A good one is hard to find. Through the years we’ve had scores of babysitters, some related to us, others for hire. It all started with D aka Queen of the Castle. D had the luxury of tilting her head a certain way to convey the slight tinge of hunger which sent us dashing off to retrieve her bottle, elephant, blanky, calming ocean sounds, foot salts, lavender spritz and massage oils. This was a two-parent job for a very long time. “If she cries,” we’d announce to friends and relatives “her early feeding cues have been missed. No child should have to cry for her food.” With the exception of two hours on our wedding anniversary (when she was three months old and I sobbed and hyperventilated as TC drove from our house) it took a year for us to leave her with anyone. One year. When Z was born we were more established. We knew the value of getting away from it all. Still, a few choice babysitting bungles with D were fresh in my mind. I don’t know how old she was when we left her because she has no baby book, no photo album, no list of milestones. What she does have is a pile of yellowing calendars on the floor of the broom closet marking her first foods, teeth, steps, etc, in the frantic scrawl of a mom with a child on the move. I know she couldn’t be put down for the first three months. I know she crawled at six months, walked at ten, and somewhere in there we discovered she was getting not her first tooth, but true to form, seven teeth all at once. It was even harder to leave her with a babysitter, because she wasn’t nearly as vocal as D. People constantly and I mean constantly say, “We’ve done this before. Don’t worry, they’ll be fine!” It’s taken seven years of child-rearing for me to finally articulate why this phrase has always irritated me. I don’t want my children to be fine. Fine is status quo. I want them to be worshipped, adored, cared for with the utmost respect, fully engaged, stimulated, and loved, as if they were shining little miracles. I always left a bullet-list for babysitters. At the very least they could follow our routine and the children would be comforted by the familiar. But no.
When D was just over one the babysitter told us she screamed her head off in her crib for almost two hours. The babysitter sat down on the floor in D’s room and told her, “I can scream louder than you.” – “Was she doing this with her hands?” I asked. “Yeah!” said the Incompetent. “She was signing for Milk. She wanted her bottle.” The milk bottle sat empty on the counter downstairs atop of the list which ended with Bedtime Story and Milk Bottle. Another time I told the babysitter we were out of milk except for one bottle for D, so save it for storytime. When I came home I found the bottle still in the fridge and our container of Half & Half 8 ounces lighter. She reached past the bottle in the fridge and fed D Half & Half! D cried all night with an aching belly. When Z was one I came home to hear her crying from her crib. “She’s ok,” the sitter said, “I just put her down.” But it was a cry I’d never heard before. I found her naked except for muddy boots and a 4T pull-up which had soaked the entire crib as it was around her knees. These are true stories! To avoid being institutionalized we left T and Dd much sooner than the girls. Mistakes have been made.
I used to take D out of the cart as it passed through the check-stand at Trader Joe’s. I wouldn’t let a salesgirl hold baby Z while I tried on bras at Nordstrom. Our standards have fallen by the wayside. Suddenly I’m flagging down strangers to bounce the boys as I lug packages into the UPS store. But the we’ve-done-this-before-we-know-how-it-goes attitude still bothers me. When I’d try to explain or list D’s routine versus Z’s I assumed it fell on deaf ears because I sounded too demanding, controlling, or nitpicking. But here’s the thing, children are different. D loves to sleep in pitch black; Z needs a nightlight. T loves to sleep in his own crib; Dd needs to sleep on me. So it drives me batty when someone says they know it all because we’ve been living and learning this for the last seven years and we’ve only just got it down and I say this with humility, because I know full-well that just because we get it today doesn’t mean we’ll get it tomorrow. I’ve learned D at 7 1/4, Z at 3 3/4, T & D at 7 mos. That’s all I’ve got so far. What these people mean to say is, “Your kids will be alive when you get home, just be glad to escape.” That never seemed good enough until now when the only way we know these boys are hungry is when their voices rise above the roar of their sisters. It’s all about survival.