Requiem for a babysitter

By Mir
November 23, 2008

So, I keep wanting to tell you more about the gala—like that it was hosted by alums Deborah Norville and Deborah Roberts, who kept being referred to collectively by people like the president of the university as “the Deborahs,” which made me want to collectively punch someone in the face, although I was apparently in the minority in finding it demeaning rather than cute—but I am too mired in consternation.

The time has come to admit that I am still grieving the loss of our old babysitter.

Our regular babysitter in New England was a neighbor, which was a happy coincidence when we first started using her back when the kids were tiny, and an absolute necessity once I was a single mom and unable to leave the kids to drive her home at night. She sat for us for for about six years, and was delightful in every possible way. Most notably, “raising her up” alongside the kids meant that she knew them well and handled them with finesse.

After the move down here, I proceeded as I always have, when it comes to finding a sitter—I looked for a young girl whose parents we knew, whom I could likely coax through some early “mother’s helper”ing and then into actual sitting as time went on. We were able to find a lovely young lady and engage her services.

Now, part of the problem, I know, is that we simply don’t use a sitter very often. When I was single, I needed a sitter at least once a week. Now when I run off to PTA or whatever, more often than not, Otto can hang out here with the kids. So there hasn’t been as much time for the kids to get comfortable with the new sitter and for the sitter to get comfortable with the kids.

Another part of the problem is that my children are rotten beasties who often give Oscar-worthy performances, particularly when it’s time for bed. I know this.

But the biggest problem is simply that this young lady is… not very forceful. The last time we had her sit late into the evening, we arrived home and the children were still awake—several hours past their bedtime. I was… not pleased. But she was clearly flummoxed by their refusal to go to sleep, and trying to reason with them (silly girl), and I wrote it off as inexperience. Also, I punished the kids, as they are old enough to know better than to pull something like that.

So when our sitter arrived for the gala, I gave her a pep talk. I explained that SHE IS IN CHARGE and WHAT SHE SAYS GOES and that time for bed means TIME FOR BED. She nodded and agreed. I gave the kids a pep talk—NO BEING ROTTEN FOR THE SITTER. All seemed well. And off we went.

When we came home, the first thing we noticed was that every light in the house was on, save for the bedrooms. EVERY SINGLE ONE. In the case of the family room alone, that meant that FIVE separate lights were on. Three lights were on in the kitchen. All the hall lights were on. Etc. It was like walking in on the surface of the sun. “Wow, there sure are a lot of lights on!” I joked, curious to hear what she’d say.

“Oh, yeah, well, for some reason Monkey walked around and turned them all on before he went to bed. I’m not sure why.”

Huh. Well, I would’ve made him TURN THEM OFF, but of course she hadn’t done that, nor did she take it upon herself in the intervening three hours since he’d done that to turn off the unneeded lights. And this is not a big deal, no, I realize it’s not, but it’s a pet peeve of mine to leave lights on, and let’s face it, JUST PLAIN WEIRD to sit in the middle of all those lights and not have it occur to a person that hey, this is sort of unnecessary.

But I was not going to jump to conclusions, because I could forgive the excess wattage if things had gone okay with the kids. Had things gone okay with the kids?

“Well, Monkey went right to bed with no problems. But, uh, Chickadee was up for about an hour. She’s having some self-esteem issues, I think.”

And then I became boneless and slid to the floor in a pile of frustrated goo, as my bones had dissolved in sympathy for this girl’s vaporized backbone.

Chickadee is having self-esteem issues, sure, if SNIFFLING THAT HER HAIR IS UGLY TO CON THE SITTER is a valid self-esteem issue. Which I would posit it most emphatically is NOT.

Otto paid the sitter and took her home, while I stewed. The next morning I asked Chickadee what had gone on, and she tried to keep it up for about ten seconds—assuring me that yes, the state of her hair really had distressed her, last night, to the point where she was unable to sleep—and then finally she broke down and cried, “BUT I MISS OUR OLD SITTER!”

Hey, I miss our old sitter, too. But that doesn’t excuse behavior of the extreme-buttmunch variety, though I expect in her own way Chickie was just conducting a test. How far can I push this sitter before she pushes back? The answer, sadly, is FOREVER, and I think it’s time for us to investigate other options.

I find this problem especially perplexing because Chickadee is ten-and-a-half, and by her age I used to stay home alone without a problem. Heck, I was babysitting by the time I was eleven. I’m NOT suggesting that Chickadee is ready for either of those things—although, I would be quicker to trust her to take care of someone else’s little kids (which she is surprisingly great at) than I would be to allow her to tend to her own brother for an evening—but she is Getting To That Age where having a sitter becomes a little dicey. Having a 13- or 14-year-old sit for your 4- and 6-year-olds is fine, but having one sit for your nearly-11-year-old may be an inevitable battle of the wills. Even if said sitter is a little more self-assured. Not that I would know.

The logical solution is to investigate an older sitter—a college student, perhaps. My solution, though, was to find our old sitter on Facebook and send her a message asking her to send Chickadee some email to say hi. And to then inform Otto that we can’t ever go out again.



  1. Megan

    Ah… let me just sit for a moment and relax in the safe haven of old-enough-to-be-alone Children. This means I need to squeeze my eyes tight shut and put my fingers in my ears though as natch this safe haven comes with old-enough-to-date and old-enough-to-drive baggage but we won’t talk about that.

  2. exile on mom street

    I say get thee to the education department at the local university. They are sure to have bulletin boards and the like where you will find young men and women who (presumably) like children (or are really good at faking it) and who could conceivably babysit your children according to your rules and standards.

    Also, this means that Otto needs to take you out MORE, not less, so that your kids can bond with their spiffy new college-age sitter.

  3. loonytick

    Otto works at a university, right? Maybe he knows a student or two who he would trust with the kids. My husband teaches high school, and we always use students of his as sitters. I think the fact that they know they’ll have to look him in the eye at school afterward provides a little extra incentive to be the kind of babysitter we parents want, as opposed to the kind the kids want.

  4. Astrogirl

    Sweetness, lovey, honey-bunch, you are overlooking a perfect opportunity. Doth not the esteemed Otto teach at Ye Locale Universitye? Doth not he have unmitigated access to persons of the right age to be sitting for an almost-teen? Forsooth, entreat thine lovely Otto to hie himself to class and requesteth if any of said college students would like a few extra bucks some night.

    Translation – see if any of Otto’s students would like to earn a few bucks. It might be a bit more pricey, but you can be guaranteed the kids will be in bed on time. I would also spread the word among your adult friends, and see if any of them have/know of a young person looking to sit. Another option is to see if your friends with small kids want to start a babysitting exchange – you watch their kids, they watch yours. Hell, I’d do it if you weren’t so far.

  5. EmmaC

    I read this post and had to laugh at my own memories of being the neighborhood baby-sitter. I always felt a little guilty because parents were always AMAZED that I got the kids to go to sleep and praised my babysitting skillz to no end…but really I couldn’t WAIT to get the kids in bed so I could just hang out by myself and watch TV. I could get downright Super Nanny on those kids when SNL was on the line.

  6. beth

    One option would be to officially have the babysitter only be in charge of Monkey, and have Chickadee responsible for herself. You’d have to sell this as a big step in maturity, blah blah blah, but then it’s on Chickadee to do the right thing, and you still have the babysitter to remind Monkey what is supposed to be going on. And to tell you how Chickadee handled the pressure.

    I know it sounds crazy, but as a babysitting kid I had some gigs like that — two kids, one almost my age but I was responsible for the younger one, and now I realize it’s because an older sibling may be able to take care of herself and even other kids long before she could be trusted alone with a sibling.

    The lights thing I may attribute to the creepiness of being alone in a strange house. At thirteen I’m not sure I would have been wandering alone into rooms and turning off lights, especially if I were downstairs all by myself.

  7. Half Assed Kitchen

    Finding good sitters is one of the most important jobs I have. It’s SO necessary. I like ’em college aged. The nerdier the better. And the ones that keep calendars on their person are tops.

  8. StephLove

    Our old babysitter (a former student of mine) had the nerve to leave town to attend dental school so we were sitterless for a while, which is just not feasible with our daughter attending a co-operative preschool that worships at the altar of The Meeting. So, the older sister of a friend of our son’s is our new sitter. She’s twelve and it scared the pants off me to leave the kids alone with her the first time because our old sitter was in her mid-twenties, a grown-up in other words. But it went fine. We’ve had her back and expect to keep engaging her services.

    Good luck finding a new sitter. As for Otto’s students– when I taught I generally preferred former students to current ones so there won’t be any awkwardness if things don’t work out.

  9. nil zed

    For a long time we were stuck at the point where we could imagine leaving either girl home alone for several hours, but no way on gods green earth would we leave them home alone, TOGETHER! So for a long time, there was no going out, because even if one of them were invited elsewhere, and you’d think we might make a short, close to home dinner out; it couldn’t happen because of the horrible thought of the invited out one coming home earlier than ourselves.

    Then, of course, THEY began going out all the time and we stayed in and, well, now they have a baby brother…

  10. Dallas

    Well, I’m in college, and I sit for some of my professors’ kids. Does Otto have a student who babysits that he would feel comfortable asking??

  11. Jen

    Beth’s suggestion is kind of brilliant. I love her!
    I also pretty much kept myself from being homeless in college by babysitting for professors. Although I was cheap and reliable and the going rate seems to have gone up dramatically. I might be able to afford a “real” babysitter when I win the lottery I don’t play.
    At least they DID go to bed and the house didn’t burn down?

  12. Barbara

    ditto Megan’s comment [Silent scream.]

    I feel better.

    You solved your own problem by writing through this, and lots of support above this for your solution – a college student.

    And think how much you helped all three children by going-out….babysitter externalized her own self-perception, Chickadee understood the real reason for her tears, and Monkey practiced his fine motor skills. Really, it was like 4-hour boot camp for all of them. Y’all should go out MORE often. For the sake of the children. You’re welcome!

  13. Carla Hinkle

    Oh, yes. College-eged sitters a must.

    Heck, I practically use them exclusively anyway and my kids are still little. More expensive. But more stable and authoritative. And can drive themselves home.

  14. Celeste

    My kids are a little older, but when they are were at the in-between age, I learned this great trick from another mom…

    She said she paid her kids to babysit EACH OTHER. Now, we all know how dangerous it is to leave siblings home together. But her solution was, they BOTH got paid, so the younger one had an incentive to behave. The only catch was, they both had to be able to tell the same story of how the evening went when she got home.

  15. Heidi

    I nominate nil zed’s comment for Best Comment EVER.

  16. Giyen

    If I could, I would send you my daughter. She is incredibly bossy and assertive and is great with kids. Quite the opposite of her mother who is a pushover and only good with kids because she can relate to them. : )

  17. catherino

    Our sitter is a youngish grandmother whose kids are grown and grandkids don’t live nearby. She loves our children like her own and she has no social life. Win-win for us!

  18. Sharon

    I, too, started baby-sitting when I was 11, though not for my siblings. My parents insisted on hiring from without for years – until they came home one night and the sitter was in such deep sleep that they had to bang on my window to wake me up to let them in the house. From then on I was allowed to be the baby-sitter when they went out. My daughter followed my path and started baby-sitting as a pre-teen for neighbors where I was just seconds away. At home it was a different matter, and I hired a sitter for all three kids until my daughter was in her mid-teens. It’s tough to be responsible for siblings.

  19. Lori N

    Otto…works for a college & you’re trying to find a babysitter?! In fact, didn’t you have a bunch of his students over at your house at some point? Grab one,girl! Wave cold hard cash in its face & you’ll be all set!

    My babysitter left for college this fall and I’m still in mourning. I raised her from a pup – she started at 13 1/2 for me and is the only babysitter my younger child has ever known. Lucky for me she goes to college just an hour away & I pay well. I’ve managed to have 2 whole dates with my husband since the beginning of school. *sob*

  20. Jane

    I’m with EmmaC on this. With 5 siblings at home, any babysitting job was equal to ‘peace and quiet’ for me! Plus, the added time of the kids in bed let me wash a few dishes or something, making the employing parents even happier with my job performance. You gotta be tough to be a worth-hiring babysitter in my opinion.

  21. Jane

    That being said, I have two kids and no babysitter…

  22. Heather

    It always strikes me as strange how early I started baby-sitting, but it was also the variety where I was the neighbour kid – and my parents were prettymuch always home if I needed help, and I could walk home. (Which was handy, because the parents always came home tipsy!)

  23. Colleenn

    See, I just make friends with the girls that work at my son’s dojo. They love me, they love my kids, they’re at least sixteen, and there’s a built in respect there. Plus my son figures that since they work at the dojo there’s a chance his instructor will find out and make him do pushups if he messes up (I’m saying this about the world’s most ardent rule follower so maybe I’m just lucky). The fact is, we get a sitter maybe once every 4 or 5 months, so when we do, if it’s a weekend, we let the sitter decide how late he and his little sister can stay up. If we were to ever actually go out on a weeknight though, bedtime is bedtime. But we don’t. Because we are old and boring.

  24. KarenNM

    Let me second all the people who recommended a college-aged babysitter, although having one of Otto’s students may be a bit awkward. I work on a college campus and don’t have any students I know directly sit for us. On the advice of another mom on campus, at the beginning of the academic year I posted a notice on the jobs board and interviewed about five young women. We have two sit for us on a regular basis, and I keep the other three on stand-by. Since our two regulars will be out of town for the holidays, I’m planning to post again in the next week or so to try and find someone local that may be available around Christmas and New Years.

  25. Deva


    have them over, watch how they interact with the kids when you’re there. Hire one for a short evening. I was watched by college students as a young-un, and some of our best babysitters growing up were college students :) Interview them, hire them, etc.

  26. tj

    College students are a great way to go, or find a friend who has older children that would be suitable to watch the kids for an evening.

    Being a starving student, any money is always welcome :)

  27. Wendalette

    ME! ME! ME! I need an extra job! Too bad I’m not in GA, though…


  28. Emily

    If you have a bible college in your town, check out their bulletin boards…they are great places to find great sitters…sweet Christian girls who are looking for some extra money to buy coffee.

  29. Jennifer

    We have the same bedtime issues with two sitters and they are COLLEGE students.

  30. sheila

    I say, just don’t do anything that requires a sitter for the next 3-4 years til they can stay by themselves. Problem solved! Next? lol

  31. Brigitte

    We’ll just never go out. :-(

    I’ll never forget the rage and humiliation I felt as a 13-year-old oldest sibling of four, when my mom got the usual sitter, which was bad enough but at least she was 5 years older than me. But then SHE couldn’t make it and sent her younger sister, who wasn’t even a YEAR older than me! OK, it’s over 30 years later, but I got ISSUES man!

  32. Karen

    To everyone suggesting college sitters: Otto and I work in a college that enrolls only juniors and seniors. So, as soon as you find a good one, they graduate. For real.

  33. ~annie

    Use these suggestions and find yourself a sitter! Go. Out. A. LOT. Because in a few years? The kids might be old enough to leave alone, but you won’t want to. Why? They’ll be TEENS. Sorry. There was no gentle way to break that to you…

  34. Katie

    My oldest is 11 and our current babysitter is 14. We had an 18 year old over the summer but she went away to college, *sigh*

  35. tori

    Isn’t it crazy how things have changed? When I was younger, I stayed home by myself when I was about 8 years old. I would never in a million years leave any of my kids home alone yet. Well, I left my 10 year old and 8 year old home “alone” while I ran to the front of the neighborhood and dropped something off, but I could literally have heard them scream if something went wrong. I often wonder at what age I will be comfortable leaving the kids alone. Never springs to mind!

  36. tammy

    As the mother of four boys very close in age, I would have kissed the babysitter that got half my children to sleep and left the lights on no matter what her age. And apparently turning off the lights is not natural teenage behavior because there is still a lot of parental prompting to turn off the lights when you leave a room – even if they are “coming right back.” My college age son stills needs a reminder now and then but I love your optimism.

  37. erin

    If I didn’t work out of town most of the week, I would volunteer myself. I babysat, oh, forever, and continued to babysit in college. I picked up clients at my other job (in a tennis shop at a country club) and had regulars that I sat for all the time. I had one job where I sat for twin 2 month olds three afternoons a week. I’m cheap, too. The most I ever charged was $5 per kid per hour, but I was always flexible with parents’ budgets (I babysat because I love kids, not because it was so very lucrative). I say look around at places you frequent (church, workers at places your kids might have activities, etc.) and see if there are any driving age kids that might babysit. And if you get desperate, feel free to email me. If I’m in town, I can help you out :)

  38. carrie

    I have a 13 year old. Can’t hire a babysitter for a 13 year old. But also can’t leave said teen home alone with his 7 year old sister and expect it to be a safe, happy situation. Consequently, hubby and I have not been out together in the 2008 calendar year — and no change is on the horizon. We live in the boonies, nowhere near college kids, but surely Otto can look around campus and find some possibilities for you!

  39. Mary

    Ok – I really, really don’t want to sound as judgemental as I’m going to…but here goes. Kids safe? Check. House still standing? Check. Kids in bed (albeit a little later than normal)? Check. Were you able to go to a nice night out without any phone calls dragging you back home? Yes. I’m assuming the cost didn’t jeopardize your ability to make your mortgate payment.

    Sounds like a successful babysitting evening to me. If your children are safe with the sitter and she’s reliable, what’s the problem? The kids are not always going to love their caregivers/teachers/classmates/coworkers. Why should a high school babysitter be held to a higher standard? Be honest…when you were a babysitter, were you all that and a bag of chips? I sure wasn’t.

  40. ImpostorMom

    I like to have sitters of the college age variety. I don’t know why but it just gives me better peace of mind. Granted mine is much younger but I can remember myself at 13 and 14 and I wouldn’t have left a pet much less a human being with me. Luckily we live in a town with an abundance of college age sitters available. Also, with my husband’s job he has access to many that volunteer to sit for our little person. We don’t use a sitter often but it’s nice to know we have options if we need them.

  41. Jennifer

    Hi, scrolling through the comments here so I don’t know if anyone has already mentioned this, but you could offer the college student free laundry as a perk.

  42. jennielynn

    I’m going to go hug my fourteen year old daughter, who babysits her siblings without complaint and sometimes forgoes payment, if I’ll take her and a friend to the mall.

  43. Mara

    Back when I was a sitter, I had a deal with my charges that they could stay up really late, but when we heard the car pulling into the garage they would dive back into bed, lights out, pretending to be asleep. They loved me and their parents did too… it was win/win.

    I guess what I’m saying is, it could be worse! At least they’re not all conspiring together against you.

  44. Velma

    We have two long-term sitters, both adults. One was a pre-school teacher at the kids’ daycare, the other I found on Craigslist… yes, REALLY! I’m not sure I’d let a sitter only watch one kid, but getting creative with the babysitting situation might be what you need to shake things up. I’m sure you can find a college student and if the kids click with a new sitter now, the next few adolescent years might be a tad easier.

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