babysitting

Things I Said While Babysitting The Other Night (Mostly With A Touch Of Irony)

You’re skating on thin ice, young man.

Don’t make me come down there.

You do not want me to have to turn off that hose.

Dude, stop hitting your brother.

No, really, stop hitting him.

I mean it. Stop already with the hitting.

Dude! You can’t go hit one brother because he hit your other brother. That’s just absurd.

So do you want a bedtime story, or are you going to read The New Yorker?

Be honest now. Are you just reading it for the cartoons? Nothing wrong with that, half the people who get the New Yorker only read it for the cartoons.

I’m not in charge of your bedtime. Take it up with your parents.

Sleep tight. Don’t let the bedbugs bite.


The Incredibly Tremendously Awesome Amy Poehlar At The Time 100 Gala

Well when I met Jim five minutes ago, I told him, “Move over! I’m a righty. And don’t let me follow a preacher.” Thanks for nothing, Jim. When Seth Meyers from Saturday Night Live and I hosted this awards show in 2008, I remember thinking it would be really nice if we were to make this list together. And tonight, I am happy to say that it is just as sweet making the list without him. I have so much influence; I am lousy with influence. I am what you call a connector. Bruno Mars is not here, but if he was, he would meet Aziz Ansari tonight, because I would introduce them. Chris Colfer, have you ever met Martha Stewart? Because I can I make that happen. Jonathan Franzen and Patti Smith are sitting at the same table. I know that because I’m on the list. If you shook my hand tonight, you might not want to drive home because you may be pulled over for a DUI. [Editor’s note: This was her recycling a joke she’d used on us earlier in the evening … Still delightful!] But tonight, I’m genuinely very humbled and honored to be part of this evening, so I would like to take my remaining minute to um … I have thought very hard and long about what has influenced me over the past couple of years, and since I have been at this dinner in 2008, I have given birth to two boys and I’ve left Saturday Night Live and I started my own TV show, and it’s been a crazy couple of years, and I thought who besides Madam Secretary Clinton and Lorne Michaels have influenced me? And it was the women who helped me take care of my children. It is Jackie Johnson from Trinidad and it is Dawa Chodon from Tibet, who come to my house and help me raise my children. And for you working women who are out there tonight who get to do what you get to do because there are wonderful people who help you at home, I would like to take a moment to thank those people, some of whom are watching their children right now, while you’re at this event. Those are people who love your children as much as you do, and who inspire them and influence them and on behalf of every sister and mother and person who stands in your kitchen and helps you love your child, I say thank you and I celebrate you tonight.


there was a time…

When I went to Maine, to a small town on the coast, every summer.

I havent been there in years. My grandmother died there in 2007, and the following summer I was there for a day or two, to scatter her ashes with everyone else.

When I was a child, though, I loved it there. It’s true, they are not entirely my people–lots of money, lots of Republicans, lots of pink and lime at the same time. Lots of golf and tennis. Cocktail parties. McMansions. The tennis court featured–I swear–a sign that sad “Whites Only.” Later it was changed to “Whites Preferred.”

They were mostly referring to tennis clothes.

What I did love, what I still would love, probably, is the beach. Beautiful. Miles long, incredible sand, water crisp and cold and lovely, waves high and tumbling. I would spend hours at the beach, swimming and reading. Once I was so still, reading for so long, that a neighbor called my grandmother to ask if I was okay. I read and read and swam and swam. Sometimes I walked on the cliff walk, where Winslow Homer used to stroll, and look at the same seascapes that he saw.

Since my grandmother died it’s been different. The house looks utterly changed, at least it did when I was there in 08. Gone were most of the pictures of the extended family, the casual parts of the house, the random beach stones, the old romance novels of my grandmothers. It has turned into a more “traditional” beach house, for that part of the world, and I can no longer see my grandmother every time I turn a corner. Can no longer see her sitting at the kitchen table, reading a book, eating coleslaw. She ate so much coleslaw, my grandmother, and not much else.

We had some great times. The two summers before she died I came up, took the train to stay with her for a week or ten days. We walked on the beach. She said “oops!” every time she had t0 navigate past a tidepool stretched across the beach. We rode bikes to a beach that had a boardwalk she could walk out on, waving her cane to indicate to the children they should get out of the way, so she could swim. She’d pile on her bathing caps, three or four or five, and she swam. We swam. Out to the boats, the buoys. It was cold and one summer I went with her to a surf shop to get her a wetsuit. She looked like a chicken. I had to ride an old bike, with no brakes, and one memorable day I failed to stop in the sand and instead kept going straight into the water, going in two or three feet before the bike finally stopped. My grandmother laughed and laughed.

I think of this now because I have recently become facebook friends with a number of people, a few mothers but mostly kids that I used to babysit for. One of the girls, who is now–what? A freshman in high school, I think, looking like all the other girls from that area, leggy and lovely, lying on the beach and having fun. When I was 13 I was her nanny. She was perhaps 3.5 and her brother about 15 months. Every morning I woke up, had breakfast with the family, took the girl to camp down the beach (we walked down the beach, to the beach club–there is, of course, a beach club, a yacht club, a country club….)and broke the boy back, put him down for a nap. In the afternoon I picked her up, fed them both lunch, took them to the beach. I was there for a week. My mom was down the street, and I went home to nap sometimes. I babysat for other kids on the lane, too, kids I’ve just friended on facebook. Once who had a major poop explosion. Another whose mother threatened to spank her and it scared me. Another who I took the library, the youngest of four, funny and tough. It’s so odd, to not have seen them for so many years and then to suddenly see pictures of them, looking so grown up. I’m surprised at how well I remember them. I can see them on fb, can see how they are following the paths that my cousins did, that much of my mothers side did: exclusive schools, boarding schools, sometimes with uniforms, special trips, time abroad. Lives that look absolutely perfect on the surface.

And the dogs. The dogs on the beach, only of course at certain times, but the dogs, beautiful dogs, mostly Labs, in and out of the surf.

A place is a strange thing to lose. I was in love with this town. I cried leaving, some years, tears streaming down my face. I wanted to stay there. I didn’t see beneath the veneer, and when I started to I was very bitter. They are still not my people, exactly, but I remember now how kind some of them were. Still are, probably.

Anyway. I miss it. I wish that part of growing up had not been losing it.


Rhythm

It’s been awhile since I spent a whole day with a toddler, and today I was surprised to find that I’ve forgotten, at least a bit, the rhythm of it. A. is two, just two, and I’d forgotten the simple rhythms that govern toddler life. The story and the tucking in and the kiss and the “see you after your nap!” The turkey breast and avocado and sliced tomatoes and fruit and yogurt for lunch. The way they put a hand on my head or shoulder when I help with pants and shoes. The singing with heavy weight against my chest. The constant refrain of “down by the bay” over and over. It’s lovely.


Babysitting!

NJ’s mom passed along this marvelous post about babysitters! It’s a good post and well worth reading, and nice to remember that parents appreciate us too.
I took all four of the younger kids to the park the other day, on the bus since I cannot fit all of them in my car (I realllllly need to figure that out…) and we had a great time. They marched over to the bus stop, backpacks on, played for quite awhile, and then marched back to the bus stop. They are such a pack, it’s great.
Meanwhile, I am mentally planning a post for National Babysitter’s Day. It’s apparently Saturday, which coincides nicely with the spring fair.
Hehe. Also, we’ve been listening to The Dream Jam Band song “Bike” and the kids just go NUTS. It is hilarious. There is singing along and funny faces and it can be difficult to drive because I am laughing so damn hard. Goofballs.


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.


Babysitting

Reposted from when I was on Ask Moxie awhile ago:
When I was in middle and high school, I was always surprised to hear people say that they had babysitters. Babysitters? Really? The summer I was thirteen I lived with a family for a week and watched the kids all day. I didn’t understand this business of older kids having babysitters.
Now I do. There are the babysitters that you hire to watch your four-year-old for a couple hours when you run to grocery store, and there are the babysitters that you hire to manage anything that might come up with your children through the process of putting them to the bed, or taking them to activities, or whatever. I’ve been both.
I started, of course, as the former and have moved into the latter. Right now, I have 4 families that I work with. On Tuesdays I take three boys from three different families. On Thursdays I take 2 of those same boys and 1 girl from yet another family. On Fridays, I watch that girl and her three siblings. It’s a great schedule. But I spent a fair amount of time thinking about babysitting and how the connection between babysitters and parents works.
I have chosen these four families carefully. I’ve known them all now for years—at least four—and one I have known for ten. This helps. But as a babysitter, I feel I have a responsibility to work only with families that I am comfortable with. Last winter, after much consideration, I stopped working for a family because I was not comfortable with the parenting style. It broke my heart, because I loved those girls. But I cannot work for people whose parenting styles I don’t support.
This is not to say that I must be in 100% agreement with you at all times about the ways in which you parent your children. But as their babysitter, I need to feel comfortable enough to talk to you about your child without feeling as though you are going to flip out (why I never work for parents who spank, ever.)
All this to say, I know a fair bit about babysitting. So I thought I should share it with you.
Finding a babysitter: you’ve all probably done this before so I won’t say much about it except this: trust your gut. If the girl who all your neighbors rave about comes in and meets your kid and you get a feeling that something is off, keep looking. If you find a teenage boy who seems to have a great rapport with your kids, let him try babysitting-boys can be babysitters too. Little known fact.
My favorite conversations with perspective parents have been the ones in which we chat not just about their children’s logistics—Jimmy goes to bed at eight, etc—but about larger and broader topics. I like for parents to ask me about discipline and give me hypotheticals. What would I do if Hannah threw a tantrum? I like to discuss philosophy with parents. It always makes me incredibly happy when a parent says they love “How to Talk So That Kids Can Listen…” which is my favorite book about kids.
Overall when I meet new parents the thing I most want to know is that we are going to be on more or less the same page. We certainly do not have to be exactly in line on everything, but I need to know that parents are willing to consider different viewpoints. For me, I need parents to be able to accept that sometimes their kids will come home dirty. Sometimes the house won’t be perfectly cleaned because, well, I had to have a discussion about what would happen if Mommy and Daddy died.
This brings me to by far the most important point. Trust. You have to trust your babysitter. Otherwise the entire thing is a useless exercise. This is why I hate the idea of nanny cams so very, very much. If you do not trust your sitter to take good care of your children, then what on earth is the point in having a babysitter? Ideally, babysitters—especially the long term ones who you use frequently—should be partners with parents, just as teachers are partners.
I’ve had discussions with children about some pretty intense topics. See above re what happens if Mommy and Daddy die. And I’ve had the experience of explaining that yes, it is possible that Mommy will get shot, but not likely, and we hope she won’t die until you are much older. I’ve had the experience of holding a child tight and telling him that no, attacking his brother is not acceptable. And it is for the fact that I am comfortable with these things as well as my ability to play endless rounds of Zingo that people hire me.
So I guess I’d like to open this up for discussion, after I make a few final points.
1. Babysitters are not housekeepers/cooks/dog walkers/maids. Yes, you should expect your house to be in the shape it was when you left—when the caveat that sometimes things happen and your sitter didn’t have time to guide the kids in cleaning—but babysitters do not exist to cook your dinner (making something for the kids is fine, of course), wash your clothes, walk your dog, whatever. We are here to watch your children. Period.
2. Be nice to your sitter! Ask her questions about what she’s doing with her life. Find out her interests. Ask your kids to make her birthday and holiday cards. Show an interest in her life.
3. Follow your instincts. If your kids are miserable every time you mention the sitter, think twice.
4. At the same time, remember that kids are kids and don’t always like babysitters. If you’ve hired a sitter that you trust you should be comfortable leaving your screaming child with her. Yes, it’s hard to walk out while your child screams in someone else’s arms, stretching out his arms and begging for you—but you need to trust that your sitter can handle it. Don’t let your child become the adult in a situation.
5. This is somewhat voided if your child is having specific serious emotional problems or going through a really rough time. That may necessitate that you take special measures.
6. If something is going on with your child, please tell your sitter. You don’t need to divulge every detail, but your sitter does need to know if your son is worried about death a lot, or if your daughter is feeling especially needy.
7. Please, please, please honor your commitments. If you say you need a sitter on Saturday from 5-9, please be gone from 5-9. If you need to cancel on short notice, it’s polite to pay your sitter anyway. Many babysitters work out what they can and cannot afford based on the work they have that week.
8. If you are going to be late, call for heavens sake.
9. And on that note—please, please leave your cell phone on, at least on vibrate. There is nothing more terrifying than having an injured or sick child and not being able to reach his or her parents.
10. Understand that accidents happen. I’ve had two serious injuries in my ten plus years of babysitting. Once I was holding the hand of a young boy, about 2, and tripped, pulling him over. Poor boy needed stitches in his forehead: when his mother arrived, he was burying his head in my chest and we were both a bit bloody. Another time, a 3 year old was climbing a shelf—just as I turned to tell him to GET DOWN, he fell, naturally, and sustained a HUGE black eye. I felt horrible. But things do happen.
11. However, if things happen ALL the time to your children, or if an accident that is just common sense happens—baby falls off the changing table, for example—rethink your choice of a sitter.
12. Listen to your babysitter. Sometimes people who don’t know your children as well as you do or who don’t have the same connection can see things you can’t.
Most of all, remember that ideally, you want this to be a working, dynamic partnership. If you find a sitter that you and your children love, consider yourself lucky, and hold onto her.