It was a whole year before we left our daughter Jaye with anyone after she was born. We were fortunate in that first year that after a seven month leave, I was able to return to work part time and Mac stayed home with Jaye two days a week. But with Jaye napping just once a day, I needed a sitter so I could effectively work from home for some of those hours. Plus it was the weekend of her first birthday and I needed help so I could prepare for Jaye’s party.
Our families and friends were never really an option. My mom had been diagnosed as terminal just weeks before Jaye was born, and she retired out of state. Mac’s parents were much older and couldn’t really care for an infant, plus they were across the country. My aunt had her own grandkids to watch. Our siblings, cousins and friends already had their own two kids — yes, pretty much all of them — and nothing would have worked long-term. We did our share babysitting for many of theirs before we had our own, but it just gets more complicated with more kids. And none of us were ready for daycare yet.
An ebullient high school senior had the unenviable task of being our First Sitter — forced to deal with our first-time-please-don’t-let-anything-happen-to-my-child-and-you-have-no-idea-what-I-went-through-to-become-a-parent worries — and was further subject to Jaye’s first noticeable “stranger danger” reluctance to bond for weeks. That first month was really hard on everyone, with lots of tears, even though I was just on the other side of a door. Jaye did best on stroller walks, and while I was relieved to get some work done while they were out, I was often worried something would happen.
At the end of the summer, I found our second sitter who was wonderful. She worked with us for nearly a year, until we moved. Second Sitter was sweet and fun and loved taking Jaye on long walks to pick blackberries or play with her friend’s puppy. Working from home meant I was accessible too. Jaye was about 20 months old before we were gone long enough that she would have to try the afternoon nap, “try” being the operative term. The day of our home inspection, we had no other choice. Until then, no one aside from Mac or I had attempted to put Jaye to bed. So it was such a relief when I got a text saying “Just wanted you to know she’s asleep, no problem!” I was so sad to lose her when we moved. On moving day, Jaye played at her house with all of her animals and piano and she didn’t want to leave when I came to pick her up. Second Sitter visited our new home and offered to sit one night so we could finally have a proper date. We chose our fifteenth anniversary to go out on our first date in over two years. When we got home, she refused to take money except for gas. Loved her.
After the move, it took a while to find the right person. Second Sitter set a high bar. At first, I just needed someone for the work at home hours. But soon I was on bedrest and then planning a hospital stay and recovery and the NICU, and how was I going to care for a super energetic toddler then? I needed someone that Jaye would adore, that I could trust when I would be at my most vulnerable. I was grateful to find a young junior college student from South America to fill much of the time. Sitter Three was gentle and crafty. Jaye loved the art projects they did and she learned some Spanish. It was she who drove us to the hospital the day Z was discharged, because after three weeks Mac had to return to work. She took care of Jaye many mornings those first few months after Z came home, so I could get some much needed sleep after being up all night and recovering from major surgery.
In January, Sitter Three had to return to her country indefinitely to extend her visa. Plus we could no longer justify paying for care after my job formally ended. So I’ve been winging it since then. In June, Jaye started preschool three mornings a week, which has been awesome, but she recently gave up her afternoon nap (which is not as awesome).
As marvelous as Z is in her many ways, as I’ve alluded to she is challenging with sleeping and feeding issues. In other words, nothing can really get Z to sleep but nursing, she won’t take a bottle, and she’s been slow to transition to solids. She’s been far more dependent a baby than Jaye ever was. I would have had a hard time returning to work after my leave, and feared she would wither away if she didn’t eat whenever she could. She’s a little better now with food — though still not on the charts in weight for actual age — but sleep is still elusive. Even Mac may be able to comfort Z back to sleep in the middle of the night, but he has never even tried to put her down. Which is all a really long winded way of saying no one has been able to watch Z all day but me, which can be wonderful but also makes a lot of things difficult — e.g., going back to work, taking alone time longer than a nap, getting out with the husband, travel, etc.
Still, I’ve been taking names of potential sitters in the hopes that one day it will get easier. One day we would find someone who could handle both of our beautiful strong willed children, someone who wouldn’t shy away from an overtired screaming baby, someone who could handle a toddler acting out when she needs extra attention. Finally, after getting some good referrals, I texted the summer teaching assistant from Jaye’s preschool, now a high school senior who knows both girls and lives up the street. We were supposed to go out for my uncle’s birthday but that plan fell through, so we saved the sitter for DATE NIGHT.
Saturday night, Mac and I went out for just the second time in 3.5 years. Most people say that is NOT OK, that we need to get out more as a couple. We don’t complain about it, as we’ve had many years together to dine out, see music and movies and travel. Yet I tend to agree. I love our family meals at home, or venturing out to the taqueria, but thought it would be lovely to have a nice dinner out that’s not rushed or ends in a mess on the floor. Or see a movie, or catch a live band some time.
After putting Z to bed early, we gave instructions for Jaye’s evening routine. I basically said let’s hope Z sleeps because it’s really hard to get her back down, but call me if you need to. Then we went out to the best Japanese in town, ordered a small feast and toasted with premium Junmai sake. Just after we took the first luscious bites of our appetizer, I heard my text notification. I was hoping it would be a reassuring message like before — i.e., don’t worry, everything’s great! But it was too soon. It was only 8pm. We had just left at 7:30.
I looked down at my phone and let out a big sigh. The text said: “Z is up, she’s been crying a while. I think she needs you. I’m sorry to ruin your evening.”
No. Our evening out was too good to be true. We had already nearly finished our first bottle of sake. We didn’t want to go home. I pleaded with her to try again, gave her good instructions and a pep talk. The key was keeping Jaye occupied while going back in with Z, so the two of them didn’t start crying at the same time. But Jaye was fine. She was so happy to stay up late and play games with her friend that when she got tired, she started her nighttime routine by herself and went down easy while listening to the lullabies we sing her every night on CD. Love that kid.
For half an hour, we sat wondering whether the situation would lead to full meltdown requiring my attention. We didn’t order any more drinks. We ate what came, joked that it figures, and waited for the next text to come in. Thankfully — she really was a superstar — the sitter handled it and got an exhausted Z back to sleep without more tears. Then I drank the biggest glass of sake ever, ate enormous sushi rolls, and after dinner we walked across the street to a cozy cafe where we sipped authentic chocolat and ate salted caramel truffles on a cushy sofa and joked that we needed to do this more often.
And we will. While we ended up going home early, we promised to do a real date night once a month. This once every two years thing isn’t really enough. So I’m hoping we can stick to it.