Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Sitter

It is summer, so my kids are not in school. Some years we have done camp, but this year, for a variety of reasons -- our travel schedule, the kids lack of interest -- we got a sitter to cover as many days as possible so that I could work (write a few articles, prep classes, proofread and index a manuscript). We hired a teacher from the kids' school so we already knew her and trusted her. It is so great having a sitter! She comes at 8 and leaves at 4PM. She takes the kids to the pool or a beach, the park, the zoo, bowling, and/or plays with them here in the house. She gives them lunch, and makes sure they clean up whatever toys they get out. They like her, she likes them, and we are all happy.

Part of me feels guilty, of course. It is weird to pay someone to take care of your kids when you are in the house, as I often am. And I regret a little that they are having fun with her instead of me. I think occasionally that I should be taking them to the beach more. But I also know that I am not always fun. Since I am not paid to take care of them, and have other stuff to do in the house besides take care of them -- like laundry, cooking, grocery shopping, cleaning, etc., as well as my own academic work -- I know that I would not spend 8 hours being a nice mom, but would drag them on an errand or fill the days with "hang on"s and "just a sec"s. So I try to make the time we do have pleasant -- knowing that I have been able to get most of my work out of the way so I can be a nice mom when they are with me. On weekends, in the afternoon, and at night, we do lots of fun things and usually with my husband, too.

But mostly I feel jealous that I can't have a sitter all the time. Or at least for the crucial gaps in our childcare schedule -- Someone to take care of the kids on sick days, so my husband and I don't have to take a day off work. Someone to cover school vacations. Someone for Monday holidays and the "teacher conference" days. I don't want one all the time. I like dropping the kids at school and picking them up. I think it is important that I, or my husband, is with them when they do homework. I like meeting their friends when they have playdates. But I'd love to have access when I need a sitter. Without family nearby, and living in a city, where we do not have neighbors we can count on, or even know that well, we are somewhat isolated and self-reliant when it comes to childcare. We don't have the money to have a full-time sitter or to keep one on retention. So, we usually patch things together -- a sitter or camp usually covers us for about 3/4 of the summer. And that still costs a lot! We take a lot of days off to cover the rest of summer, when inevitably our sitter becomes unavailable, or camps end (they still operate on some assumption that parents will be in the Hamptons for August!). I start teaching weeks before they go back to school. It is all the scheduling issues -- the days off from school, sick days, vacations -- that make our life as parents difficult and that make it especially difficult to have two working parents. Every summer, I find myself thinking that maybe next summer I will somehow be able to be a full-time mom, just for the summer. This means no writing, no work beyond the most basic prep for teaching. It means giving up a lot of what I do and who I am. But, until they get old enough to be independent in the summer -- unimaginable now -- it will pull on me and urge me away from work.


  1. Thanks for this; good to hear from someone with a similar experience. Having lost nearly 6 days of work in the last couple of weeks because of kid illness and days off of camp, I share your on-call sitter all the time fantasy!

  2. When I was on leave a few years ago writing my book, I became absolutely obsessed with time. In Spring, my kids kept getting sick, or having vacation days, and I kept counting -- 8 days lost, 10 days lost, three weeks lost. I wouldn't let myself have lunch or coffee with anyone because I was so afraid of losing productive time. And I really resented that everything fell on me -- but I could not make the argument that my husband should take a day off when a kid was sick, since I was home anyway (despite the fact that I was writing.) He offered, but it did not make sense. Still, I wished I had a normal job that looked more like real work.