Sunday, March 21, 2010

Kristy's Great Idea

I seldom get a chance to read the newspaper, but I caught a glimpse of Hubby's Wall Street Journal this past Friday and enjoyed Laura Vanderkam's "How to Pay for Your Own Uggs" on the TASTE page. Vanderkman's piece was in response to the revision and reissue of the Baby-Sitters Club Series from the 80s. Ultimately, there were 131 books in the series, a fact that I was shocked to discover. I wasn't a Baby-Sitters Club junkie, but I definitely read and enjoyed at least the first ten or so books in the series.

I thought Vanderkam made some excellent points about the significance of the series and its reissue. She writes:

"Hidden in the plots that show that friendship is good and that teasing, racism, and bossy boyfriends are bad, Ms. Martin imparts two more important messages that modern readers need to hear: Teen girls are capable of handling far more responsibility than we give them credit for, and they, like the rest of us, can choose to make their own way in the world."

Vanderkam notes how many parents today are shocked at the idea of having an 11, 12, or 13 year-old babysitter. I know I'm one of them. When I recall that people entrusted me with their children, even babies and toddlers, when I was 12 and 13, I have a hard time believing it. I assume they thought, "Well, she's the oldest of five kids. She probably knows what she's doing." But I'll be honest, I was not a big help at home, at least not as a hands-on caregiver for my youngest siblings (right, mom?!) and was no more or less prepared than other tweens/young teens to be babysitting. But I did, and no real disasters ever happened and I don't remember being really anxious about how to handle the kids.

As a parent, I have a hard time imagining that any babysitter--excepting my parents, in-laws, and our regular babysitter (a fifty year-old mother of four)--could possibly be trusted with tasks like feeding the boys a meal, bathing them, or getting them down for a nap or bedtime. Who the hell thought I could do such tasks for their children and felt comfortable hiring someone to do them who was willing to work for $2 an hour?! But I had babysitting jobs and, like I said, everything turned out fine.

A few months ago, I started hiring a brother/sister team from next door to "play with" the boys for an hour or two after school as their homework schedule allows. I feel fairly comfortable having this team of seventh and eighth grader "babysitting" the boys, but I am usually home the entire time they are here, except for maybe venturing out quickly to CVS or the cash machine. They don't hesitate to find me if they are worried about something or if a diaper needs changing (a skill they don't yet have), and the whole thing is pretty much win-win in that they get a little cash and I get a little space. Plus, they have lots of energy and are willing to play games like Bub's beloved basement-hide-and-seek-in-the-dark . . . a game I can play for fifteen minutes max and they will play for an hour or more.

We've thought about asking them to babysit in the evening, but if we did that, I think we would get the boys to sleep first and then have dinner somewhere in the neighborhood but probably wouldn't linger. I'm sure everything would be fine, but I wonder if their dad--who lives right next door--would even be comfortable having them babysit in the evening at our house. Again, just interesting to note how times changed since as an eighth grader I put kids to bed (really? how?), stayed up alone until the parents got home (sometimes past midnight), and then was driven home by dads (who could have been drunk for all I know). I don't think my parents or I really sweated it, nor did the parents of the kids I babysat . . . unless I am misremembering.

So anyway, read the article, and let me know what you think. Plus, let me know what your babysitter comfort zone is. How often do you hire babysitters outside of family members? How old are they? What do you expect that they can do? Did you babysit and at what age? Did you read any Baby-Sitters Club books?

Note: Based on my reading of Us Weekly alone, I would have thought, "Poor title for the article because Uggs are out." However, when I was on Michigan Avenue recently with my family, my mom and sisters and I were amused to see a group of about six eighth grade girls about the cross the street and every single one of them was wearing Uggs. No lie. I wonder if they bought the Uggs with babysitting money?


Stacia said...

Oh, man, did I read the heck out of some Babysitters Club! Mary Anne was my favorite. And that Logan, such a sweetie. But I'm getting all nostalgic ... We've only used one non-family/friend sitter, and she came over after the kids were in bed (she's a junior in high school). The very idea of a younger sitter sets my eyebrows on fire (not to mention the hourly rate these days!). Such a thought-provoking article and post, MEP.

dusty earth mother said...

I am a bit long in the tooth to have read the Babysitter's Clubs books, but I still loved this post. I, too, babysat when I was 11 and 12 and distinctly remember being driven home by a dad who seemed tipsy and almost getting into an accident. Can you even imagine allowing something like that now?? I would be a wreck leaving a 12 year old kid in my home while I was out until all hours. No way. Uh uh. Ain't gonna happen.

But I do think it's cool that you have your little brother/sister team. Great idea. Gotta find me one of those.

T-Baby (aka Hubby) said...

More food for thought - cell phones didn't exist back in the day either. At least now, a young sitter would have a pretty good chance of reaching you in case of an emergency.

Amy said...

I too remember babysitting for neighbor's girls at about 12, and some cousins as well. My parents often left me and my brother alone around age 10-11 and nobody thought it was wrong. We knew not to answer the door, who to call if there was an emergency and my grandparents were about a block away.

I've mainly used babysitters from Annika's school who want to make some extra cash or I have one older woman that we use most frequently because Annika loves to play with her and because she makes Annika clean up (yea!). I did use a friend's 12 year old daughter recently when we were going around the corner for drinks and was shocked and amazed by her maturity. When she arrived she asked me about any allergies, what Annika could have for snack, drink, anything Annika couldn't play with or watch on TV (and whether she could watch). She wrote down phone numbers, etc. The best part was she only charged me $7 /hr.

CaraBee said...

We've never used a non-family sitter, but only because we have willing family that live so close. When I was 14, I routinely watched a set of twin toddler boys and I felt totally confident about it. I also watched my little sister after school and evenings from the time I was 11 or 12 on. I agree with the article that giving these girls some responsibility is a fantastic thing. Our neighbor has a 13 year old who I might consider to watch Sophie. She's never shown any interest though, and I kind of want someone who WANTS to be doing it, you know?

Maggie said...

Before we moved, we left Aiden a few times with a 13 year old. It made me crazy, but her grandparents were our neighbors, and we usually made it a point to put Aiden down for a nap after she arrived, then left for a few hours. Babysitter watched tv while he slept, got him out of bed, gave him some goldfish, and played with him for an hour or so. We never went far, and I always had my phone in hand. I'm not crazy about it, but I was even crazier at the thought of never getting to leave the house without my little man for two years.

And we all have lived to tell the tale, imagine that!

Anonymous said...

My babysitter did actually buy a pair of Uggs with her babysitting money!!! So funny! Rita

Babe in Babeland said...

We've only used non-family babysitters just a few times--like two, maybe! It's so hard to leave her with people we don't know well. I know babysat when I was 14, but now it seems so young to me. UGHH! We need to get better at going on dates, though, so I do think we're going to have to find some regular babysitters that we really know and trust. Easier said than done!

Anonymous said...

1960, age 10. I babysat three days a week in the summer for a nurse working 3-11. I got there at 2 and home at 12. I made $10. each day and felt like they over paid me. crazy. I always loved babies so I enjoyed it. Fast forward, their #2 came 14 months later, I remember that summer calling my mom (she wasnt home) so my dad came over and held the screaming baby for an hour or so. I also babysat for another family (one child) once and nearly pulled my hair out and never went back. Entrusting grandchildren with 10 year olds is unthinkable! m

LAP said...

I try to use college sitters whenever possible. I like that they can get themselves here, that we can set up times via text, and mentally I just feel better about someone a little older. The one we have now even offered to bring her old prom dresses over for the girls to try on which I thought was adorable. The bad thing is that her schedule is busier than say, the 8th grader down the street.

This younger neighbor has watched the girls some the past couple years. It started the summer after 6th grade and she'd watch the girls while I tried to do work in our office. I timed it so that one child was sleeping and she just had Fancy to entertain. It seemed heavenly. She told me her mom said that $3/hr was a fair price but I am pretty sure I couldn't sleep at night if I paid anyone that little in this day and age. Anyway, it's been hard incoporating her back into the mix with the 3rd child. How could a 13 year old possibly be able to handle 3 kids? She actually solved this for me, asking if she could bring a friend to help. This has worked really well, but to the point where we have a "favorite friend" we like her to bring and I feel awkward suggesting what friend she should bring. It was a little alarming though that we actually had to do a trial run the first time she came over to see if she was physically able to reach into the crib to get the baby out.

I don't remember many specifics from my babysitting days, but I do clearly recall one mom asking her husband if he was sure he was ok to drive me home. As naive as I was, that left enough of an impression that I remember the exchange quite well.

In all honesty, we don't use babysitters nearly as much as we should. I need to get better, but it seems like someone's always a little sick, or off schedule, or who knows what and I feel bad leaving them with a sitter and a sitter with them.

E... said...

We have only recently used a non-family babysitter. She's a highschooler who can drive, which was key for the times I need her: weeknights when J. is out of town and I won't be home until after the kids are sleeping. I'm not sure I'd feel comfortable with a younger sitter, though I also babysat regularly at age 12. I had some nightmarish situations, with ill behaved kids, clients who never paid me, and I'm pretty sure once I got left to give a baby its first ever formula bottle. I have no recollection of how I actually got kids in bed and to sleep, but it didn't seem to be an issue, so I'm wondering why my sitter has yet to be able to manage it. Perhaps I need a new sitter, but perhaps we as parents have created weird sleepers/routines that are impossible?

melissa said...

I use my parents the most. as it is, they don't think we go out enough and would like to do it more often. I think I could use a 12 year old after brady reached 6 months, if I knew one in the neighborhood pretty well. but who knows their neighbors these days? I only know the ones who live right next door or behind. and no luck there.

I started sitting when I was 10, but only for my little sister. I think 12 was when I did it for other people.

My husband watches fast money and mad money almost every day and UGGs stock has reported record earnings. what recession?

Actchy said...

I have had this conversation so many times. I babysat like mad as a 12-14 year old, and by high school, I was done, i.e., far bigger things were going on in my life. But I know I sat regularly for a family of three boys, all under 4, one of whom was only a few months old. WHAT? Our sitters are 25, 25, and a college girl. So odd.

Anonymous said...

Well I feel like I probably babysat back in the day a little too early...I mean a couple of times I had to call my Dad to come over and handle a screaming baby... this was the youngest of 3 children the oldest was 6. I remember the 6 year old asking why I was hurting his brother. The entire experience made me a little gun shy of little babies. My Dad told me crying was the only way they may have to communicate.
I currently use college babysitters as much as possible. I love the convenience of the transportation factor, texting/emailing at all hours of the day and night, age etc. I have tapped into a sorority at UC and have been pleased with my results. I still think a retired person could be a good babysitter for nap time but I haven't really worked on the RandD for that yet. thanks for making me smile on a really bad day!! BDavin

cake said...

we have had our next door neighbor's 14 year old babysit a few times, but it was basically him hanging out at our house doing homework or watching simpson's episodes while cosmo slept. AND, his parent's were just next door.

i know of other moms who have older (but not old enough to babysit on their own) kids over to play with their kid while the mom gets stuff done. it does seem like a win-win situation.

Rachel @ MWF Seeking BFF said...

I was totally obsessed with the BSC. I think I had some 90 of the books by the time I ok'd my mother getting rid of them. Big Mistake.

I recently wrote a post about how the Babysitters were the first to, perhaps unrealistically, shape my expectation of what true friendship should be. Thought you might be interested:

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