I’m here to tell you I’ve emerged victorious from the job search, a process I would sincerely not wish on my worst enemy. [Sidebar: I’m sure hell is just a series of soul-crushing interviews where you are highly overqualified but, upon receiving the job, will be grossly underpaid. But, you’ll never actually get the job. They just nod politely and you’ll leave feeling elated that it’s over and you never hear back. Instead, you obsess over everything you said or did or movements you made or the way your hair was doing that thing and ughhh I’m just the lowest level of trash no wonder they won’t hire me I can’t do this anymore hello, sleeping in a box under a bridge.]
Lucky for me, I’ve had a slew of grade A people in my life who have bent over backwards to give me opportunities to make a little moulah while my heart got repeatedly stampeded by recruiters. You know who you are, and your card’s in the mail. I’ve worked at a Tennis Shop (I’m terrible at tennis), helped set up decorations for a gorgeous wedding, and did a HEAP TON OF WATCHING CHILDREN.
Back when this was still culturally relevant, I’d joke that I was the Brett Favre of babysitting. Just when I’d swear it off forever, I’d be back, a little older and slower than before. I’m happy to report that what began as a desperate attempt to make money when I had no marketable skills has enriched my life in a big way. Kids say the funniest things, and their parents generally hire me because they click with me so we typically become friends and it’s just all one giant love fest of them getting some peace and quiet and me getting some money for, you know, food .
Here’s the thing, though. I’m targeting this post at aimless 20-somethings like me who used to babysit and then return, because IT IS NOT THE SAME. In fact it is much harder, because when you’re fifteen and dopey the parents call to check in every thirty minutes. And they leave money for pizza on the table. And their main goal for you is just not to kill their children please for an evening so they can go get a margarita with their girlfriends. Now, you’re expected to cook sometimes, and tutor, and dry the tears when the piano lesson goes poorly, and what’s worse, you’re so far removed from being a kid yourself and so selfishly focused on what it means to be you that every time they have a complaint it’s like…really?
So here are my tips:
1) You can always talk about Halloween. It can be the dead of March, and a kid will still eagerly recount what he’s been for the last six Halloweens, and what he will be for the next six Halloweens. It is your ticket to Coolville. They will instantly be impressed if they care about the things they care about. And they care about Halloween.
2) Take a detour and drive slowly. They can’t kill each other (or you) when they’re bolted down in their car seats.
3) Make sure they’re bolted down in their car seats.
4) Speaking of being in motion, I’ve found that babies like to keep moving. Unless you’re keen on the idea of holding a baby and walking in tight circles around a living room for two hours (I’ve done it), FOR THE LOVE OF LIZA PUT THEM IN A STROLLER. And walk, walk, walk. If they cry, walk faster. It’s a dream come true because you’re doing something good for them and you.
5) No talking down to them. It took me three years to figure out that the tweens I nannied for responded poorly to me shouting when they misbehaved. So once when they were acting out to get my attention I just shrugged and turned away.
"Why aren’t you yelling?" one asked.
And I hit them with the “It hasn’t worked before. Why waste my time? I know you know you shouldn’t do that. I don’t have to remind you.”
Silence…and then perfectly behaved the rest of the day. You’ll have to keep saying this, but it sticks. Knowing that I was a friend who also took no sassiness led to some pleasant conversations with people—not children.
(But if the three year old is careening towards the street on a scooter, please, yell your little fanny off.)
6) Remember that these aren’t your kids. I’ve seen some nannies get too attached and it gives me the creeps. Blessing of blessings, when six o’clock rolls around you get to hand the screaming newborn off to her mama while you skip home to watch Real Housewives and drink a beer. Yes, they are adorable, but they belong to someone else. Don’t call them “your babies” or work too hard to get into the family. That is not your role. Be a friend, be there when they need you, but you work for their parents, and you owe it to them to keep it professional.
7)…But also remember they could be your kids. I would always like to work in some capacity, so I often wonder about the poor soul who will be tasked with looking after the demon spawn and/or perfect angels that will one day belong to Team D&EMac. Bless her heart. When I grow frustrated and want to snap at a kid who’s being bad or want so badly to ignore the cry streaming from the nursery, I often wonder: when these are my kids, what would I want the babysitter to do right now? And I lighten my tone, or rush to change the diaper.
8) Remain judgment free. You will see behind the scenes of a family. It is sometimes messy and ugly, and you will be tempted blab about all the stuff you are SooOOOoOOOOooo not going to do when your demon spawn/ perfect angels arrive. A family who trusts you enough to invite you into their mess doesn’t deserve that from you. Help where you can and conform to their rules. Unless you sense abuse (which you should always report), keep the gossip to yourself.9) If you don’t know what you’re doing, pretend. Kids smell fear and weakness. Don’t let them see you crying in the pantry or you will lose all control.
Babysitting is a gift. It is a glimpse into what your future would be should you choose that and receive it. It is a smorgasbord of parenting choices you can pick and choose from when it is your time. It is the mistakes you make and the small daily triumphs you reach, like not setting a roll of paper towels on fire (done it) or finally getting the shy one to tell you about her day (done it too). You will laugh, a lot, and you will cry, maybe more. Kids are wonderful. And they will give you some incredible suggestions for your next Halloween costume
I’m sitting in the comfiest chair in our house when I see DMac come running by the window, a little late for class after errands.
He opens the door to our complex and I hear chatter outside our apartment door. He opens it and goes: GIVE ME MILLIE!
At which point she hops down (we were obviously sharing this chair) and joins him in the complex hallway. I hear laughing, hugging, and the clicks of iPhone cameras.
The cleaning lady loves Millie. DMac, running late, threw them an impromptu play date because he knew how much it would mean to her. This whole time I’m just sitting in a chair, a forkful of pineapple halfway to my mouth.
Today I was reminded of how kind my favorite guy is, how welcoming our complex is, and, unfortunately, how my dog has more friends than me.
“If I should have a daughter…“Instead of “Mom”, she’s gonna call me “Point B.” Because that way, she knows that no matter what happens, at least she can always find her way to me. And I’m going to paint the solar system on the back of her hands so that she has to learn the entire universe before she can say “Oh, I know that like the back of my hand.”
She’s gonna learn that this life will hit you, hard, in the face, wait for you to get back up so it can kick you in the stomach. But getting the wind knocked out of you is the only way to remind your lungs how much they like the taste of air. There is hurt, here, that cannot be fixed by band-aids or poetry, so the first time she realizes that Wonder-woman isn’t coming, I’ll make sure she knows she doesn’t have to wear the cape all by herself. Because no matter how wide you stretch your fingers, your hands will always be too small to catch all the pain you want to heal. Believe me, I’ve tried.
And “Baby,” I’ll tell her “don’t keep your nose up in the air like that, I know that trick, you’re just smelling for smoke so you can follow the trail back to a burning house so you can find the boy who lost everything in the fire to see if you can save him. Or else, find the boy who lit the fire in the first place to see if you can change him.”
But I know that she will anyway, so instead I’ll always keep an extra supply of chocolate and rain boats nearby, ‘cause there is no heartbreak that chocolate can’t fix. Okay, there’s a few heartbreaks chocolate can’t fix. But that’s what the rain boots are for, because rain will wash away everything if you let it.
I want her to see the world through the underside of a glass bottom boat, to look through a magnifying glass at the galaxies that exist on the pin point of a human mind. Because that’s how my mom taught me. That there’ll be days like this, “There’ll be days like this my momma said” when you open your hands to catch and wind up with only blisters and bruises. When you step out of the phone booth and try to fly and the very people you wanna save are the ones standing on your cape. When your boots will fill with rain and you’ll be up to your knees in disappointment and those are the very days you have all the more reason to say “thank you,” ‘cause there is nothing more beautiful than the way the ocean refuses to stop kissing the shoreline no matter how many times it’s sent away.
You will put the “wind” in win some lose some, you will put the “star” in starting over and over, and no matter how many land mines erupt in a minute be sure your mind lands on the beauty of this funny place called life.
And yes, on a scale from one to over-trusting I am pretty damn naive but I want her to know that this world is made out of sugar. It can crumble so easily but don’t be afraid to stick your tongue out and taste it.
“Baby,” I’ll tell her “remember your mama is a worrier but your papa is a warrior and you are the girl with small hands and big eyes who never stops asking for more.”
Remember that good things come in threes and so do bad things and always apologize when you’ve done something wrong but don’t you ever apologize for the way your eyes refuse to stop shining.
Your voice is small but don’t ever stop singing and when they finally hand you heartbreak, slip hatred and war under your doorstep and hand you hand-outs on street corners of cynicism and defeat, you tell them that they really ought to meet your mother.””