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Adventures in Babysitting

A seasoned sitter meets her match


Published July 1, 2012 at 4:00 a.m.

After graduating from high school last summer, I considered myself a babysitting expert. I'd taken care of kids who ranged in age from infancy to tweenhood. I knew how to change a diaper, could wrangle the squirmiest of toddlers into a pair of clothes and had developed a relatively solid bank of voices to use for story time. Babysitting, to me, was one of the best jobs to have; basically, I was getting paid to play. It doesn't get much better than that.

So I was beyond excited when Mr. and Mrs. X asked me to care for their two boys while they went to a wedding in Boston. I'd never been alone with two kids for an entire weekend before, but I was confident that I was up to the challenge.

I arrived at 7:30 Friday evening with a smile on my face. Hayden, an energetic 3-year-old, greeted me with a high-velocity hug when I walked in the door. His brother, mellow but strong-willed Max, 1, was already asleep in the crib next to his parents' bed. We were off to a good start.

But the situation deteriorated quickly. It was a summer night, so it was still light out, which meant that getting Hayden to sleep was nearly impossible. Bedtime was a process of small trade-offs. "No, you can't sleep with the truck that makes noise; yes, you can sleep with the matchbox car. No, we can't keep the lights on; yes, I'll stay with you. No, it's too late for a snack; yes, you can go to the bathroom." Eventually, the balance tipped toward no: "No, you can't run around the room; no, you can't keep flipping the light switch; no, you can't go to the bathroom, you just went to the bathroom; no, we need to be quiet because your brother is sleeping. No, no, no."

At some point, he transitioned from nestling happily against my chest to jumping around the room screaming. I uncertainly took on the role of stern parent stand-in and told him that if he didn't calm down and go to sleep, I would have to close the door and leave him alone. This was a common practice for his parents; they'd installed a cuff on his doorknob so that he couldn't open it at bedtime. Normally, I'd just smile, stay put and wait for his parents to deal with him, but they wouldn't be back until Sunday. I knew I'd have to follow through. He screamed again, so I shut the door.

"NOOOOOOO!" he shrieked.

I curled up in the middle of the hallway and rested my forehead on the cool wood floor. I can't handle this, I thought. Mr. and Mrs. X won't be back for another — I looked at my watch, calculating — 40 hours. I took a deep breath, wrapped my arms around my head and closed my eyes.

Thump. I looked up, thinking I might be hearing things. Thump. The nightmarish sound came from Mr. and Mrs. X's bedroom, where Max was sleeping. I apprehensively opened the door, and there was Max, staring at me from the floor with an empty bottle of milk in his hand, ready to hit the door again. Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god, I was mentally hyperventilating. Max had never climbed out of his crib before. Its mesh walls were nearly as tall as he was. I hadn't seen him since Mrs. X put him to bed almost three hours before, but I was sure this was somehow my fault. Meanwhile, Hayden was still screaming.

I broke down and called the Xs, who were still en route to Boston. "Max escaped!" I reported to Mr. X. He calmly explained that Max had probably MacGuyver'd his way out of his crib by climbing onto their bed, and told me to move the crib away from it. Duh!

By this point, Max was playing quietly on the floor; I'd caved and let his brother out, too. Before hanging up, the Xs said good night to Hayden and assured me that I'd be fine.

After that, Max went down easily. Hayden snuggled in with me that night, and the next. The rest of the weekend went smoothly, but my confidence was shaken. Parenting is hard. I spent a weekend completely focused on two other people, one of whom couldn't talk. I barely slept, held an adult conversation or properly fed myself for days. I didn't even manage to find time for a shower. How do people do this, I thought, every single day?

When I left, Hayden gave me a big hug and a kiss. Max waved good bye. At home, I gave my mom a long, tired hug and tried to tell her how much I appreciate what she's done for me. I also told her that, as much as I love babysitting, I'm not ready to have my own kids ... yet.

This article was originally published in Seven Days' monthly parenting magazine, Kids VT.