Saturday, October 16, 2010

I Might Be a Bad Babysitter

I'm honestly just not sure. I know that, once upon a time, I was an awesome babysitter. But now? There's a good chance that I'm pretty terrible.

When I was the tender age of 12, my mother informed me that I would soon be old enough to be allowed to babysit other children, just like my older sister. What an exciting time for me! I was considered grown up enough to have a job!

She also informed me that now that it was possible for me to make my own money, I was expected to do so. Gone were the days of parental financial excess. My parents would pay for necessities, but if I wanted to go out with friends, buy a cute new outfit, or buy lunch at school, I was on my own. (This may sound harsh, and believe me, at the time I thought it was too, but now I am so glad my parents forced me to learn the value of a dollar early. It instilled in me my ability to be a financially independent adult, which I'm sure will be the topic of a post someday.)

So I jumped right in with both feet. I took a babysitting course through the Girl Scouts and became what we called a "mother's helper." A "mother's helper" is a babysitter who is not yet old enough to legally be left alone with a child, so he/she comes over while the mother is at home and occupies the baby so the mother can have a little alone time and get some damn work done. Once I turned 13, I was offically allowed to babysit, and it became my bread and butter.


I showed up with a bag of games and toys for the kids. I cooked. I let them cook. I played with them. I ran around outside with them. I read stories. I watched movies. I pretended to lose at air hockey and basketball and tag. I changed diapers and cooed and complimented. I took them to the pool. I let them stay up late and eat (a moderate amount of) junk food and watch TV. I was a fun babysitter.

The marketing team insisted it would sell better if I was more ethnically ambiguous.

Because I wanted to be exactly like my favorite babysitters from my childhood. (Megan Truxel, if you're out there - you were the BEST.) They were the ones who got involved and had fun with me. I felt so special, because this ADULT! (who was probably all of 16 at the time) wanted to play with ME. I felt cool and grown up by proxy, and I wanted kids to be excited because someone so cool, who made them feel special, was coming to hang out with them. And I really believe that I usually succeeded in that goal.

Slowly but surely though, my babysitting activities slowed down. School started getting more time-consuming. I had to get "real" jobs. By the time I graduated college, my babysitting gigs were all but non-existent.

Even worse, I started getting
old. Gone was my energy to spend 4 hours running around the park with toddlers. I started spending more time sitting on the sidelines and yelling encouragements than being involved.
"Yeah, you guys run on ahead of me! I'll catch up in a second!"*

Occasionally though, someone calls me up and asks me to hang out with their kids for an evening. And the other night, as I was spending some time with a former teacher's daughter, I wondered if I'd forgotten how to be a good babysitter. Cynthia** is a great kid. She's smart, polite, and helpful. She behaves and is happy to make me feel at home for the 3 or so hours that we're sharing the same space. But she's not really interested in playing games or running around. She's a child of this millennium. She's interested in sticking her ear buds in and watching Hulu while I'm in the other room on the couch trying to figure out their TV set.

And I feel like that puts me in a weird position. On the one hand, I don't want to interrupt and bother her if that's really what she wants to do with her evening. On the other hand though, I wonder if she'd have a better night if I suggested that we play a game or do each others' nails. Does the thought even occur to her? Is she not asking to do anything because she's content or because she doesn't think I'm interested? Would she think it was weird if I asked if she wanted to play mancala, or would she be more excited the next time I come over because she knows I'm going to want to actually hang out with her?

Am I being a complacent babysitter because she's letting me be one, or am I being a good babysitter because I'm letting her spend her evening the way she wants to?

This is mancala.

I'm really not sure, but I didn't feel very good about the way I earned my money at the end of the night.

And I didn't even set anything on fire.

*For the record, this never ever actually happened.

**Name changed for anonymity

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ahh I agree with this completely. I babysat for a few families that I knew really well so I always had fun with the kids. But then they'd give my number to their friends and I'd be trying to entertain kids I didn't know at all and I'd feel guilty because I hadn't been as good as babysitter as they thought I was going to be.