I was a mere ten years old when the movie Adventures in Babysitting came out, and I remember thinking it was the most hilarious things I’d ever seen. After my mom took me to see it, I begged her to take me again and I quoted lines from the film on the playground with my friends. Little did I know that more than twenty years later, I’d be at the helm of my own little babysitting adventure.
My husband and I both leave for work very early. Both of our high schools start at 7:30 am, and our kids’ elementary school doesn’t start until 8:45 am, which means we are without childcare for a good two hours every morning. We don’t have any family members in the area and the before-school care starts at 7:30, so we’ve had to hire a morning sitter each day. We have several friends that have gone this route, so when we started our search in the summer of 2012 when our daughter was about to start Kindergarten, we anticipated a quick and easy process.
We listed an ad on a few childcare service websites, and the responses started flooding in. While we stated explicitly in the ad that we were a two-dad multiracial family and were actively seeking candidates of a diverse background, all of the applicants were white women. It was difficult to discern who to respond to and which ones to interview, so we selected a few, based primarily on the ridiculous criteria of cute photos on their profile page and a low number of grammatical errors in their initial email. By mid-July, we had conducted about a half dozen interviews, checked references, and selected a woman in her forties who seemed to strike an immediate rapport with our kids, so we headed off for our family vacation thinking things were all set for the fall.
About a week later, the woman quit. She had found a full-time gig that wouldn’t allow her to work for us from 6:45-8:45 in the morning. We hadn’t been particularly bowled over by any of the other women we had interviewed, but we decided to go with our second choice, a twenty-one year old girl I’ll call Miss A from a nearby working class town who had grown up in her mother’s home daycare and presented as one of the most professional of the potential sitters we met with.
School started, and we set about the business of acquainting Miss A with both our home and our children. Our kids are really pretty easy going in the morning; they get out of bed without complaint at a reasonable time, they get themselves dressed with very little assistance, and they eat just about anything for breakfast. Right away though, we started to see some signs that perhaps we had been a little too hasty in our hiring practices.
My husband takes the kids to gymnastics straight from pick up on Tuesdays, and more than once, he noticed that our daughter had followed the path of several Hollywood starlets and gone commando to school. I mentioned this to Miss A, and asked that she simply make sure the kids had proper undergarments on. The undies usually made their way to school on our daughter’s rear after that.
Then my kids started getting up really early. They usually wake up between 7:00 and 7:30, well after my 6:45 departure, and they were getting out of bed around 6:30. I tried sending them back to bed, and then one of them let slip that when they got up too early, Miss A let them watch TV. Our kids definitely get their fair share of television, but we had specifically asked Miss A not to use the TV as a childcare tool. Her explanation was that she just didn’t know what to do with them when they woke up early. I gave her several options, including telling them, “Go back to bed.”
A few days later, my son who was in preschool up the street from our house said that they had been running late one day and Miss A put them both in her car and drove them to school. Without car seats. We were pretty much beside ourselves, but Miss A explained that she had driven them the one block to school but that she had used the car seats she had in her car for her afternoon nannying job. After a close inspection of her locked car before I left for school that day, her story sounded feasible.
Then about three weeks into the school year, we noticed our daughter’s hair getting more and more ragged. In case you are someone who is reading this blog for the first time, our daughter is black and has beautiful thick, coarse African American hair, the type of hair that requires a lot of care and time. My white husband is the primary hair stylist in our family, and the morning includes a fairly minimal hair care routine. Miss A simply wasn’t willing or capable of following the simple instructions of spraying a bit of detangler in our daughter’s hair and rubbing some grease on her scalp. Our daughter’s school picture that year is an embarrassment for us as adoptive parents, the type of thing that is Exhibit A in the trial to deny non-black parents from adopting black children.
Then in late September, Miss A texted me one morning at 6:00 am to say that her little brother had accidentally put her keys in her mom’s purse and her mother had taken her keys to work. She was stranded at home with no way to get to us. I scrambled to get coverage for my first class, and got the kids to school myself. Miss A became a serial texter, sending at least one a week that said something like, “stuck behind a bus, may be a few min late” or “there is an accident and it’s held me back about 15 min.”
With all this going on, we still weren’t sure whether we could go through firing Miss A and finding a replacement during the school year. She was nice to the kids at least, and we definitely wanted someone who would make sure our kids felt cared for. And we were total newbies to the nannying world. Maybe this was what all nannies were like?
Then on Columbus Day, about five weeks into the school year, Miss A sent me a text: “I have some unfortunate news. I will actually be leaving. My aunt, who is a single mother just had twins & she really is sick and needs help with the babies, so I was asked to move in and help. I am so sorry. My last day will be Friday.” So not only was Miss A giving barely four days’ notice, she was doing so VIA TEXT. I wrote back, “Wow…We’re sorry to hear that. We’re obviously scrambling here to get a replacement. If there’s any way you could give us more than four days’ notice that would be awesome. We can talk in the morning.” Little did I know it at the time, but her penultimate communication with us was her texted response: “I’m so sorry for this. If it wasn’t family, I wouldn’t be doing this because I honestly feel so horrible. I’m so sorry for the inconvenience. We can talk more in the morning, but I really don’t think I can give any more time. I’m all she really has. I don’t expect you to understand, but please know that I am terribly sorry.”
I immediately began my damage control, re-opening our ad online and pouring through the responses we had received the previous summer, particularly the ones that had come in after we had hired Miss A. I sent an email to a few of these late applicants, and one–Miss D–responded immediately. I spoke with her on the phone and she told me that since I needed someone so quickly she was happy to come by that same night.
When we first set eyes on Miss D, we were agog. The car pulled up and out stepped a beautiful black woman in her late twenties with a gorgeous smile and perfect naturally braided hair. I remember thinking, “Please let her be perfect. Please let her be perfect.” And she was. Miss D had recently moved to the area from Brooklyn because her boyfriend had a job up here. She had grown up in St. Lucia, and her infectiously optimistic demeanor was accentuated by the lovely lilt of her accent. We literally felt as thought the Caribbean Mary Poppins had just walked through our door and into our lives. We checked her references and hired her later that night; I was to speak with Miss A the next morning and then Miss D would transition in (as Miss A transitioned out) the following day.
The next morning, I readied myself for work, and 6:45 came and went. At 6:55, I texted Miss A: You’re on your way right? No response. At 7:05, I called her. No answer. I quickly made arrangements with a good friend to cover my first block class. Several more attempts to call Miss A went straight to voice mail. When the kids woke up around 7:30, it was pretty clear that she wasn’t showing up. I got the kids off to school, and headed in to school to teach.
Miss D was ready to go the following day, so I called Miss A to tell her that I was trying one last time to reach her, that I was concerned about her but that we had made arrangements with another caregiver. We also paid a few hundred bucks to change the locks on the house since Miss A still had a key.
Miss D started, and we immediately recognized what we had been missing. She genuinely cared for our kids but demanded their respect. She laughed with them and kept them well fed. She even asked my husband to take our daughter’s hair out so she could restyle it from time to time, creating beautiful new hairdos that taught my husband a thing or two about making our daughter feel as beautiful as we know she is.
About two days later, I wrote a scathing review of Miss A that I planned to post on the caregiver website where she had first learned of our position. I sent a draft of it to her via email and told her that if I didn’t hear from her in 24 hours that I would be posting the review online. Shortly afterward, I heard from her for the last time.
In a long and lamenting email, she described how the story about her aunt and the twins was all a big lie. She said that an ex-boyfriend had been stalking her for weeks and she quit our job because she feared he was following her to our home and that our kids were in danger. The morning she didn’t show up, she claimed he had actually kidnapped her and held her in his home against her will, taking away her keys and her cell phone. She had only just recently escaped his evil clutches. My husband and I did the only thing possible in that situation. We responded with a thank you for touching base and wishing her well in her continued safety. We never heard from her again.
The rest of the school year was a dream. Miss D couldn’t have been better for our kids. If she had taken our kids on magical flights of fancy singing “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” all the way, we wouldn’t have been surprised. At the end of the school year when I went on a nine-day business trip, she even moved into our guest room to provide round-the-clock support for my husband.
Miss D moved to Bridgeport this summer with her boyfriend and she’s expecting her own bundle of joy this fall. We’re heading down for the baby shower in a few weeks, and we could only be happier for her if she was still local and able to care for our kids in the morning. This all of course meant that we had to re-open our ad and find a new sitter this summer.
We went through the same rigamarole of the previous year, although this time stated more plainly in our ad that we hoped to find someone who had experience with African American hair; this elicited a bevy of responses from well-meaning white women who claimed that although they didn’t have any experience with black hair, they did know how to French braid! We realized that we needed to do everything we could to find a woman of color to care for our kids in the morning, not only for the obvious hair-care reasons, but also because Miss D had been such a daily reminder to our kids in this homogeneously white town that adult women of color can be beautiful and happy and all around amazing. By the end of the summer, we had three candidates of color: two older women who would have to travel nearly an hour for our two-hour job, and a senior in college whose future goals included opening a preschool. We opted for the latter, and Miss T became our new morning sitter.
Miss T was fine, but we quickly realized everyone who followed Miss D was going to seem pathetic. Miss T was capable, but wasn’t familiar enough with cooking to know she didn’t need the heavy-duty Kitchen-aid mixer to whip up some Bisquick pancakes. Our daughter went to school in underwear, but a few times they were backwards. Miss T seemed to enjoy our kids, but she wasn’t overly warm with them. Our kids talked about how she was nice, but they hard a hard time remembering her name.
Then in week three of the school year, Miss T gave her notice via email. She said she needed to focus on her nascent career and get a full-time preschool job. She was giving us a generous four weeks’ notice, but we were still upset. Are we doomed to lose a babysitter every fall?
We’ve reopened our ad and set up a few interviews, but again we’re struggling with the lack of racial diversity in the applicant pool. This summer, I literally scrolled through every profile page on the caregiver website we are using and sending emails out to anyone who looked vaguely ethnic. I know that hiring a white sitter will not be the end of the world and that it’s possible we could find a nurturing person who understands the specific needs of our kids that are owed to the color of their skin. At the same time, it’s difficult to find out who those people are because the minute we bring up race in these interviews, the women are well-schooled enough by our society to immediately interrupt and let us know–usually implicitly–that race doesn’t matter to them. And that’s the problem, race should matter to them, and it should matter most to those who are a part of the majority. We’re often too busy educating our neighbors and strangers to also have to train the person who is responsible for our children’s daily well-being. We’re already doing that yearly with our children’s teachers, most of whom are already well-versed in racial identity development theories thanks to the uber-educated expectations of this suburban town in which we live.
At this point, we have three more weeks to find someone to replace Miss T. I know that we’ll likely never find another Miss D, but I’m hopeful that she might still be out there, waiting to ride the breeze to our front door via her parrot-headed umbrella. After all, parrots are kind of Caribbean right?