All The Kids I’ve Loved Before

I fall in love easily.

I’ve almost never met a child I didn’t like, and I don’t think I’ve ever babysat for kids regularly without loving them. I think to give yourself so fully to a small person requires love. It cannot be just a job, it’s too exhausting and exhilarating for that. There has to be more.

But what happens is that I decide I can no longer tolerate the parents, or the family moves, or any number of things. And it’s painful, every single time.
Here are some stories.

One of my first big gigs was the summer I was 13 (I’d turn 14 that September) and I lived with a family in the teeny tiny very rich very Republican town where my grandmother had a house. The kids were Sandy and Matt. Sandy was…let’s see. 3.5 I guess. And Matt was about 18 months. I got paid…I don’t remember how much, what seemed like a lot at the time. My mom was staying with my grandma just down the street so I’d go over there and nap!
What I remember most about that week is walking Sandy down the beach to her camp at the beach club (I know, I know!) with Matt on my shoulders, and then stopping to let him play on the beach for awhile before we’d head home so I could put him down for a nap before we went to get Sandy again. I loved them both very much. That was a bit of an awkward situation simply because we never talked a ton about what I should do, so when I woke up and heard the kids I’d sometimes go down the hall to the parents room and say hello–when of course the parents, I’m sure now, would have rathered I stayed in my room and let them enjoy their kids in the early morning! At any rate, I knew those kids for years, babysat for them every summer for several years, and then I think we stopped coming to the beach at the same time.
I also remember being even younger and watching assorted kids that I liked quite a lot. I was young, maybe 10-12.
More recently there was my second job out of HS, as a full time nanny for infant twin girls. A and V were lovely, happy, delightful little girls. I believe they were about 4-5 months when I started and about 9-10 months when I quit. I was 19 and I was in no way ready to attempt to nanny like that. It just was not a good idea. I was still struggling with depression at that point, and I was not ready to be responsible for taking care of someone’s apartment and such. One day–I decided to quit the next week–the toilet overflowed and I ended up cleaning up a lot of the mess with towels. The next morning, the mom said “we need to talk” and proceeded to be angry that I’d used bath towels. In retrospect, this seems absurd to me (what the fuck was I supposed to use? and also, washing machines!) but at the time it made me cry. As I said, I was too young. Although I do think their parenting style was similar to what I like. Anyway, I adored the girls. I found it exhausting and overwhelming, but I loved them. I loved playing with them and taking them outside to let them crawl in the grass and swing and have fun. I loved sitting them on the bed and tickling their bellies. And they loved me. I missed them for a long time after I quit.
Then there were the triplets. I met them when they were about 4 months old and put up with their mothers’ BS til they were…2? something like that. I loved the babies. They were adorable and funny and just delightful. What I remember most, though, is the night the parents were out of town. I was there with two of the triplets and the third was with his grandmother. They were somewhere between 12-18 months, I think. The mom had a mentally ill sister and I remember the phone ringing. I checked the caller ID, saw it was the sisters’ apartment, and didn’t answer it. Instead, I gave the kids baths, took them to the park, fed them, put them to sleep, and woke up in the room with the girl, who grinned to see me.
When the parents got home there were messages on the machine waiting for them from detectives. I will never forget the way the mom plopped her daughter in my lap and rushed to call back. I will never forget herding all three babies into the basement playroom and entertaining them. Their aunt had jumped from her apartment building, very high up, and killed herself.
So there was that.
I felt horribly for the mom. I didn’t like her much and still don’t–I stayed for the kids, and then I couldn’t put up with it anymore and left–but no one deserves that.
And most recently were 2 little girls that I knew for about 2.5 years. They were wonderful and I loved them, but their parents had such vastly different styles from me that eventually I couldn’t stand it anymore. See this email to their mom:

I also feel that you are a very good parent and there are many
parenting decisions that you make, especially the way you talk to the
girls about serious issues, that I admire and respect. Your love for
them is obvious.
That said, I am very uncomfortable with our current arrangement. As
you know, I have been babysitting for more than ten years and, based
on that as well as reading books and talking to parents and teachers,
I have a general set of behavioral expectations for myself and the
children I am watching. The expectations for me are things like:
-say yes as often as possible
-be willing to admit to mistakes and change my mind
-help teach manners and accountability, with the understanding that
sometimes children are just too grumpy/tired/etc for this to hold up.
The expectations for the kids are things like:
–say please and thank you
–be respectful
–no hitting, kicking, etc.
The issue that I am having with our current arrangement is that I feel
our expectations and standards are so divergent that reconciling them
is increasingly difficult. Over the past months I have been having a
great deal of trouble with the transition when you return home.
I feel that every time you return home, the first thing that happens
is that you start yelling at the girls about what they need to clean
up. You should understand that I spend a great deal of time at your
house cleaning and trying to ensure that the girls don’t do anything
that will make you angry, and many times when we are discussing what
we should do, I hear that “Mommy doesn’t like that” or that “Mommy cut
up my [pacifiers]” or other things that I find confusing.
While I appreciate that you don’t come home and start yelling at me, I
feel as if you are doing so obliquely by making remarks such as “even
Vanessa should know that we don’t use Sharpies in this house,” or that
I should have asked someone for help putting away Pretty Pretty
Princess, or by telling the girls that it isn’t fair to me for them to
do things that are against the rules when there is a babysitter. This
is true, but I don’t believe developmentally they are able to think
through that entire thing.

That about summed it up. And it was really devastating for me. I loved those girls very, very much. I’d been on vacation with them twice, I’d stayed with them for a week while their mother stayed with a dying friend (and then explained that whole thing to them) and I just loved them. But there are times when I just cannot bear to be around parenting that feels so wrong.
And of course…families move! Stinkers. One of my favorite families moved a couple years ago and I still think about their lovely kids. I adored them, as well. Moving is in some ways easier to take because then our “break up” isn’t hard to take, its just that they have to move…but it’s hard, anyway.
And kids? They grow up. One little girl that I took on all sorts of adventures when she was a toddler is 11 now. I haven’t babysat for her in years. I was the first babysitter for another family, and while I sit for their kids occasionally now (11&9) and am lucky enough to see them at church, its very different.
I am so, so lucky and blessed to have four wonderful families and…::counts:: 9 fantastic, beautiful, amazing children in my life on a regular basis, and I am grateful for them every day, for what an honor it is to be part of their lives, to take them places and put them to bed and talk to them about everything from God to penises and comfort them and hug them and read to them and tell them stories. I am constantly grateful. I hope I know them for a long, long time.

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