I was nine when I started babysitting. His name was John, and he was roughly a year old. He lived in the apartment complex next to the duplex where I lived with my mother and sister. Both of his parents were in the military (as were most people in the community where we lived, right outside a major base) and they needed someone for an evening or two per week. My mom offered to it, but within no time, it was clear that I was the one doing the actual babysitting. While my mom was busy doing…whatever it was she was doing, I pushed him in the swing out back, changed his diaper and gave him his bottle. Soon he preferred me, and eventually his parents started referring to me as the babysitter. A couple of times, I even watched him without supervision because my mom was unavailable. In retrospect, I am HORRIFIED by this. What sort of parent leaves their infant in the sole care of a nine year old?

But at the time, it seemed normal. And soon, it was not just little John. By the time I was in seventh grade (and living on the other side of the country) I was the neighborhood babysitter. I was thirteen when the family across the street welcomed their first baby. They were new in town, having arrived when she was eight months pregnant. My mom mentioned that I loved babies and would be happy to help out if they needed it. I don’t think she anticipated them leaving me alone with their two week old. And I know she didn’t expect me to wind up as their part-time nanny, babysitting three afternoons a week for two years, until Luke’s mom quit her job to be a stay at home mother to Luke and his new little sister.

So for nearly two decades, I’ve been caring for other people’s children. In a few cases, as a nanny, that’s meant a deep, steady relationship with a family. But most of the time, it’s meant an occasionally evening here and a long Saturday afternoon there.

Since moving to Atlanta a year ago, I’ve cut back dramatically on the amount of babysitting I do. I used to routinely spend an extra 10-20 hours a week babysitting on top of my 50-hour work week as a nanny. But since I moved here, my priorities have shifted. I have a family now and a home that I love. I no longer need to fill the every waking moment. I LIKE sitting at home on the couch with JP and the beasts. And, because I have someone to share the bills and expenses that come with living life, I no longer need the extra income. Lately, it seems that babysitting is more hassle than it’s worth. Even though I get paid top dollar, it’s still not usually enough to tempt me. And the few times lately I’ve decided it was worth it, I wound up disappointed. Because the problem with agreeing to babysit, is that there is no contract and no penalty for a late cancellation. And in the last three months, I’ve accepted two babysitting jobs. Both times, I took time out of my schedule to go to their house and sit with them for awhile so they could get to know me. I gave them references and played with the baby for awhile so they could get to know me a little before leaving me along with their child. And both times, the parents canceled on me within six hours of the time I was scheduled to arrive. Luckily, I wasn’t counting on the money. But it’s a hassle to jump through the hoops of being hired without seeing a return on my investment. I hate turning down other invitations, only to have my plans changed at the last minute. And although I don’t NEED the money, it’s irritating to anticipate an extra $100 that never materializes. (In this case, I had planned to use it for a Valentine’s Day surprise. I suppose it’s a good thing that JP isn’t materialistic and genuinely believes it’s the thought that counts.)

So, I’m done. It’s time to hand over the title of “Everyone’s Favorite Babysitter”. I thought I would be sad — after all, babysitting has been a major part of my life for as long as I can remember. But instead it feels like a weight is lifted. As much as I love children, I would rather interact with them on my own terms and within the constraints of my own schedule. If I find that I really miss it, maybe I’ll look into some volunteer opportunities. But in the meantime…I feel like I should throw a retirement party!

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