FILED IN: Family

Warning: Babysitters Come with Some Teen Angst

Photo: by Meggan DeJesus
Photo: by Meggan DeJesus

Babysitters are to a marriage as elephants are to a circus: both would be pretty lame without them. (And, yes, you might have guessed analogies were not my strength on the SAT.)

Shortly after our son was born—very shortly—we recognized our need for a regular sitter. Asking friends was no use, as most mothers only share their B-list or C-list names – you know, the girls who are either too busy or too inept. So, needless to say, my life with sitters had somewhat of a rocky start.

When a family moved in across the street, I dashed off to meet the mother and find out if there was a teenager in the family. She would be new to school and with any luck socially outcast for at least a few months, and therefore available on Saturday nights. The mom was nice and mentioned she had a daughter, Katie. “A regular bookworm,” she said. Yes! An extended socially outcast period was in store. I almost clapped with glee. I met Katie and booked her for the upcoming Saturday. My only hesitation was the pentagram necklace she wore. But I shrugged it of as a teen thing.

That Saturday night, freedom awaited us. We simply had to convey the baby’s routine and get an acceptable explanation for the pentagram. Then, we’d be out the door. I hesitated to ask, for with teens, I find, I usually don’t want to know. I had a purple jumpsuit phase myself. But this was our only son. After some pleasantries, I casually asked, “So, what’s with the pentagram?”

“I’m a Wiccan,” Katie replied.

I turned to my husband, Eric. He silently mouthed the word “witch” to me.

“Oh?” I responded to elicit further information.

“We believe in Mother Nature and the power of living things,” Katie said.

Sounded pretty harmless to me, but wouldn’t it be more appropriate to call yourself a fruitcake and hang one of those from your necklace instead? It would be much more socially acceptable. Anyway, I excused Eric and myself and we went to the other room for a conference (or coven).

“Are you okay with this?” I asked.

“As long as she doesn’t sacrifice the cat or anything,” he replied.

It had been a long time since we’d been out.

We decided it was something Katie would surely outgrow. The parents were normal and just across the street so we felt the kid—and the cat—would be safe.

As it turns out, though Wiccans do believe in Mother Nature, they evidently do not believe in picking up the house. We used Katie for several years before she left for college where she traded in her Wiccan-hood for veterinarian school, but she never once lifted a finger to wash a dish or move a toy. Whenever we arrived home, she would be on the couch with her nose in a Jane Austen novel oblivious to the disaster around her. The pathetic part was, we were so grateful to have her we never even asked her to clean up.

After she left for college out of state, we found that the greatest resource of a university town like ours is the vast amount of eager (read: totally broke) babysitter-aged girls. College girls don’t even think about going out until after 11 o’clock anyway, so babysitting is the perfect racket: play with kids, get fed, get paid and then go out. A dear friend of mine who worked in the Christian Campus Ministries gave us the names of some terrific non-Mother-Nature-worshiping girls. Through them we learned that the next generation really could clean up a room and stack the dishwasher. There were great sitters out there; we just simply had to pay college-girl rates and keep more Lean Cuisine in the fridge. We’d been so naive…

Sometimes though, it’s hard to get college sitters, especially during high holy days like Dead Day and Spring Break, not to mention while school is out in summer. They all eventually graduate, too, and get lives. For substitutes, most local high-school girls around here are too affluent and too social to have time to work. So, one day in desperation I made a flyer to take to the coffee shop. A nice lady behind the register suggested I call her granddaughter. That was when we met the teenager we’ll call “Jane”, who loves to work and who has been a great resource to our life…not to mention the sanity of our marriage.

While Jane is our best, we still occasionally work with other sitters as well. It’s fun to listen to them and see their youthful idealism. One sitter has this “I’m going to change the world” attitude. Sometimes all I want to tell her is that if she really wanted to do something important then she’d find a way to make Botox free for everyone over 35. That’d be something. Then everyone would love her, even if she wore a fruitcake around her neck and never picked up a single toy.