Friday, May 24, 2013

Babysitters 101

OK, you're convinced ~ after my last compelling post ~ that you need to amp up your love life. Yes....with your husband! It'll be good for you, your hubby and most of all your kids, who will see their parents in love and will then, in turn, choose someone to marry who embodies that ideal and who they will expect to looooove their entire lives. One of the whole points of a happy life, right?

(Or. If you're single, then you need someone to give you an occassional break so you can have an adult conversation, a girl's night out and maybe even meet the actual Mr. Right instead of that guy that was pretending to be him.)

But. Who will watch the kids while you paint the town in crimson hearts accompanied by harps and violins? (Or shake that groove thang in your sequin capris?) If your family lives far away, or is just not available, you may have to find a babysitter. But, is it really worth the effort?

I have one friend who told me, a few years ago, when I shared with her that I had gone on a date with my husband at a time when my kids were still pretty little that she and her husband hadn't gone out in years. She said their dates consisted of sitting on the couch and maybe watching a movie on TV. I found out recently that they've since divorced. He cheated with ~ then married ~ her best friend, who went out all the time, ha ha.

OK, that's an extreme example. But it does happen.  Maybe we don't divorce immediately but those of us who don't put energy into our relationship can languish in a murky sea of boredom and dissatisfaction. Who wants that? And it's scary to think that every 13 seconds a couple does divorce.

If getting a sitter is the solution to a harmonious household or a merry, mellow mommy, then what are we waiting for?

Here's the how-to list....

Ways to find a babysitter:

  • Ask around
  • Check babysitting websites: Sittercity or Care are good bets and you can even run background checks
  • Jen's List is also a great resource

The first thing you can obviously do, is ask around. Which of your friends has someone whom they love? That can be a little tricky though. Because, if you start using them on a regular basis it could cause a conflict with your friend's babysitting needs. This actually happened to me. I was so excited about my sitters that I started sharing their information with everyone that might need one including all my MOMs Club friends ~ which meant she could never babysit when I needed her. So ideally it would be best to find your own sitter. And only share her info with very close friends who will sign in blood not to use her on the nights you need her. One gal I did find from a friend (who wasn't using her much), Emily, is this amazing 16 year old who works 3 part-time jobs ~ between school ~ with great enthusiasm. When I asked her how much she would charge to watch my kids, she said it didn't really matter because she loved hanging out with kids so much. Really? Wow.

I've also had great luck in two places online: Sittercity and Care. I prefer Sittercity but I'm not sure why. I've just had better luck there, I guess. When I first tried Sittercity I found a wonderful sitter, Tabitha. I was 6 months pregnant and already had an 18 month old boy who wanted to do anything except sit and listen. Mommy's swollen feet just weren't up for the chase so Tabitha was able to help me 2x a week. (Mommy was not feeling up to dating daddy too much at that point). Tabitha moved on to a more regular position as a nanny but now I have three other great gals in rotation (because when you need someone, you need someone). One of my sitters, Desiree is a volunteer fighfighter EMT who is in nursing school. Total tomboy, loves to play with my rambuncious boys. Another, Lindsey was president of her high school and is now studying PR at Boston University. She sits for us in the summers when she's back home (like now!). And the third, Allison (the one my friends stole) works at the CA Cartwheel Center and is studying to be an Occupational Therapist. 

These girls are more qualified to watch my kids than I am!

When you place an ad online, you can get many responses. Do yourself and them a favor and listen to your gut. You don't have to interview them all. If she seems flaky on the website, she's probably even worse in person. And if the picture she submitted shows her partying with her friends, you might consider passing on that one too. Do an initial phone interview before you meet in person. Make sure she can accomodate your scheduling needs. If you decide to have her come meet you, have her bring a casual resume with a list of references. You have to ask for this because most won't think to do this and time is a-wasting! it's a good idea to have the kids there while you talk to her so you can see how she interacts with them. It's a great sign if she offers to help you with whatever comes up while you're talking to her i.e. she helps distract one of the kids while you answer the phone or includes your child in a quick conversation. You want her to actually like children. The caretaker websites offer a list of suggested questions for the interview. Scan the ones that are important to you, like: what would you do if my child got hurt while you were watching them and how would you handle it if one brother tried to impale the other with his lightsaber? You know. The usual.

You can also try Jen's List, which is btw, an amazing, free, local resource for parents who like to do stuff with their family. Jen's List has a seperate section for nannies and babysitters referred by other Jen's List subscribers so you have a built-in reference and they're usually willing to talk to you and answer any questions you may have about their posting. And if they're taking the time to post, then you know they love her.

You'll know right away if a girl is a good fit for your family. Don't feel guilty if she's not. Just be polite and thank her for coming. During one of my babysitter searches, I couldn't win between the aspiring models who showed up to the interviews in stage make-up to the dominatrix who showed up in thigh-high stiletto boots. To play with kids, really(she looked normal in her picture) But this last round, every girl was a winner. 

In my babysitting job ads, I ask for someone who will play with the boys instead of watch TV with them. I ask for someone who is willing to do small chores around the house while the boys sleep. Things like, laundry, folding clothes, dishes, straightening stuff up and restoring the play area to it's original (or better) condition. All the girls that work for me, do all of this. Yes, they're college girls so you have to actually ASK them to do the things you want done. Don't set yourself up for disappointment by assuming it will just be done when you get home. Say things like, "I would so love it if you could fold the laundry when the boys go down." And, "It would really, really help me if you could do all the dishes and wipe the counters when you have time." You have to ask and if you ask with sweet enthusiasm, you'll feel better about it and so will they.

How much should you charge? And what should you have her do? Now this part is purelly a subjective call. Babysitters are asking outrageous amounts to play with your kids and watch TV while they sleep. For some reason, they think they are entitled to it because having them at your house is worth a lot of money. To them at least. I've found that the babysitters who ask for more than $12 an hour are usually too entitled to even do a good job for me. 

I pay most of my sitters $10 an hour. One gets $12. And they are happy with that. Yes, I usually give a little more at the end of the night, for instance, I round up from the hour in which we came home. Or just give her a $5 or $10 bump if it's close to the end of the hour. But the agreement is for $10 an hour and that's how you weed out the hard workers from the entitled ones. You don't want an entitled girl. No one is going to make a living from babysitting for you, it's just extra money so don't feel like you need to support them. And going out shouldn't run you $500 by the end of the night. It's a tough economy.

Check her references if you like her and if she shines, put her in your smartphone. That way you have a string of girls and you can know in minutes whether they are available or not the day or night you need them.

Those are the basics, at least, for me. Did I forget something?

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Secret Dates

Remember the drum circle beating inside your tummy, the feet running around your room trying to find the perfect outfit, the make-up so meticulously applied all in anticipation of that evening date with your special sweetheart? Then you married him. And all these years later, what happened? You still love him but now when you see him you’re running past each other, hair barely brushed (hoping you remembered to at least clean your teeth as you graze a fleeting kiss across his cheek), sweat pants hanging, yelling “Get off your little brother!” or screeching at your teenager not to forget her lunch.
            It’s not how you thought your love life would look before you married your Prince Charming. But between dishes and homework and carpools, what can we do? How do we go back and do we really want to?
Yes. Yes, you do want to go back and you really want to. Maybe you can’t be those swinging singles able to drop everything for a spontaneous out of town rendezvous  but you can still get excited, you can still appreciate one another and you can get those drums in your tummy beating again. But how? You may ask, between mouthfuls of a hastily put together lunch in the middle of the afternoon or right before finally clocking out at the end of the day after every person in your house has had their needs met.
I’ll tell you. Between my three active boys, two part-time jobs and a half-way put together house, my husband and I have gone past the conversations crowded with irritated undertones of “why are you doing it that way instead of the good way?” and into a space where hands linger on each other’s fingers as we walk by and kisses happen in the middle of the room, just because. 

We do something we call Secret Dates.

Yes, with each other. This is how it works: Every week one of us takes turns planning an evening and doesn’t tell the other what is in store for them until we arrive at our destination.

So simple. And yet completely transformative because it turns an otherwise blah blah occasion into an adventure full of suspense and intrigue. When’s the last time you had suspense and intrigue in your mommy life?

The last secret date we had was a lot of fun. It was his turn to plan and believe me, he’s getting better at this. First we went to a Peruvian Restaurant in Pasadena. This was improvised. He knew the area well enough to know there would be several options close to the actual venue where he was taking me. So Peruvian Choza Mama caught our eye. They welcomed us like family which I love in a restaurant. There was a live celloist/guitar player softly setting the scene in the spacious earth toned room, the drinks were local to the area and the food was dressed in savory spices.

Then we walked over to the main event. He led me to the Pasadena Playhouse to see a play by an author I enjoy, Mitch Albom. He called it Duck Hunter Shoots Angel

First of all, of all the things he could have picked, he picked a play. As I looked at the marquee, my mind started to jump up and down, clapping in glee.  
At one point in our relationship, this type of activity was about as far from his thing as things could get. We have had many "discussions" over the years about him putting more effort into making our relationship a priority, into me having to do "everything" when it came to making plans for us and why couldn't he just be more romantic in general? 
 So, here I am staring at this play poster feeling so loved and cared for. I looked up into his eyes and he smiled down at me with pride. "Honey, you picked a play?" I asked incredulously. And he tried to sound very matter of fact, it's a no big deal kind of thing when he said, "Of course. I knew you liked him and I thought it'd be fun." Yay! I hugged him and we went up the stairs and proceeded to laugh out loud in a theater small enough to see the faces of the actors and big enough to host a very talented cast. The play spoke to our basic desires for love and redemption in the same way that Albom's books managed to snag a part of our souls while we read them.

Last week, when I planned the date, we went to the Stonehaus for dinner and then to see my childhood favorite, Grease playing locally (which was a great change for us from having to schlep over the hill). But the point of these Secret Dates - besides the thrill of the surprise - is also supposed to be sharing what one of us really loves with the other. No arguments, no compromise because done is done.
So when he went out of his way to make me happy instead of satisfying his own needs, that to me was an unequivocal show of love. And it made me a better person because now I really want to find something that will make him as happy as he made me and if the competition is now about who can make the other happier, how can that be anything but good?

This just shows that even things that start out as mischevious acts of selfishness could blossom into beauty if watered with the right amount of love. Because this did indeed start out as a selfish way to get my needs met after we first started dating. I planned our first Secret Date when I decided he needed a haircut but we had just started dating and it was too soon to suggest such a drastic step. So, instead, I concocted this idea of taking him on a Secret Date which included us getting haircuts and mani/pedis. It's a wonder he continued to want to date me after that! But at least he knew what he was signing up for and I can definitely say after knowing each other for almost a decade, we have both become a better person as a result of our love for each other, warts and all.

So, now that you've heard our sappy tale, I'd love to know what you do to keep your relationship vital and exciting?