I get a lot of raised eyebrows when I mention my babysitter is a dude. Some friends wonder out loud, “You’re comfortable leaving your kids with a guy?”
If you google “male babysitter,” the top results are variations on “Would you hire a male sitter?” Meanwhile, the first page of results when you google “female sitter” features a Reddit thread titled, “I was molested by my female babysitter.” The writer specified that the sitter was female, presumably to counter the assumption that the perpetrator was male.
Most of the sex abuse stories we see in the media feature a male perpetrator (e.g. the Penn State and St. George scandals). If we look at statistics, however, well-meaning friends should be more concerned when leaving their kids with grandparents than with a male sitter. According to the National Statistics on Child Abuse, ninety percent of child abusers are either a parent or another relative.
My toddler flings herself into Sam’s leg while my five-year-old dives into a pile of cushions, yelling, “SAM! LOOK AT ME!”
I’m at the bathroom mirror, applying mascara, explaining to Sam that the chicken nuggets are in the oven, the bedtime routine is the same as usual, and to start the process by 7:30. Sam is used to watching me put on my makeup while I give him instructions we both know he could do without. He’s been with us for three years.
I probably never would have met Sam if it hadn’t been for my younger daughter’s blow-out diaper. I’d volunteered my older daughter, who was two at the time, for a research study at our local university. Minutes into the psychology experiment, I realized my newborn urgently needed a diaper change.
Sam was working on the study for a course credit. He led me down a maze of hallways to the ladies room when I realized the moisture I felt was not perspiration but poop.
“I’ve got a major diaper situation.” I glanced toward the baby’s butt, which prompted Sam to do the same. A flicker of understanding flashed across his face and he immediately switched gears. He ducked through a doorway and gestured for me to follow. Here was a long table in a deserted classroom, perfect for tackling a Class One Blow-out.
“Is there anything I can do to help?” he asked.
I handed him a crumpled grocery bag and without hesitation, he held it open as I filled it with nearly the entire package of wipes required to remedy the situation. At that moment, I knew I couldn’t leave the building without getting his digits. Though he’d never babysat before, he said he was interested. I figured a person can learn everything they need to know to keep kids safe for a few hours, but no one can teach you how to be a decent human being. It turns out, Sam is more than decent.
He always makes sure our house is tidier than we left it. (Of course, that isn’t saying much, considering our home normally looks like it was burglarized by a baby chimp.) On Sam’s watch, every dolly, block, and stuffed animal are put away. The books that littered the floor are stacked neatly on the end table, spines facing out. The sink is empty while clean dishes drip dry on the rack.
When you ask him how things went, he never says “fine.” He gives a detailed account of what sounds the kids made, when they made them, and how long he waited before going in to check on them.
When it comes to texting, Sam is so quick to reply to inquiries about his availability that I begin to worry about him on the rare occasion he doesn’t reply within a couple of hours. Meanwhile, he has never once initiated a message to me while I was out, which I love. Unless it’s an emergency, I don’t want to hear from the sitter when I’m out (and that includes texting cute pictures of my kids). I totally trust Sam to use his discretion when I’m not around, and I’m thankful that he does.
It reminds me of the way my uncle used to play with me, before he had a wife and kids of his own. My kids will never have an uncle like that, but they have Sam. He is an expert fort-builder, a masterful constructor of towers, and he enters their imaginary world with gusto.
As far as I know, Sam’s phone is not part of that world. I realize I can’t be totally sure what my sitters do when I’m not around. But my girls take after me which means they talk. A lot. Therefore, I know which sitter taught them the sexy choreography to “All The Single Ladies.” I know which sitter lets them pull up their favorite songs on YouTube. I know which sitter shows them videos of her dancing and doing acrobatics. None of these sitters are Sam.
I love that Sam never asks me questions when I’m out but I love the questions that he asks when I come home. He remembers his older brother wailing on him when they were boys, but he wants to know how much fighting he should allow between our girls before he intervenes. (A lot.) He’s concerned that our older daughter sometimes hangs back when he’s playing with our younger daughter. (She’s just an introvert.) He wonders how he should handle their excessive silliness and occasional defiance. (Use your discretion. And congratulations! They’re very comfortable with you.) He’s noticed the Jewish children’s books in our house. He wonders if we are raising our kids Jewish and what that looks like. (We have a long chat. Long enough that my husband rolls his eyes and says, “Let Sam go home, sweetie.”)
For our anniversary last year, Sam stayed overnight while my husband and I escaped to a bed and breakfast. The girls couldn’t wait. Neither could my husband and I. For twenty blissful, child-free hours, we ate, slept, read, and talked without interruptions, including texts from Sam.
“I should text him to make sure everything is ok,” I said over breakfast, sipping my hot coffee sitting down instead of sneaking a sip in-between requests for “more milk, another piece of toast, a napkin.” What a luxury.
“Everything is fine,” my husband assured me.
I resisted the urge to text.
Indeed, everything was fine and I shouldn’t have worried. One thing I am worried about, though, is who will replace Sam when he goes to law school this fall.