Today I had the rare and wonderful privilege of seeing my eldest daughter in action as a babysitter. I occasionally deliver and collect her from her assignments, but I don’t see her “at work”, as it were. I see her arriving at her client’s house, shy and surly, and I see her fleeing the scene, shouting “Cheers!” as she shoves $5 bills into her pockets, but I cannot imagine that this little girl, my sulky barely-teenager, is in any way to be trusted with another family’s precious children.
Laurel completed the Babysitter’s Basics course, offered by her school at a ridiculously low price, when she was 11 years old (grade 6). It was a 6 week course and she had to complete a work book and various tests. When she showed me what it covered, I was a little worried – if they ever introduce a parenting test even close to as thorough as this course, we’d fail for sure. She was now, essentially, an 11 year old paediatric nurse with a good grounding in nutrition, exercise techniques and could probably cover for any of the Kindergarten teachers if they were sick.
Of course, this did not stop her bullying her younger sisters, and we began to wonder what kind of babysitter she was going to be. We decided that, at 11, she was still too young to be trusted with anyone else’s children, but if we could get 30 minutes uninterrupted conversation while we walked the dog alone, so be it. We introduced a mantra before we went out…
“Laurel, until we get home you are no longer a big sister, you are the babysitter – what are you?” “The Babysitter”
“Weasels, Laurel is no longer your sister. She is the babysitter until we get home. What is she?” “The Babysitter.”
“How do we treat the Babysitter?” “With respect.”
Sometimes it worked, but as we all grew in confidence, Laurel started to get jobs around the community. When we lived in England, we would never have considered using a babysitter younger than 16 years old. Everyone seemed vague about the law about leaving children unattended, but we did not feel comfortable with any younger. Here in Vancouver, the babysitting course is offered to every child in school and as a source of income, babysitting is highly sought after. A friend’s 12 year old daughter spent the summer holidays providing full day care to 2 children, aged 2 and 4 years and nobody blinked. The nearly-teens who complete the course are simply preparing for the next phase of their professional lives – life guarding at the pool, teaching swimming to tots, or teaching skating or working at summer camp. They have a knowledge and love of smaller children which makes them careful, respectful and accepting of others younger than themselves.
Today Laurel was asked to babysit 2 young brothers from 11am to 4pm – she was expected to supervise nap time, meal times and fun time. After taking them for a walk to the park, she found she could not open the door with the key she had been left, and was trying to figure it out for herself when I called to check up on her. I drove over, opened the door and left her to it, but not before I had seen her calmly and confidently pick up the baby, move the stroller and chat to the toddler about his preference for lunch. She is, of course, his favourite babysitter ever.