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RANCHO SANTA MARGARITA : Finding a Barter Way to Baby-Sit

August 09, 1995|FRANK MESSINA

Twenty women here have banded together in a co-op for a service not usually bartered: baby-sitting.

Helping each other out was the purpose of the founding mothers, and that spirit of cooperation keeps the group going, a point dramatically made at one of its monthly meetings.

"One of our moms went into labor, so she just sat on the floor while 18 of us coached her," former member Laurel Schmidt said. "We kept her relaxed until she went to the hospital and had her baby. That's what this co-op is all about."

The group is composed mostly of married, stay-at-home moms. Few fathers or single mothers have joined because they typically work during the day, when most co-op baby-sitting is done, said Schmidt, who left the organization when her child was old enough to attend school.

Most of the moms are 30 or younger, but the generalities end there.

"It's a pretty diverse group," Schmidt said. "There are gals in tiny condos and in big custom homes. . . . There's a real wide range of economic conditions."

The co-op system is simple. Only 20 people can be in the group at one time. On joining, a new member is given 30 tickets, each worth one hour of baby-sitting for one child.

When a member needs baby-sitting, she pays for it with tickets. She accumulates more tickets by baby-sitting for other co-op members.

"It's almost like bartering," Schmidt said. "Instead of trading money, we trade time. No money changes hands."

The members typically use the co-op for an hour or two while they get haircuts, keep medical appointments or go to places like restaurants where a fussy preschooler might be a distraction.

Otherwise, Luecht said, "if I wanted to have a nice lunch with a friend, we'd be going to Burger King or not going at all. Sometimes you want to go away and don't want to take the kids."

Some women become close to their co-op mates; others don't. "It's more business than social for a lot of us," member Shawn Luecht said.

Bonds do form between mothers in the group, though, and sometimes their children also become pals.

"The kids look forward to visiting their friends, and it's kind of fun to watch other kids occasionally," said Schmidt, who estimated that most co-op members use the baby-sitting exchange once or twice a week.

"There's a lot of trust there," Schmidt said. "It's a good feeling to know your child is well taken care of."

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