I moved to Madison without knowing anyone here. So I found a babysitter through the University of Wisconsin graduate program in early education. The woman I found was great. But she said that she was really busy, and could her boyfriend babysit instead.
I squashed all my sexist stereotypes of babysitters and asked for his qualifications. She said he has a law degree in Puerto Rico, where they are from, but he can’t work here because he didn’t pass the Wisconsin bar, and he doesn’t want to study for it because they’ll only be here two years. So he is looking for work. He has five younger siblings and he babysat them.
I said okay. I did the normal routine — stayed with him and the baby one day. Went out for a little the next. The third day I told him I’d be at the coffee shop. It’s the only store in our neighborhood, so I told him if he wants to go there, go when the baby is asleep so the baby doesn’t see me and start crying for me.
Sure enough, the babysitter shows up at the coffee shop at naptime.
I say, “Where’s the baby?”
He says, “At home.”
So I sprint eight blocks home, imagining all the most terrible things a mom can imagine about a steep flight of stairs. I get home and the baby is asleep, on my bed, ten feet from an open stairway.
The guy says, “I’m sorry.”
I say, “You can just go.”
He says, “I think it was a language problem. I just misunderstood you. I thought you told me to go to the coffee shop and leave the baby at home.”
This actually happened two months ago. I haven’t written about it because I was blaming myself. But really, this could happen to anyone. It does. My friend paid a chic-chic agency in the New York City area to find her a bonded, background-checked nanny. But she turned out to be anorexic and she fainted behind the wheel. My friend didn’t know until the car was wrapped around a pole. (Everyone safe, thank goodness.)
The difficulty of leaving a baby to go to work cannot be understated. And babysitting situations like this make it even more difficult. So we’ve now gone months with no babysitter, and my husband is about to kill me (because he’s picking up a lot of the slack).
So here’s where the advice comes in, right? Where I tell you how to find a perfect babysitter or something. But there are no perfect babysitter situations. It’s the nature of motherhood to be unsure of leaving. One thing I can tell you, though, is that this I am a part of the opt-out generation: I sprinted up corporate ladders and ran two startups of my own, and I don’t want to do that now, when I have young kids.
A press release from Lifetime Television just announced, “Women in generation Y do not want to permanently drop out of the workforce.” The assumption here, of course, is that the Generation X women– me — who are dropping out of corporate life today are going to abstain from all business for the next twenty years until all their kids are in college. If this were not the assumption, no one would bother with the Lifetime press release.
Newsflash: The current opt-out phenomenon is not permanent. Leaving a baby with a sitter is very, very hard for the mother, (even if the sitter is not leaving the kids at home alone), and only moderately okay for the baby. Some moms can do it, some can’t, most fall somewhere in between, like me.
As the kids get older, the opt-out revolution is about opting out of the absurd and inflexible hours that corporate America is demanding right now. It is not opting out of all work that does not involve kids. In fact, the majority of small businesses are started by women for these very reasons. This is not about being stuck. This is about being true to our values.
So finally, here is some advice: Understand that babysitter problems are not unique to you. They are part of a massive trend that is changing work and home. One bad babysitter doesn’t mean you should give up on corporate life, and the crazy demands of corporate life don’t mean that you should give up on work outside the home. We are all trying to find a compromise, and some of us are trying to find a sitter.