Should the word "baby-sitter" slither into conversation, my four children can dazzle an audience with embellished tales, complete with sound effects, of the individuals who have graciously augmented my role as caretaker over the past 18 years.
"Remember the one with red-hair who whistled nonstop the theme from 'High Noon' and let us have dessert first?"
"How about Jennifer and Katie who had the pet gila monster?"
While society has made strides in providing care for children while their parents work, the difficulty of finding competent baby-sitters to assist on evenings, weekends and while out of town persists.
Trading services is the obvious and most reasonable method of arranging baby-sitting. When our first child arrived, we were living in a married student housing unit with a sophisticated, and well-managed baby-sitting cooperative. We watched other children and their parents, in return, watched our daughter.
Over the years, in less-formal arrangements, our home, at times, has been a drop-in center, and I have had the services returned.
We have had children sometimes stay with us while their parents were out of town. I have especially found this arrangement helpful with teen-agers, who I don't believe should be left unsupervised during those times.
For caring for small children for short periods, students are a blessing.
Junior high students (an age group I came to know well as a teacher) can be ideal sitters for youngsters past the age of six months. I feel that these sitters are optimal for three reasons: 1) they operate with a certain degree of anxiety and, therefore, they are cautious; 2) they tend to play with the child rather than allow the television to supervise and 3) they are frequently more available to help out since their social life is rather restricted.
If you don't know any sitters in this age group, you might try calling the counseling office at a nearby junior high for the names of interested students.
I am hesitant, however, to engage teen-agers during the week. Perhaps, it is the teacher in me, but I feel guilty asking a young person to supervise my children, prepare dinner, and read bedtime stories on nights when their schoolwork requires attention.
When I have needed a sitter during the week, I've turned to baby-sitting agencies with success. I preface my remarks about these agencies by noting that while a student myself, I worked for one. This month we will attend the wedding of a young man I once baby-sat. I well remember his mother's remark when I asked how she came to use an agency. Her experience had been that the agencies sent people who were well-interviewed, bonded and reliable.
Rates for agency sitters in North County vary, depending on number of children and where you live. For one to two children, expect to pay $20 to $28 for a three-hour minimum and $4 for each additional hour. For a 24-hour period, expect to pay $70 or more. There is often an additional charge for sick-child care. The agencies, which are listed under baby sitters in the yellow pages, can give you specifics. Information on sitter services for developmentally disabled children is available at 574-6481.
I have always required that the agencies send a nonsmoker to our home and asked that the television not be turned on during the day or until the children were sleeping at night. Over the years, we have had wonderful women spend time with our children, reading books and sharing tales about growing up in Arkansas or their family ranch in Montana.
On other occasions, I have used baby-sitting agencies in other cities when staying in hotels. The concierge at most major hotels can be most helpful in arranging for sitters.
One summer, I advertised for a sitter a month prior to our vacation in a Michigan newspaper, stating the hours, pay, and children's ages. I received a dozen replies to my ad and had a charming college student from a farming community spend time with the children. Having employed her two young sisters in the past five years as well, we have been enriched by the added enjoyment of involving this family in our summer.
I have often used colleges, churches and temples as resources for baby-sitters. One can call the college student employment office, which frequently has a list of sitters or will place a note on a bulletin board for you. Expect to pay $5 an hour for college sitters. At UCSD, call 534-4500; at USIU, call 693-4700; at Cal State San Marcos, call 471-4145.
Young student couples, sometimes with one child or two, can be ideal candidates for baby-sitting. We still list our favorite family as the young law student, his wife and baby who have stayed at our home while we have been out of town. They came to us with a referral from a friend who knew them from church. In addition to playing with our little ones, the couple is young enough to still be wise to teen-agers and are firm with house rules.