By Stephanie Ila Silver-Silberstein
Entry #1: The Manny Diaries
It was a freezing, frostbite inducing afternoon. In the crook of my burdened elbow lay my 4-month-old daughter in her heavier-by-the-minute car seat. My other hand gripped my 2-year-old son’s hand as he screamed with his knees buckling underneath him, “I want UP! I want UP!” I’m not sure how I ultimately managed to get my 2 children up a million outdoor steps and into their music class that day, but needless to say, once my fingers defrosted, I put out an APB for an extra set of hands.
I’m a stay at home mom and I truly love spending time with my children – that and I’m a bit of a control freak when it comes to my kids. I’ve had babysitting help in the past but for one reason or another, nothing ever really stuck. Perhaps it was because my heart was never really into finding someone in the first place. I’d casually look for a babysitter after a particularly difficult tantrum-filled day or after one too many requests for playdates were met with the response “I have my nanny that day”. But some way or another (a.k.a. an amazing husband , incredible grandparents and Fresh Direct), I always managed to get all my errands done, my emails (and articles) written, my DVR cleared and my sanity intact without the help of a regular babysitter.
Most people would have left the baby at home with a nanny or took the winter semester off, but I really liked this music class. Both my infant and toddler (for the price of one) loved this class and it took place in the afternoon (a rare commodity in the world of baby classes for some bizarre reason). So, frostbite be damned, we were staying in this class. I was determined to find someone who could literally escort me into the classroom – someone strong enough to carry a car seat with a baby in it. So, when I put the request for a mother’s helper on my new suburban neighborhood’s newcomers’ club list serve, I was relieved when Jared’s mom contacted me. She told me that her 13.5-year-old son had taken a babysitting course, was CPR certified and has 2 younger siblings and numerous neighbors he frequently baby-sits. I met with Jared and he seemed mature and kind. His mom agreed to drive him to and from my house each week and we came up with a (very) reasonable wage. I was sold!
I’ll admit it. I chauvinistically thought it was a…shall we say…interesting line of work for a 13.5 year old boy. And I still often get confused looks from other moms when they see us food shopping or walking through the mall together. But after only one afternoon, it all made perfect sense. I was even praised by the teacher and envied by the other moms in the music class for hiring Jared as a mother’s helper. First of all, my son, Jake LOVES Jared. I’m not sure he even realizes that Jared has been hired to be there. For all he knows, Jared is his oldest cousin! Unlike other caregivers, Jared literally has the energy of a teenage boy – he’s up on the jungle gym side by side with my son, playing train conductor or fire chief or chasing him tirelessly from one activity to the next. One afternoon, I was feeding my daughter at one end of the park when I noticed Jared dialing his cell phone while my son was going down a slide. I immediately jumped to the conclusion that like many nannies I see at the park, Jared was talking on the phone while on the job. But just as I’m thinking this, MY phone starts to ring and it’s Jared on the other end, asking for more time in the playground because he and Jake are – and I quote – “having so much fun!” I think my answer might’ve been something like, “um…hell yeah, you can have more time in the park!”
Secondly, Jared is in Junior High. He has hobbies and takes music lessons, etc. but he’s not anxiously filling up his college application with extra-curricular activities and he’s less likely to flake out at the last minute. He’s a nice, respectful boy who Jake can look up to and emulate…Plus, Jared taught me how to use all the features on my Droid.
I used to pay a graduate student upwards of $15/hour with a four-hour minimum, plus dinner, plus cab fare to sit on my couch, watch TV and text all night. “Professional nannies” in general, demand more money, more hours and often prefer when the mother is not around when they’re doing their job. And while that all makes sense and good nannies are deserving of these criteria, not all of us need that level of help.
Granted, I’ve never left both kids alone with Jared for more than 3 minutes, he’s never changed a diaper or put my kids to bed, but I’m sure he could handle these things if need be. And while I still have trouble finding the time to get my nails done, I don’t panic about getting through my list of errands each week and I treasure having some Jake and mommy alone-time while Jared takes my daughter for a quick stroll around the park. I just do it all in 2.5 hours every Tuesday afternoon!
Finding the right kind of childcare for you and your family can be challenging both logistically and emotionally. You might find ‘the one’ playing with trains at Barnes & Noble or riding the elevator with your neighbor in your building. Or you might find the perfect nanny through an agency or a referral from a friend. Whatever the case may be, in today’s day and age, there are numerous options when it comes to finding help – all you need is an open mind.