The 40 Year Old Bat Mitzvah

The Babysitters Club

Posted in personal growth, soulfish by Juliet on June 3, 2010

We moved to Temecula in 2003 and since at the time our daughter was 18 months old, one of our first orders of business was to pinpoint which neighbors had kids of babysitting age.

Chelsea was a friendly, quiet girl who lived on the corner of our street. Her dad, a mailman, was one of the first people we met. Her mom was shy and sweet and spent a lot of time around the house.

That was 2003. Now, in 2010, as Chelsea applies to college, I am finally really sitting down to do the math. She was ELEVEN when she began sitting for us.

Though I was a little younger than that when I began babysitting in the 70s, it’s practically unheard of in our panic-stricken world now to find tweens earning pocket cash as sitters.

It’s a shame, because it’s the perfect set-up.

Chelsea had completed a Red Cross babysitting class (which, I might add, is offered for kids who are eleven, so the Red Cross, who are experts in safety, seem to think it’s all right…)

All of that safety information was still fresh in her mind. The first time I had her watch Eva, she took her to the park for an hour so I could run to the dentist. “Is she wearing sunscreen yet or should I put it on her?” she asked.

Eleven year olds aren’t driving yet. They aren’t hyper-social yet. Back in 2003, eleven year olds didn’t have cell phones or laptops.

Eleven year olds still like kids. Chelsea would arrive at our house with sketchbooks she’d made for Eva to color.

If anything happens, the young sitter can call me. Or she can call her own parents. When Chelsea first began babysitting, her parents always stayed home and her dad walked over to check on her every hour. It doesn’t get much better than that.

I really wish more girls began babysitting at age eleven. For us, it built Chelsea’s confidence and mine too. (Plus my girls love babysitters. Only Chelsea plays hide-and-seek and endless games of Memory with them. Recently I heard that Chelsea softens the butter for eight seconds in the microwave when she makes them toast. I never do that.)

When eleven year olds babysit, they learn:

  • confidence
  • responsibility
  • self-sufficiency
  • common sense
  • empathy
  • creativity
  • problem-solving
  • how to interact with adults
  • how to earn money and budget

Most of all, though, everyone involved — babysitter, babysittee, and parent — learns that nobody needs to panic.  Life is okay.  We’re all safe.

So many parents telegraph fear and worry to their kids constantly.  Our children are on the receiving end of a 24/7/365 low-frequency background hum of distress.

The noise tells them:

  • you can’t do it yourself, and if you do manage to do it yourself, it’s going to be wrong
  • you can’t get by on your own
  • you can’t figure it out
  • don’t even think about trying to figure it out because if you do, you might mess up, and if you mess up, something horrible and irrevocable will happen
  • if you fall, you’ll never recover

To illustrate how babysitting makes it better, I’ll share a story of something that happened a couple of years ago, when the girls were around two and six.  To really understand this story, you need to know that we are big believers in Love and Logic, a simple, practical parenting philosophy that creates self-sufficient, trustworthy, confident kids, and (optimally) relaxed “consultant” parents.  A core principle of L&L is to empower kids to solve their own problems.

Chelsea watched the girls while Scott and I went to a dinner party.  We sat in our friends’ shady backyard nibbling on appetizers while the hostess set out trays of Cuban food.  Scott had just filled my glass with Argentinian syrah when my cell phone rang.

Turns out, the girls discovered that since I’d just cleaned the Pergo floors, they could use the couch cushions like sleds and race down our long downstairs hallway on their bellies.  Eva wiped out and hit the wall, knocking two teeth loose.

“There’s blood!  It looks bad!”

Chelsea sounded scared.  I was too, but this was my moment.

I calmly (I fake it pretty well when I try hard) led her through the steps of wiping away enough blood to inspect Eva’s mouth to determine that no teeth had actually fallen out.  They were loose-ish, but not in danger of coming out.  (If that ever happens, CALL AN AMBULANCE because they can save the tooth but only if the child gets emergency help within 30 minutes at the very outside.  The best place to “store” the tooth while on the way to help is to push it, roots down, back into the hole and hold it there with a milk-dampened paper towel.  This is from the dentist, who knows my kids are adventuresome.  I sincerely pray I never need to use this advice and that none of you do either.)

Once Chelsea knew that I wasn’t mad at her (since the girls had been sliding on the cushions when she arrived so it was an accident that just as easily could have happened on my watch instead of hers), and that I trusted her to soothe Eva and use her best judgment, and that a little blood never killed anyone, Scott and I went back to our dinner party.

I have never been so glad to have been holding a glass of syrah in my shaky hands at just the perfect moment, because I really needed that drink, but I know we made the right decision.

It was good for Eva, to see the natural consequences of doing something a little bit dangerous, and to see that even if you sometimes get hurt, the world doesn’t end.  Sure, it’s no fun, but everyone lived to tell the tale (and by the way, those teeth re-tightened up in their sockets just fine, until Eva lost them a year later on their own time frame.)

It was good for Chelsea, to have reinforcement that she’s been trained well, that she’s a good kid with good common sense and a solid head on her shoulders, and that I trust her.

And it was good for us (especially me, the worrywart of the family) to see that even if you leave your kids with a sitter, and even if they do happen to get hurt, it’s not the end of the world.

And then there’s the money. The New York Times ran this editorial (called, very a propos for Temecula, I might add), “How to Pay for Your Own Uggs.”)

Babysitting is one of the best ways for tweenagers to earn a little extra money. Along with making it themselves, they learn to save, budget, and make decisions based on dollars they can quantify in terms of their own time and hard work. There’s no better lesson than that, in my opinion.

So bring back the eleven year old babysitters, I say. Thanks to the effect of California’s budget crisis on financial aid, Chelsea will be around at least one more year, but I’ll need a fresh pool of tweenagers after she moves on.

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2 Responses

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  1. Tammy McLeod said, on June 12, 2010 at 6:18 PM

    Ironic that I stumbled on your post as I’m heading out to lunch and putting my 11 yr old in charge. I’m not going far. He has a phone and I won’t be gone long. And I agree that in addition to making a little pocket change, he is becoming responsible.

    • Majd said, on April 14, 2013 at 8:19 AM

      nice tips you got here. mothers must have time for their own pesornal edification and these tips would be great for any mother so that she can find time all to her self. the father and kids would gain too if they spent more time together.Paul recently posted..

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