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The Lost Art of Babysitting

The Lost Art of Babysitting

We beg them to let us pay them to come to our houses, sit on our couch, do almost no work and raid our refrigerator. The teenagers have officially won.

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For the longest time, my wife and I never used a babysitter. Back when we had one kid, we’d just take her everywhere. You’d see us in a restaurant, and on the surface we would look like a normal couple, having mature grown-up conversations, but if you peeked under the table, you would have seen a baby in an infant seat drinking out of a bottle that was propped up by my feet.

But these days we can’t just stick all our kids under the table, so this is what happens every time we go out: First, we call the two or three teenagers that we know to see if they’re willing to babysit, and it generally turns out that every single one of them are all magically busy on the same night, which is also the very night that we want to go out. What are the chances? But then one of the girls gives us the names of about five of her friends, mainly because if you thought she was your last hope, you wouldn’t hang up until she agreed to come over. So we hang up and call those friends, or else we call our rabbi’s wife, who is an eighth grade teacher, and has a list of every girl in town who’s graduated elementary school in the last four years, and she gives us a couple of random names, or else she calls them herself, and so we finally get a babysitter about a half hour after we’re supposed to have left, although we never do find out her name, because we’re in such a rush to leave. So the next time we need a babysitter we have to start the whole process over. I doubt we would know if we ever used the same babysitter twice. Maybe we should have them sign some sort of log.

The people I babysat for had different foods than we did, so it was always very exciting.

But for the most part, it seems these girls just don’t want to babysit. It’s like we have to beg them to let us pay them to come to our house and sit on our couch and do almost no work and raid our refrigerator.

Does this make sense? This is a job we’re offering them. Imagine you know someone who’s looking for work, and you have a job for him, but you’re afraid to call him because he’s going to tell you that he’s busy, and then name five friends who are also busy.

And it’s not like we have difficult kids. Most of the time, our kids have already been put to bed, plus they’re shy and tend to behave around people they don’t know. At worst, they’re going to sit at the top of the stairs and take turns peeking down at the babysitter until she says, “I can see your feet,” at which point they’re going to trip over each other running back to their rooms.

Is that what these girls are afraid of? Having to discipline a bunch of footsy pajamas? Because it’s okay if she doesn’t. We’re not too demanding when it comes to babysitters. Basically, all we want is for our kids to be alive and relatively uninjured by the end of the night. You don’t have to take them for booster shots, or force-feed them broccoli, or pick what college they’re going to go to. Just make sure they don’t touch the stove or jump off the bunk bed with a blanket tied around their ankles.

When I was a teenager, I babysat a lot. Not so much for other people, though. I mostly babysat for families with a lot of boys, or for people who had their husbands make the phone calls to look for a sitter.

Most of my sitting, however, was for my parents, who never actually paid me. This didn’t really bother me, because most of their outings involved buying clothes, and when you’re young and short and not really into clothes in the first place, clothes shopping can be really boring. You can’t see over the racks, so the store is just one big forest of shirt sleeves that keep hitting you in the face as you chase your parents around the store. Also, sometimes, the clothes they’re buying are for you, and you have to try on fifteen pairs of pants in five minutes with your father knocking on the door every thirty seconds. So I liked staying home. But from time to time I did bring up the concept of money, and my mother’s response was that they were paying me in food and shelter and tuition. My argument was that never mind the tuition; they could have paid me in food and shelter and babysitting money.

So whenever we have a babysitter, we make it very clear that she can eat whatever she wants. Not that it matters. Generally, I find that girls don’t really eat much when they babysit. Usually when I come home, I find no evidence of anything missing. Are they eating the wrappers? I know that boys eat when they babysit, because I personally used to take full advantage of the open-fridge policy. Most of the time I made more in food than I did in cash. An added bonus was that the people I babysat for had different foods than my parents did, so it was always very exciting. (“Hey! These are kosher?”) I think it’s possible that girls don’t feel comfortable eating in strange places.

So maybe that’s the reason it’s so hard to find a babysitter. Maybe these girls are afraid they’re gonna starve waiting for us to come home.

But here’s a message for all you teenagers who don’t want to babysit: In ten years from now, you’ll be married with a bunch of little kids too young to babysit themselves, and all these kids you didn’t want to babysit today will be teenagers. And you’re going to call them and say, “Can you come over and babysit?” and they’re going to say, “Sorry, I’m busy,” but they’re secretly going to be thinking, “Teenagers going over to other people’s houses to babysit? Who ever heard of such a thing? I certainly never had any teenager babysit me when I was growing up!” And it’ll be your fault.

But I will tell you that we parents are not going to discourage them from babysitting for you personally. After all, we don’t even remember your names.

Published: August 6, 2011


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Visitor Comments: 26

(18) Stacey Rivkin, July 17, 2012 11:38 PM

Hilarious article! Thank you!

Btw, Mr. Schmutter, my friends are embarrassed to eat in the house they're babysitting at if they dont know when the parents will be home. They dont want to be in middle of sticky taffy or crumby chips when the parents come home. so its a nice idea for the parents to call 5 minutes before they'll come home, and tell the people in advance, so that the babysitter can get comfortable in the meantime. Even sprawling herself across the couch can be uncomfortable if she doesnt know when the parents are coming. when they come, she likes to look good and not busy with her own things. I know this from personal experience and friends.

(17) Cindy, March 18, 2012 12:40 PM

I was utterly disgusted by this article!!!! Being a teenager who babysits I am totally offended! The writer describes this completely not the way it is! I would never do what is written in the article! Also, babysitting is so not a lost art! Think before you write another article like this!

(16) ERA, February 29, 2012 4:36 AM

Yeah, I don't eat when I babysit ppl. Why do they think I need their food? Or their candy? It does make me uncomfortable to eat in strange places. "Please take anything you want"--does that include the steak in the fridge? I never know what these ppl. mean by that sentence.

(15) Anonymous, February 19, 2012 5:12 PM

v funny but try babysitting my neighbours ;)

lol! i like this :) but rlly try baby sit my neighbours then tell me babysitting is easy! YOU try put 3 kids to bed at the same time... ;) made me laugh tho...

(14) Anonymous, October 18, 2011 11:51 PM

Uh, people who are complaining, this is H U M O U R. The best babysitting job offer was from a friend of my father's. He called and asked if I could babysit for a few hours, when? I'm outside in the car, he said! I loved babysitting, I couldn't understand why one or two people put food out, unless it was a last minute no time for supper job. Job is the wrong word. I liked the babysitting, I didn't want to take their money ;)

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