The babysitting biz & trust

Though I babysat as a teen and young adult, I didn't appreciate until I was on the other side -as the Mom- just how must trust is placed in childcare providers. It's hard enough to find good childcare and harder still to leave your children for the first time with someone you really don't know. When Jack was nine or ten months old, I hired a sitter for the first time. We lived out in Reston then, and the woman wished to bring along her own child who was about Jack's age. I wasn't quite sure about that -would her attention be divided? If so, would that be dangerous as anyone would preference their own child? Would it be great? Like in-house socialization?- but decided to give it a whirl because she seemed so unbelievably enthusiastic about children.

The first time she came and I left, I really just "left." By which I mean I got in my car and drove out of the driveway, parked around the corner in sight of her car, memorized the license plate and waited, FOR A FULL HOUR, to make sure she didn't try to abscond with my darling, wordless child.

This might sound lunatic, but I was petrified. I mean, I didn't really know this woman from Adam, and there are an arseload of freaks out there. You know? And my beloved son! He had only ever known gushing waves of love. He had been taken care of with such tenderness, such devotion. What if he were harmed intentionally? What if by accident? What if he were taken? He didn't know my name, only that I was Mommy who spoke of herself in the third person so that he would start to associate that word with Me and hopefully soon call me just that.

So I waited out in the street, feeling sheepish that I was paying to spy on the person I'd hired to tend my boy. And then I drove around the block a few times, maybe ran to the grocery store, probably returned home early with some excuse and called it a day.

And you know what? That woman couldn't have loved my child more. Over time, my wariness ebbed, and I could leave with more comfort and trust that Jack would be there, safe and happy, when I returned.

This was true for the first three years of Jack's life and all the babysitters we met during. License plate committed to memory? Check. Asking friends to Facebook stalk potential hires? Yup (and there is a name for FB stalking but I'm not cool enough to remember it). Calling multiple references? Of course.

We have, for the most part, been so lucky and met such wonderful people. We have stayed in touch with many, gone to some of their weddings, met their parents and friends, asked if they'd come to the boys' birthday parties.

But even with such a good track record, that worry never really goes away when meeting new folks with whom you might entrust your children. I'm always struck by this. By how tenuous and scary things can seem in the context of leaving your children, if only for a brief while.

Tom and I are to head to NYC this Saturday for the wedding reception of one of my best college friends. I wouldn't miss this for the world. But the woman I'd hired to babysit on Saturday morning (before my father-in-law can pick the boys up) had to cancel just last night because of a family emergency. None of my other terrific -and known- sitters are available, so I've been putting out desperate feelers for a trustworthy replacement.

We met her tonight -the roommate of a friend's sitter- and the children were wild animals the whole time. On top of trying to get a sense of this woman, on top of trying to wrap my brain around leaving the state ten minutes after closing the door to my house with my kids and a veritable stranger inside, the children were beating each other up with all manner of sword, making the whoopee cushion fart to beat sixty and sustaining random injuries left and right.

It is so weird, in that moment of assessing character and trustworthiness, to also wonder just how much the person in front of you may be considering that your children are ill-disciplined heathens who clearly have some fart mess of a mother leading their charge It is utterly dissonant to be trying to get the kids to show their best and most charming selves (annoying but natural maternal tendency) while sussing out if the person before you could and would want to handle them at their worst.

You take in what you know about them, you make a leap of faith, you ask that they send updates and pictures, you trust their track-records and their innate goodness. But that's not total assurance, and so you also plan to wait with somewhat baited breath until you get the call that Grandpa has them and all is well.