River Dad, The Babysitter Racket

Once you have children, the most primal, basic drive of every parent becomes the need to temporarily get away from them. This is why God invented babysitters — a unique breed of people who are paid money to come to your house, eat your food, watch your TV, and, if there’s time, entertain your child.

imagesNear as I can tell, it’s a pretty cushy job because as long as the child is in the same condition at the end of the sitting as they were at the beginning, you’re golden.

“Welcome home. Junior drew on the walls, screamed from behind his locked closet door for an hour, cried because you guys weren’t here for another hour, and played with his trains. I got him to eat a cracker and three cookies. But otherwise, he’s alive, and no longer my responsibility. How was the movie?”

That being said, I was surprised to discover how difficult it was to find a babysitter for my children. I called both Sleepy Hollow High School and Irvington High School, trolling for

sitters. See, it occurred to me that many babysitters are, in fact, teenaged girls. And where do you find hordes of teenaged girls? High School! I asked both schools if they had some sort of master “Students who want to sit at your house and play your Wii while you’re out” list. In both cases, the response was underwhelming. They thought they might. They forwarded me to someone who might know better. That person took my name and said they’d get back to me. I never heard from them again.

Finding the right babysitter is a thankless task. Each new sitter is like Schrodinger’s Cat — both the perfect sitter and your worst nightmare. Only the act of hiring them and leaving your kids in their care can determine the true quantum nature of the sitter. Worse yet, even when you find the one you want, the parent-sitter relationship is fleeting. They graduate, get a life, return to college, decide they no longer need the extra money, things like that. And the process begins all over again.

Wracking my brain for other ideas, I figured another place high school students congregate is at movie theaters on a Friday and Saturday night, especially when a big budget movie opens. (Well, that’s what we did when we were kids anyway.) I hung out in front of the theater on opening night for the Star Trek movie until I realized that, well, (1) I never wanted my kids watched by someone who could speak Klingon, and (2) no would-be sitter was going to be interested in getting a job from that creepy old guy hanging out alone in front of the movie theater.

Eventually, we found a babysitter. One we trusted. One who was reliable. One with no criminal record. The only problem was that, when all was said and done, Date Night was now costing close to $200. When I was a kid, every date started at the ATM. Now, as a parent, every date starts and ENDS at the ATM. The amount one pays for sitting services varies, of course, but I would have thought it would vary in proportion to the experience and skill level of the sitter. However, my investigation has led me to believe that the going rate for a sitter varies in proportion to the gullibility and desperation of the parents. Where one mother calmly told me she pays anywhere from $7 to $10 an hour, another admitted that her babysitter was running her $20/hour.

The question, I suppose, comes out to, what’s fair? How much should someone get paid to play with your kids? Or at night, what’s fair to pay someone who is going to spend one hour putting your kids to bed and three hours texting their boyfriend and messing up your TiVo settings?

In our case, we naively suggested a price, our sitter eagerly pounced on it, and we had our sitter. Suddenly, we were the envy of all. I found myself jealously guarding her from the attention of others.

River Dad: “My wife and I went to a concert in Central Park last night, it was fantastic.”

Not River Dad: “Oh? Who’d you get to watch your kids?”

River Dad: “….nobody. They… they were… we drugged them and put them in bed. Locked the house. They were safe. Still out cold when we got back, no harm done.”

When I made the mistake of praising our babysitter to another friend, he tried to barter for her, offering me pretty trinkets and bottles of wine. I quickly backed away, lest I fall to temptation, reveal her identity, and have him steal her from our service. (Which would only be fitting since we, in fact, stole her from another family in the first place.)

Unfortunately, when our sitter isn’t available, or when we need someone near the end of the month and we’re squeezing the last few pennies out of the latest paycheck, we’re back to square one — looking for a high school student on the cheap. I actually got one once, but every time we needed her she had finals, or a school play, or mono.

Here’s what needs to happen. First, the area high schools need to return phone calls from parents desperate for a date with their spouse or partner. Apart from that, they need to, at the beginning of the school year, put together lists of any and all teenagers who want to babysit. Then Irvington High and Sleepy Hollow High need to distribute these lists to Dows Lane, Tappan Hill, John Paulding, and William Morse. To the parents who NEED babysitting. It’s all about supply and demand. The high schools have the supply, and the elementary schools have the demand. Capitalism at its finest.

If they want, they can even call these lists the “River Dad Babysitting Lists.” I’m happy to lend my moniker and credibility to this endeavor. Just as long as I get a copy. Because if there’s one thing I hope you’ve learned from reading this column, it’s that I need some babysitters.

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About the Author: David Neilsen