“Anybody have a really good babysitter you can recommend? Available at the last minute?” This group text popped up on a Friday afternoon and was quickly drowned in a sea of “nopes!” and “good lucks!” and teary emojis from unrecognized numbers. No one lets go of that number lightly. None of these people, other than the sender, were in my contacts. None of these people, including the sender, will get a response from me.
I could say it’s because this person wasn’t a close friend or that I didn’t have the time while hauling my kids around in the sub-freezing darkness that January evening. But the truth is, I just cannot give it up. Because I only have one number.
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Other than family, I have one number, one person, I can call to babysit my children. I’m not being picky; I am being deadly serious. I have a five-year-old with cerebral palsy whose 40 pounds might as well be 100 when you’re carrying him up the stairs or lifting him out of the van and into his wheelchair or changing a diaper on the floor. He also has limited speech, so you must be part psychic, part lip reader, to intuit his needs. His babysitter is an employee at his preschool and has known him since he was two. I can’t afford to give away the one person I trust.
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I know it’s tough to find someone older than 14 and responsible and available and consistent and friendly and cheap-ish to watch your kids. But for us, it is so much more than that. It takes a background in working with children with disabilities, a secret handshake, a personality test, and some serious magic for me to feel comfortable leaving my children in the hands of someone I’m unrelated to.
That number on my phone with “babysitter” in parentheses is sacrosanct. The days of protecting it began in infancy. When we first brought our son home from the hospital, he came with a tracheotomy, suction machine, oxygen monitor, and g-tube. I barely left the room, much less the house. Date nights were not a priority.
And just before I went back to work, we said goodbye to the daycare we had lined up a year in advance. How could we ask them to hook him up to a feeding pump or suction out the snotty gunk from his trach hole? Not to mention pitting him against the invariable sicknesses that pass from kid to kid. A registered nurse or my mother watched him instead.
Thankfully, the trach and the g-tube and all the most precarious of his medical issues faded away with age. We no longer need a nurse. But we do need someone physically strong enough and trained enough to meet his needs.
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And did I mention I also have twins? They are insane, in all the natural ways threenagers are, and require just as much eyes-on time—if not so much hands-on time—as their older brother. They will empty the entire roll of toilet paper into the toilet and lock themselves in the bathroom in under 30 seconds. Date nights are happening again, but they are still rare enough to make me feel giddy just backing out of the driveway.
This is why I let the text go unanswered. This is why I let someone else fill in that blank. Our family situation calls for a very particular set of skills. We need the Navy SEALs version of babysitters. And I don’t know another mother with a child with special needs who doesn’t feel the same. We already get less free time, much less time away without worry over our children’s safety. We can’t afford to hand out freebies.
It’s nothing personal. It’s business, the business of running our family. We need the people we trust. And so we keep them close.
This post was originally published in January 2018.