Tuesday, December 15, 2009

keep your hands off my baby

When Big was six months old, we decided to get a babysitter. I was a very “hands on" mother, and giving up those few precious hours to go to dinner or see a movie seemed shallow and unnecessary at time. After all, what could possibly be more important than the care and feeding of our little baby? In the interest of my relationship with my husband, I started looking for the perfect sitter. I began by asking other mothers, friends and family. The few names I came up with had serious strings- “she doesn’t drive”, "she doesn’t speak any English”, "she has to bring her 18 month old with her”.  One mother I spoke to suggested Craigslist as an option. I tried to mask my horror, as I had spent several hours one night unable to tear myself away from the “casual encounters " page. It was some of the most graphic and seamy inquiries for every type of sex imaginable that I had ever seen.
 Despite that aspect of Craigslist, the woman I spoke with had found several great options for sitters with a well worded ad in the childcare section. I figured it was worth a try, but I knew my husband wasn’t going to agree. He was the paranoid, neurotic Chicken Little to my instinctual yet controlling Que Sera Sera. We were very “Dharma and Greg” in a lot of ways and had many differing opinions on how to navigate child rearing. My notions usually prevailed, since I spent most of my time with Big, but once in awhile he would have moments of brilliance.
His favorite example of this was in regards to the little tea set she got for Christmas when she was one. He insisted we remove the little cutlery from the set as it posed, in his opinion, a serious choking hazard. Well, everything, in his opinion, posed a serious choking hazard. He would take away grapefruit size balls, bunches of fake flowers, small dolls, insisting that she could swallow them. I asked him time and time again, “have you ever seen her try to cram a doll down her throat?” He was unrelenting, so all of the banned items remained on an upper shelf until he went to work, and then were mixed, by me, in with the general population of toys once again. I felt my opinion was more valid since I was the main caregiver and knew our child better than he did. Naturally, the minute he was home, she happened to be playing with a banned knife (no sharp edges mind you),and tripped and fell with it in her mouth. It wasn't serious, but the knife did dig into her soft palate which probably really hurt. No blood, no broken skin, but the cutlery has not seen the light of day since. Sometimes husbands do know best.
I eventually found a sitter. I will call her Eloise. She was 29 years old and looking to pick up extra baby sitting shifts. Her Craigslist post caught my attention because she was responding to a previous post in which the author had complained about paying 15 an hour for babysitting. Her response to this post was total admonishment, stating that “ most people research their auto mechanic more than they do a child care provider. People will pay a dog trainer 150.00 an hour but balk at 15 an hour to watch their kids”. As much as I didn’t love the idea of paying 15.00 an hour, it made sense. I emailed her and asked to come and meet us.
Since my husband was opposed to the Craigslist idea altogether, I fibbed and told him that she had been a referral from a yoga class I had taken. She met us on a Saturday.She came into the house-petite, light brown hair and kind, velvety brown eyes-and got on the floor almost immediately and played with Big. We peppered her with questions. Both of us had the instinct that she was normal enough to watch our kid, and we hired her on the spot. I called the references she gave and seemingly normal people on the other end of the phone spoke highly of her. The man I spoke with said that she is the only sitter that he ever felt safe leaving his kids with. She has been with us ever since. 
Since the beginning, Eloise always had other aspirations. She had already produced a couple of CDs of her music, which was a cross between Suzanne Vega and Fiona Apple, and in the last six months has been hard at work on a third CD which will be released soon. It is moody, piano heavy and perfect for a mellow rainy afternoon at home. Her success has prompted us to find other sitter options since her availability has diminished in the last few months.
As luck would have it, I met a lovely woman who taught yoga and also babysat on the side. I will call her Leslie. She co-hosted a friend’s baby shower with me and made wonderful food and seemed just wonderful all the way around. She was my age and married with dogs and trying to start a family. Her husband, Dan, was the focus of half the conversation at the baby shower because several of the ladies present had met him when he accompanied Leslie on babysitting jobs. They all gushed about how wonderful he was and how the kids just adore him. They often worked as a team and the consensus was that they were a real find.
I called Leslie the next weekend and asked if she could watch the girls( who were two and four) and she said “We’d love to”. I paused for a second, as I hadn’t imagined it as “we”, but went ahead and booked her anyway.
Then I started feeling really weird about having a man I had never met in the house with the girls without at least one of us being there. I know it isn’t fair. I am sure Dan is a lovely man and is as fabulous as described by the baby shower guests. I know that my apprehension is because I have watched too many Oprah child predator shows hoping to stave off the evil that is evidently lurking everywhere. I am fully aware that my over analysis of their praise of Dan was because of Gavin De Becker and his book “The Gift of Fear” in which he insists that we each honor that little feeling in our gut that tells us something isn’t quite right.
I called the friend that was the guest of honor at the shower, who has a girl the same age as Big. She vouched for Dan and said that her daughter loves him more than she likes Leslie. For some reason, this didn’t make me feel better. I ended up calling Leslie and telling her that my husband wasn’t comfortable with a man that he didn’t know babysitting the girls, regardless of the accolades. She seemed okay with it but I am sure thought we were crazy.
She watched them as planned, alone, and they had a great time. I overpaid her by accident, and we had meant to get together to rectify it but ended up chalking it up to the baby shower expenses and left it at that. I never called her back. I don’t really know why. It didn't feel right to have to politely request that she come alone again when I got the feeling she didn't really want to. The question is, was it me? Was it them? I will never know.
I think honoring one’s instincts is very tricky because the brain does not always agree with the gut. Rational thought is the enemy of basic instinct. I often wonder if my daily exposure (via the media) to the evils that are out there has tainted my ability to differentiate between what is valid and what is paranoid. I suppose I’d rather hurt someone’s feelings than have them harm my child because I second guessed my own initial response.
But it gets complicated.
I have been down this road before.
Before Little was born,  Big went to a gym class in West Hollywood. It was what everyone did with kids under two, so we went weekly and sang and played with balls and did quasi gymnastics. The teachers were nice enough young women, but the whole scene felt a little unnatural for some reason that I could never put my finger on. I think when you group a bunch of parents( mostly nannies) together with really little kids, the dynamic is often kind of chaotic. The kids are like pinballs, and every time they don’t do the activity like they are “supposed" to, the caregiver feels like their kid is somehow deficient.
Anyway, we had been going for a few months, and one day we arrived and there was a different teacher. His name was Chuck, and he was tall and nice looking with longish hair. I pegged him for an actor, and someone told me that he was the owner’s son. It seemed like a good idea to have a guy for a change, and, as we lined up to do the obstacle course, Chuck took his place at the last obstacle, and was going to spot the kids while they slid down the inclined mat to the floor.
Big did the balance beam. She climbed across the bridge.She swung on the rope. She was having a blast.As soon as she got to the bottom of the incline to climb up to where Chuck was standing and slide down, she froze. She started backing away and whining. It was as if a Rottweiler had poked his head up from behind the mat. She wanted nothing to do with climbing or sliding or Chuck. We walked away and waited for the next exercise.
I didn’t feel the need to push her- she was eighteen  months old for God’s sake. She seemed fine to continue with the next activity, so we lined up to do the rope ride. They had a track with a pulley and an attached  loop,  and the kids would hold on to loop and slide through the air back and forth while the teachers spot them. We watched a few of the kids try it. Chuck spotted from underneath, which meant he sometimes had to hold the kid up the entire way across because they hadn’t grasped the concept of “hold on tight” yet. Again, when our turn came, she bucked a writhed and tried to squirm away. This time I tried to gently push her to try it. The closer we got to Chuck, the more she freaked out so I walked away again. I actually got her hands onto the loop, but the minute he approached she let out a scream .We walked away. She had one more episode when he walked by us on the way out and the class was over. Twenty bucks down the drain. I let it go and figured that we would get back on track next week.
Well, Chuck wasn’t our regular teacher the following week, and she had a great time. We walked in the class the week after that, and there he was again. I ended up paying another twenty bucks to watch my kid panic.We left early. I had already paid for the series and it was a little awkward to address it with the owner without coming across as, well, aspersion casting. But our problem was definitely Chuck related.
I actually ran it by another mom who took a different class with Chuck.She said that no children in her class had any odd reaction to him but that her sister noticed that he patted all of the kids on the butt after each exercise. I hadn’t noticed that at all but I couldn’t get anywhere near him without Big going into overdrive.
As we discussed it, I started understanding how people's lives are ruined by exactly this sort of speculative chatter. He hadn't actually done anything, and I certainly wasn't trying to stir up trouble.I did want to know if this was our issue or  an issue because,while I considered my child to be the epitome of intelligence and sensitivity, I wouldn't credit her with an innate ability to sniff out pedophiles.If several other kids/mothers had a similar reaction to Chuck, it still did not peg him as a child molester but perhaps as someone who doesn't work well with kids.
At any rate, it always made me wonder if anyone else ever had a similar experience. We never went back because it was a waste of money when Chuck was in the room, and I found another class that suited us.
And still, I have to ask...was it me? or was it him? hmmmm....
Then- cut to several weeks ago at the Farmer's Market. Big, Little and I were enjoying our sprinkle cookies at a table and chairs adjacent to the coffee shop and the parking lot.We were headed home after an afternoon of hanging out. The girls had just begun the process of scraping all of the sprinkles off of their cookies with their front teeth when a man came bounding up to our table. He was white haired and heavyset with glasses- could have been an old looking sixty to maybe seventy five years old. He looked like he needed to sit right away, and our table had one empty seat. He was breathing heavily and asked me in a very thick Eastern European accent if he could sit down. I nodded, as he seemed harmless.
Both girls were licking their cookies and staring at him. He started complimenting Big's hair and asking for a bite of her cookie and teasing her a little. I would call it flirting if what happened next hadn't happened.
 He asked her for a kiss. She said no. Then he said," come here, I want to tell you something".
I was sitting right there and trying to figure him out. Was he a lonely old dude looking to be cheered up by some cute kids? Was he a creepy old dude looking  to grope someone small? Big walked over to him, smiling impishly, accepting his dare, and he grabbed her wrists and tried to kiss her. I mean he really grabbed her.She struggled and wriggled away before he actually did anything, but he really put up a fight.Thankfully, so did she. It all happened so quickly that she had already freed herself and gone victoriously back to her seat by the time I would have been able to get up and punch his fucking face. And it was all subtle enough that I wasn't sure if I had seen what I had just seen, or was I misreading the situation?I had started to say something like "no,no, don't touch my kid", but she handled it herself.  I also couldn't figure out how to tell him that I was on to him because I wasn't sure if I was on to him or not! I had that little voice telling me one thing and my brain rationalizing that he meant no harm, he's not from here, he was just playing too roughly etc. Then he looked at Little and started the same routine. I stood, scooped everybody up and walked right to the car.
I felt totally freaked out. I was appalled that some dirty old man had even gotten his hands on Big at all. I felt like I had failed as her protector. It relieved me to see that she put up a serious fight and wasn't going to let him kiss her. I hope it reinforced her confidence for future incidents. I wonder if I had jumped in and caused a scene if she would have just seen it as me giving some old guy a hard time or would it have validated her own feelings that this guy should keep his disgusting hands to himself? Or was she blissfully unaware?
At any rate, all of these experiences lead me to the same conclusion-I don't trust my gut enough and I probably should. what is the worst that could happen? So some Ukranian guy will have a story about being attacked at the Farmer's Market by a crazy woman protecting her children. If the police are involved,based on the shit they have seen, I think they will understand my position and let me off the hook.

1 comment:

  1. You should be a horror writer! Great post, edge of my seat wondering if dirty Eastern block Santa Klaus would get his octopus hands on anyone in your tribe. And the gut is all we have. Use it to punch him in his mouth a loosen his three remaining teeth. Always listening to that little angry voice!