Last Wednesday, Andrew and I took a gigantic step in our lives as parents: we left John with a bona fide babysitter. Not a grandparent, or an aunt, or even a close friend. A babysitter, and what was more, one that we had only just met. The experience was terrifying and liberating all at the same time. We might even do it again.
Our living situation is not ideal. Andrew and I have no family in the immediate area (our closest family is two states north from here), and even our DMV friends are quite scattered. With the exception of our best friends, who happen to live in the same apartment complex, none of our friends live closer than thirty minutes away, and most of those have children of their own. Our single friends, as well as those who are married but without children, live even further away.
Andrew and I chose to live in District Heights, a city just south of DC, because it was the halfway point for both of our commutes to work. On a daily basis, Andrew travels about fourteen miles to work, a trip that takes anywhere from thirty-five minutes to an hour and twenty to complete. Three days a week, I travel about thirty-four miles, which consistently takes about fifty minutes to drive. We had three goals in mind when we choose this apartment complex in this city: safety, cost, and commuting convenience. We chose the safest complex for the best price, located in a city that provided us with the best-possible commutes.
We chose based on safety, cost, and commuting convenience. We did not take community into consideration. We were not thinking about the type of relationship we would have with our neighbors, or how we would find babysitters for our future children. Finding a sitter in our new neighborhood was probably one of the last things on our minds. Sure, we were thinking about having children, but three years ago, when we started apartment hunting, we were more in the potential baby names phase than the potential babysitters one.
Andrew was the first person to move into our building, with several neighbors moving in during the weeks that followed. None of them live here anymore. We have seen our immediate neighbors change at least twice, if not three times, each. Other apartments in our building might already be on their fourth or fifth occupant at this point. There is definitely no consistency, which has made it very difficult to know our neighbors, and even more difficult to find one who might be a potential babysitter for our son.
Up until last week, whenever Andrew and I went out on a date, a close friend or family member took care of John. We made it ten months without needing to hire a babysitter once, but we knew that the time would eventually come. That moment arrived last week.
Until then, if we couldn’t bring John to a scheduled event, one of us didn’t go. None of the events were worth the stress of finding a babysitter. Then we got our invitation to the National Shrine Christmas Party, a yearly thank-you to all full-time employees of the Shrine and a smattering of other people. It was an event that both of us wanted to go to, so we decided to take the plunge. We decided to find a babysitter.
I did a bit of research before registering for a free one-month subscription to urbansitter.com, a website that helps link parents with potential babysitters. Andrew and I came up with a list of desirable qualities, and then I created our profile and posted our first job listing. Within minutes, we had our first response. By the end of the first day, I had more than fifteen. I scrolled through them, deleting the ones that did not fit our requirements and marking those that seemed particularly impressive. I waited a week before contacting our top three. One turned us down outright- over the course of the week, she had booked herself solid and was no longer accepting new jobs, but the other two responded in the affirmative. They had both been chosen to serve different purposes- the more qualified would be our regular sitter, while the other would be our emergency sitter since she lived in the same city as we did. Though our chosen sitter was well-qualified, well-spoken, and came highly recommended, we were still nervous.
I exchanged contact information with our new sitter, and she confirmed with me three days before she was scheduled to babysit for the first time. When the day arrived, I was both nervous and excited. I eagerly anticipated what Andrew and I considered to be a date night, though we would be surrounded by his coworkers, as well as my first meeting with our sitter. She arrived fifteen minutes early, giving me enough time to go through some basic instructions for dinner and bedtime. While I gathered up my things for the night, she immediately got down on the floor with John, keeping him entertained while I prepared to leave. And then with some last-minute instructions and a quick goodbye with John, I was out the door.
As the night progressed, countless people asked us how we were holding up. Many were parents themselves, and they remembered the first time that they left their child(ren) with a sitter that they did not directly know. They were even more sympathetic because they knew how difficult it had been for us to find a sitter in the first place. They knew what it felt like to leave your beloved child with a relative stranger, even if our sitter had come highly recommended and attended a parish that we were familiar with. She was still a stranger.
But the photos that she randomly sent throughout the night told me that our son was in good hands. She successfully managed to calm John down when he realized that I had left. She got him to eat dinner without difficulty, and eventually she got him to fall asleep for the night. With that particular text message, I could physically feel myself relax. I had been nervous about him going to sleep without us, even before his hysterical crying at my departure. Knowing that he was sound asleep in his crib made it so much easier to enjoy the rest of our evening together. And when we got home several hours later, John was still sleeping soundly in his crib. We didn’t hear a peep from him until nearly 8AM the next morning.
Leaving your child with a babysitter for the first time is always stressful. It’s made even more stressful when you are forced to hire a complete stranger. Our experience was a reminder of the importance of community, of family and friends. If we lived closer to our family, if we weren’t so far removed from the majority of our friends, our first experience with a babysitter might have been a bit easier. We could have used a neighbor’s daughter, or a friend’s friend. We could have relied on a stronger network of parents to get recommendations and share sitters. Instead, Andrew and I had to turn to the digital community, a second-rate option when compared to the alternative. We accepted the hand that we had been dealt, and we made the most of it.
In the end, we found a superb babysitter, someone that we know that we can trust with our son, someone that we intend to hire again, someone that we can recommend to friends in the area. We began with less than ideal circumstances, but we ended up finding an incredible babysitter. Thankfully, knowing how successful our first experience with a babysitter was, I doubt that we will be quite so nervous the second time around. It is difficult to let go when there are unknowns to be addressed. We were dealing with a sitter who was a relative stranger, and a child who had never been cared for by anyone other than a family member or friend. We didn’t know what to expect. Now we do. Now we know that we do not need to fear letting go for a night, relaxing together while John is in safe, capable hands. Now we know for next time. Because there will be a next time- Mommy and Daddy occasionally need a night out after all.
Mary Help of Christians, pray for us!