Paying it Forward

Saturday morning I had an appointment and my husband was working, so our neighbor girl was scheduled to come babysit at 9:00 a.m. The kids and I had a good morning together playing games and playdoh. I was gathering up a couple of items in preparation for my departure when Bigs said, “It is 8:45. Where is Stephanie?” I explained she wasn’t coming until 9:00, but was excited he was excited.

“Littles, come with me to watch for Stephanie,” he shouted. Littles came scampering to the front door. Their little noses peeked over the window sill as they waited and I continued getting ready.

“Mommy! MOMMY!”

“Yes, Bigs?”

“She is late! It is 9:00 and she isn’t here. Where is she?”

Stephanie happens to be the most responsible ninth grader I’ve ever met. Sometimes I wonder if she is more mature than I am. If not, she will be soon. I sooth Big’s fear of her not coming with a quick, “Maybe the clocks in their house are running slower than ours.” Pacified for a moment he ran back to the window.

In chorus I hear, “Mommy! Mommy! She’s coming and she is bringing her treasure chest.” They tear open the door, but aren’t wearing pants so wait as patiently as two children who are as excited as they are on Christmas morning can be. We all love Stephanie.

As she comes through the front door, the children are shooing me out. “Mommy, you need to leave so we can get our treasures. You can’t be home when we get them.” My request for hugs good-bye are spurned by the insatiable desire to delve into the treasure chest. I give each child an unrequited squeeze and sneak out the garage door.

Stephanie moved in across the street four years ago when she was headed into sixth grade. Her dad works for a large multinational company, which has required them to move a lot. Sixth grade was a tough year of trying to find her place and make new friends. While it wasn’t a move to a new place for me, I felt for her as she navigated uncharted waters. I also understood first hand how good it felt and confidence-building it is to have someone trust you and younger kids look up to you.

I baby sat a lot. It was mostly for one family, who kept me really busy. In their case, two girls eventually became three. I will never forget the day in eighth grade when I got a call at my friend Claire’s house. It was the mom and she needed me to come over to take care of the girls while their temporary care for the girls arrived because sweet little third girl was on her way. They needed me! It felt so good to be needed.

My babysitting was a point of pride. I was trusted to do what I thought was best. I learned what worked and what didn’t. I made mistakes and was forgiven. The girls and I had wild amounts of fun together. I wanted to be a good role model to them. I made my own money. I was treated like an adult with both the rights and responsibilities that came with the status. It filled my time and made me less lonely.

The four of us did a lot of growing up… together. They got me through the tough years of making middle school friends. They told me how pretty I was for the prom. (If I remember correctly one of them lifted up the back of my dress senior year to see what kind of undies I was wearing.) They saw me off to college. They invited me back for my spring break so I could spend the week with them and their parents could vacation. They told me how old 22 was, because I had a job and an apartment. They stood up with me when I got married. I watched them go through middle school. I cheered them on as they found their spot in high school. I saw boyfriends and heartbreak. I watched them marry. I’ve reminded them how old they all have become… how beautifully they have grown into women.

It’s no surprise they have grown to be so lovely, kind, and caring. They were raised that way. I’m forever grateful to their parents who helped me rebuild my confidence. They parented me in a non-parent kind of way… gently reminding me to make good choices, praising my success, and looking past my shortcomings.

Four years ago, while I was pregnant with Littles, we attended the oldest’s wedding. At the reception we sat at a table with strangers (who quickly became our friends.) They asked how we knew the bride and groom and I explained that I had started babysitting the girls when the bride was a tender five years-old. (Nothing makes you feel older than saying stuff like that, by the way, especially when you are pregnant with your second child.) The women at the table immediately launched into how wonderful I must be and I turned fifty shades of red.

“[The mother of the bride] was picky about who she let her girls babysit for, I can’t imagine how picky she was for someone to look after her own!”

“[The middle daughter]  for our kids and she told the kids stories about the things you guys did together. Do you remember calling the police to get her out of hiding?” (More blushing… and I was pretending to call the police, not actually doing it.)

That night I was reminded that it takes a village and I could be part of the village. We had Stephanie come extra often, because I knew the difference it could make. Now she is a busy high schooler surrounded by friends and teammates. I may have cried a little when she turned me down for babysitting, because she was going to the Homecoming dance. When she says she doesn’t need to be paid, because it was such a short time or the kids were asleep, I remind her that she earned it and she is worth it. I love how proud she is when we run into her and her friends outside and she introduces the kids as the ones she babysits. We love her and I am the picky mom who won’t let anyone watch my kids.

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