I'm a big believer in babysitters. Since the girls have been infants, I've had a stream of ladies of all ages coursing through our house. Sometimes, probably, my vetting process has been a bit lackadaisical. I've used teen-aged girls for a last minute date that have resulted from polling my current sitter, then her friends, then her friends' friends and if I'm desperate enough, her friends' friends' friends. That unfamiliar girl would, like everyone else, get a five-minute rundown of the bedtime routine before Ben and I sailed out the door. If the girl was taller than the kids and appeared to be breathing, she had herself a job. I'm very trusting of the universe. Some would fault me for this but as a way of life, I prefer it to the alternative.
I've regretted that liberal policy exactly once. We hired one of the girls' preschool teachers, a woman who dressed like she was fourteen but turned out, shockingly, to be forty. She was great with the girls, a bit stunted with the adults (again, she seemed fourteen) but we figured this was one of our safer choices. In this litigious age, it isn't easy to get past the background check when applying for a teaching job.
This woman, I'll call her Melissa, babysat for us at least once a week for months. Finally, once she had proven herself capable, we decided to go away for the night. We went to Monterey, had a most excellent time walking the shore, slurping down seafood and counting sea otters and returned to find the girls happy, well-fed and reasonably clean.
A couple of weeks later, Melissa was missing from preschool. One day, two days, a week, two weeks. Finally, I heard through the mommy channel that she was in the psych ward and wouldn't be returning to work. While I felt for her, having experienced depression myself, the load of responsibility I had given her made me a little nauseous.
While Melissa was clearly a mistake, there have a been a number of girls and women that have been gems. We met Monica when she was fifteen, volunteering at that very same preschool. She was our regular girl for four years until she left for college this fall. Even with the great distance, we still see her. She came to San Jose and helped one week when Ben was gone. We expect to see a lot of her this summer.
Kelly is a new acquisition. We poached her from the neighbors. She's with them every weekday afternoon but come evenings and weekends, she's ours. She's twenty-three, an undergrad at San Jose State.
When I first starting hiring these young babysitters, I was afraid of them. Teenagers, probably because they're so intimidated, are intimidating. They're not kids, they're not adults, what do you do with them? How do you talk to them? And about what? I was haunted by my own awkward adolescence. I think I was, like Monica, like Kelly, mature and able to talk to adults quite easily, but I remember that teenage world, so anarchic, so sarcastic, so hurt.
The girls broke me of that fear. As I got to know Monica, it became clear there was a full person in residence. Yes, young, but a complicated, interesting, intelligent being. One with whom I had a lot in common. One who, actually, reminded me of my own nascent self all those years ago. Over the years, we've covered all the topics, both on her end and on mine, and found a lot of shared territory.
Kelly is probably the person I can most easily talk to in San Jose. Yes, she has bleach blond hair, isn't afraid of eyeshadow and drives a sparkling white muscle car, not my usual type. But she gets my jokes, unlike the vast majority of the Silicon Valley population. We can chat easily about jeans, how to quickly lose five pounds, and dive into heavier topics, trauma at the hands of boys, losing a loved one. It struck me one afternoon while we were watching the kids ride bikes around the cul-de-sac, chortling over her report of her uncle's custom t-shirt ("BITCHASS BITCHES!!"), that had I actually conceived a child with that greasy playwright in college, that kid would be about Kelly's age. It was both a little alarming (where did the time go?) but also kind of comforting (you find your friends where you find your friends - end of story).
On the surface, Monica and Kelly appear to have little in common but their age and gender. Kelly is blonde, bubbly, a sexy petite tom-boy who's passionate about baseball. Monica is tall, dark, intellectual, a bit broody, and looks like a young Tina Fey. They have one vital statistic in common. They both lost a member of their family when they were teenagers. Monica, her mom, when she was thirteen. Kelly, her brother, when she was fifteen. I lost my father when I was twenty-three, certainly no teenager but still young, still not fully formed. I think these losses lent each of us a certain gravity, something you don't generally see in young people. It gave us a terrible understanding of the cycle of life. We saw that, oh my god, bad things could happen. Bad things could happen to people we really needed. That shared experience, maybe, is what has really bonded me to them. Until you've lost someone you can't do without, you're something of a virgin. You haven't reached your depth. It's reassuring to find other sullied souls.
And while these women have become my friends, they're also beloved by my children. These ladies clearly love being with the kids and the kids can feel that, can sense when someone's honestly interested in the newly-completed unicorn drawing, when someone really does want to see them hop on one foot. They know when they are being enjoyed instead of merely being attended as they enjoy themselves.
I love these two women. Maybe because I see myself in them. Maybe just because they're cool people and cool people of any age are, well, cool. I'm glad they got me past my ageism. And I hope they're in our lives a good, long time. I'd like to see them mother their own kids one day.