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06/07/2005

Don't tell Mom the babysitter's odd

A few weeks ago I was shopping at the local hippie food co-op and paused as usual in front of the big bulletin board at the front of the store. Between the suggestions from members — "Please bring back vanilla soy rBST-free fair trade tie-dyed hacky sacks!" — and notices of community events — "SolsticeAlive! 'Round-the-Stump Rondelé Kokopelli Naturist Invitational" — there is always something to make me leave the store humming happily, tripping merrily toward my SUV on my pedicured toes (lacquered glamorously in Love That Patriarchy Pink).

That day, what made me happy was this sign:

EXPERIENCED BABYSITTER
Caring young woman with
10 years of child care experience
B.S. in child development

Newborns to 4 years
$10 / hour

Not only did I tear off one of the tabs with her number, but I tore down the whole goddamn sign to be sure, absolutely sure no one else would snag her first.* And I took home that tab and called her.

We made a date for her to come over and meet us. She arrived punctually while Charlie was napping. She and Paul and I sat at the dining room table and conducted the world's most perfunctory interview. I believe the only questions I asked were, "Have you ever been in jail?", "Are you high on drugs right this very moment?", and "When can you start?"

She was perfectly pleasant, if a little...well, odd in speech and manner, prone to a silent smiling stare. I chalked it up to those drugs she was high on right that very moment and showed her around the place. When Charlie woke I introduced them. As we all played on the floor with Charlie in his baby gym, he didn't scream, shrink away from her, or indicate in any obvious way that he'd recognized her face from the "Wanted" posters at the post office, so I decided the babysitter would be Charlie's new best friend and invited her to come back the next Sunday.

"Oh, yes," she said, and played with the baby. Three minutes and several cycles of the musical star later she looked up and said gruffly, "Can you pay me?"

"...Huh?" I said, nonplussed.

"Pay me. Can you pay me for that time on Sunday?"

Now, where I come from, that part of the relationship is understood. She makes nice with my kid and pretends she finds him delightful; I slip her a twenty and pretend I called her references. But okay — in addition to the high on drugs part, I figured she must be nervous and eager for the work. "Oh, yes," I said heartily, and laughed a beefy ho-ho-ho as if she'd said something witty instead of something...well, strange.

Her first session with Charlie proceeded without incident. Paul and I were both home, loitering ever so casually to make sure she didn't turn him into her own tiny lackey. Charlie cried, but then he does, so I didn't worry. And, yes, I paid her.

The second Sunday he cried, but then he does, though I worried just a bit. I'd resolved to let them sort it out together. I equipped them with toys, books, and bottles, let the babysitter know that I was available for questions, and then sequestered myself in my sewing room where the hot hiss of the steam iron might drown out the yelling.

It didn't, not entirely. At the two-and-a-half-hour mark, I could stand it no longer, and loitered casually down the stairs — if "loitering" could be presumed to be locomotive, and if "casually" could be construed as tripping all over myself, falling ass over teakettle — and asked the babysitter if there was anything I could get them.

I meant more books, more toys, a warmer bottle. Her eyes brightened, and she said, in a guttural bark, "Do you have any food?"

"...Huh?" I said, nonplussed.

"Food. Do you have any food?"

Now you must understand that this was during a mere three hour engagement, nowhere near a mealtime, and I found both her timing and her manner worthy of a cock of my eyebrow. Eager to please, however, and interested to see what she'd do, I got out the peanut butter and the bread and watched as she put Charlie in his feeding seat and left him there crying while she made a sandwich.

I can do that. Paul can do that. God knows we do it all the time. Why, some of the finest sandwiches I've ever enjoyed were moistened with the savory tears of my son. I can even see a babysitter doing it when she's on a long shift and it's inarguably time for a meal break. But I can't figure out why she thought it was a good idea to do it while I was watching.

She finished her sandwich, collected her pay, and said she wasn't sure if she'd be able to come back — "but I'll call you to let you know as soon as possible." It's Tuesday and she hasn't called. It's not looking good.

I'm embarrassed to admit that I'm disappointed not to hear from her again. From the start I'd found her odd, but not in any alarming way. She was pleasant to Charlie; she clearly liked him and was even able to coax a nap out of him. Her services were affordable, even factoring in the astronomical cost of feeding her. And it was easy: one sign, one tab, one call.

I'm not looking forward to starting back at square one just when it had started to feel like we might get some kind of short weekly break from the relentlessness of child care. And I'm also a bit taken aback, wondering why she might prefer not to return. She obviously liked the baby, so that's not it. I paid her asking price, so that's not it, either.

I am forced to conclude that she simply didn't care for my cooking. Great. Now not only do I have to find a new babysitter; I have to hire a personal goddamn chef for her to boot.

_____
* I can't believe I have to say I didn't actually take the sign with me, but if I don't, I'll get ten e-mail messages excoriating me for it, one high-fiving me, and one from an amiable-sounding chap named Floorboard D. Nuisance with the subject line, "Re: Hi Im Jenny! I jsut put my wbcam 0n l ine !!1!"

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