysitter. Now, when I leave him, he says, “Go, go, go, ma. You’ll be right back.” As with most parents, I try not to worry about my child when we’re apart, but worry has a way of sneaking up on parents even when they’re trying their best not to fret. When I return home, I always tell my little guy I missed him. And he responds, “I missed you, mama.” And all is right in the world.