Wednesday, August 20, 2008

How much are my kids worth?

Last night Texan Papa and I had some very special time alone: we sat in the ER for 5 hours. It is nothing serious - just a few issues with him that the doctor felt he could not diagnose in his office. I know, not exactly a date. But we were able to spend time together without being interrupted by "Yes I am", "No you're not!", "Move over!", "I'm bored...", "Give it to me!!!" etc. So off to the hospital we went. But not before securing a breathing and over-the-age-of-twelve human to observe our children. Said person will be called BABYSITTER.

Now, where we used to live in the Midwest, we had a few very reliable, very fun babysitters. Every one of them (we had 3 regulars) would play with the kids, feed them, get them to bed, give them baths, whatever. AND (you'll never believe this) we got them fairly easily because we were the best paying family in town. We gave them $5 per hour. For 3 kids. (Once the baby - Sally - came along I never felt comfortable leaving a newborn with a teenager who also had to watch the older ones.) Yes, I know what you're thinking: Where can I find them? How far do I have to drive to get them? Will they be my live-in nanny forever??? They were all good young women, we knew them from church and knew their parents well. We knew we had it good. Then, we had to go and move to Texas....

Once here I realized that I had to start all over finding a pool of candidates to choose from for temporary child care services. aka find someone who could stay with the kids while I went to go get a mani-pedi. Or go shopping at the market. Or simply hide in my car in the parking lot of Kohls so I can read a book. Yes I really have done that.

Finding a suitable babysitter is no easy task. There is a very short shelf life for a babysitter: what is the perfect age? Well, old enough to be responsible and sensible, yet young enough that they aren't garnering wages at the local burger-flipping joint higher than what you want to pay. And once they start to drive (usually) that is the very end of any babysitting altogether. I mean, picking up your BFF and driving to the mall to text each other from two separate dressing rooms beats watching a bunch of brats any day, right????

Babysitters can be found in many ways: word of mouth, teacher recommendations, teenage daughters of friends, church members, etc. But the tricky thing is that no matter where the teenager comes from, you have to give her a test run, or two, or five, before you can consider her your "regular" babysitter. This takes time, and money, and trust, and at least 30 minutes of prep time showing her where the band-aids are, where the list of emergency numbers are, where the fire-extinguisher is, what to do in an emergency, where the syrup of ipecac is, and by all means DO NOT SHOW HER WHERE YOUR EXPENSIVE PERFUME IS. I used to babysit when I was a teenager and I am definitely not saying that I liked to test out my client's perfumes.

So, back to last night. Texan Papa and I called BABYSITTER at the very last minute and yea! she was available! So I rushed over to her house to pick her up. One thing in her favor is that she is very close to our house. However, I don't think her geography plays into her skills as a babysitter. Just sayin'. Anyhoo, she got in the car and is very sweet, and funny, but kinda quiet. I think she is quiet because she was very busy checking her cell phone for text messages. Every. Single. Minute. As I jabbered away in the car she seemed to laugh at all the appropriate pauses in the conversation. But was she laughing at me or did her BFF just text her about the new you-tube video that is so fly! I mean phat! I mean... crap I am so old I don't even know the proper slang terms anymore.

Once home I gave her all the instructions - dinner? pizza. It's in the oven, which will automatically turn on and turn off. Just take it out with a potholder and slice it, please. Food for the BABYSITTER? I told her she could have anything she wanted and I displayed 437 bags of potato chips and a fridge full of soda. I gave her the emergency digits and we were off!

After a few hours at the hospital I called to check on her. How was the baby? [I must interject that Sally has never done well with babysitters. Part of the reason I joined "Silver's" gym was to get her used to being in a babysitter situation, even if it was only for 30 minutes at a time. So I knew that Sally would give this babysitter a run for her money.] "Oh, she's fine. She's in her bed right now. I think she's crying." You THINK? How long has it been since you checked on her??? Well, no matter. In her crib is safe. So, make sure the older kids aren't murdering each other and I'll be home in a few hours.

Later, closer to the time we were supposed to be getting the lab results but really we'd still be held hostage for a while longer, I gave another call to home. Our older daughter Peppermint Patty proudly told me, "Mommy, I put Sally to bed!" Okay, I know she's very helpful and like a little mommy, but what's up with that? "So, Peppermint Patty, did the BABYSITTER change her diaper since we left?" She replied, "Oh, I changed it before I put her to bed." Hmm, what do we have the babysitter for anyway?

When we finally returned home an hour after kids' bedtimes, all 3 older ones were still awake. And all the dirty dishes were in the sink but the pizza pan and leftover pizza were still on the counter. Board games out. Kids not in PJ's. And apparently BABYSITTER had let Charlie Brown use her cell phone to learn how to text all his friends. Um, he's 7 by the way. Plus, next to the highchair there was baby food on the floor and wall.

So, tired and thankful me paid the babysitter $40 for 5 hours work. I have no idea if this is the appropriate amount or not but she did get them into the shower and she did put up with a crying baby most of the night. Is $8 per hour the right amount to pay a babysitter for 4 kids (3 potty-trained and one screaming baby)? ? I almost feel cheap asking. I would pay the Sears repairman $65/hour to fix my washer but I flinch at the idea of paying a sitter $10/hour. And if they break I can't buy new ones. Further. what should I expect from her for that amount? Could I expect more if I paid her more? What if I weren't such a wuss and I just asked her to clean up the dinner dishes and stay off her cell phone...


Bridgett said...

Our "neighborhood" babysitter, who watches all these dang kids at one time or another (and has two backups for us if she's busy), is $2.50/hour per child. So I pay her $5 plus an incredible tip because she entertains, gets them to bed, feeds them, doesn't use the computer (Mike would know), doesn't have a boyfriend, and drives herself here.

she's a senior this year. We are already panicking.

Anonymous said...

Dude. Your honesty speaks right to my heart.
You just told my story.
I pay $7 / hr for three kids. But, I have a HARD time keeping sitters. So, obviously, I'm paying too little.
I think $10/ hr is too much. Especially for someone with little to no conversational skills who is plastered to her cell phone.

It's your money, sista.
Tell her that the cell phone needs to be put away while she's watching your kids, or you won't call her again.
You can say it with a kind smile. I know you can.

You're not cheap for asking.
It sounds like MO and TX are totally different babysitting planets.

Angie @ KEEP BELIEVING said...

I'm gonna link this tomorrow cuz I also have similar questions. I wonder what people pay and if I am cheap or not. I think it depends on the area you are in and what people are paying. My philosophy has pretty much always been that I want to pay enough for them to want to come back. But I want to like the sitter enough for me to WANT them to come back.


Sabrina said...

We suffer from the same problem, but funny thing we pay the same, but in reality minum wage is a lot less and they always have taxes taken out. We use the local colleges job site to search for our "nannies" (or they like to be called) and we always include in the postings cleaning and cooking is a must!!! Overall the teen age and younger college students are the hand fed generation and they have no idea how to do much of anything, so I give ours the once over when they arrive so they know what is expected, not that it always happens... My 7 year old is the eyes and ears, if you know what I mean. Boys, phone conversations, ect.

Cy said...

It's been a long time since I used a babysitter. But one thing I remember I did was to pay average (3.00 hr) pay and let them know if they accomplished what I asked there would be a nice tip "mailed" to them. I did that to have a chance to check with the kids about the sitter. If all checked out I'd send a nice tip in the mail with a cool card. If I felt a tip wasn't deserved then I didn't have that sitter again. It probably would be strange these days but hey it worked for me- back in the day. Two girls were great and I tipped them $10.00 bucks then but today that would be more like $20.00.

Lisa@verybusymomwith4 said...

It is so hard to get a good sitter--I have noticed in our area kids are much more, let's say, 'entitled' and don't do much for more cash than I would ever think. So when we actually get a decent sitter we pay about $12-$15 an hour (this for like you three potty trained kids and a screaming baby) plus regular bonuses otherwise we lose her. And you're right the window is short--the best sitters are the ones who DO lots of stuff like dance, soccer, student council, etc. because if they do lots of stuff in school, they usually do lots of stuff with the kids BUT if they are busy at school, they are usually too busy to sit by the time they are juniors.
I am not picky about the state of the house--I'd rather the kids be clean, nurtured and happy. I know it can be hard to do both esp. as a teen but oh those times when the girl can do it all--we had ONE ever. She moved :(
I'm sorry about your sitter--you paid her what she deserved and then some.

Anna See said...

I pay between $7 and $10. I hate it when they leave the pizza out! What's up with that? One of our sitters cooked one frozen pizza from a 3 pack and left the other two on the counter to thaw out. Ugh.