Thank you, babysitters!
My children have had the most amazing babysitters in their lives. We lived on the edge of a university campus for 5 years, putting us in proximity to plenty of young people who were happy to babysit for good pay, plus the bonus of eating a home-cooked meal (maybe doing a load of laundry for free, too). We had volleyball players and a student studying French literature; a voice major (who became a teacher!), and a soccer player's girlfriend, in town for the summer. For a few years, we had the amazing care of a student whom I had babysat when she was 10 years old (she'd come to Chicago from Cambridge - how amazing it was to reconnect with her and her roommate; this pair even came on vacation with us once).
There was always a schedule on the refrigerator (carefully organized by me on Sunday nights), so I could remind my kids at breakfast who would be picking them up from school or hangout out with them over a vacation day. Along with my ad that tried to paint a clear picture of what we needed, I usually relied on my "blink" (a Malcolm Gladwell concept) - that feeling I'd get after the first 15 minutes of the interview, picking up on their energy, creativity and with-it-ness as a match (or un-match) for my kids.
Our sitters weren't always the best at cleaning up or homework help (to be fair, some of them were). Sometimes there were last-minute cancellations or the occasional "boring" boyfriend or girlfriend brought along who wasn't deemed "fun enough".
But most of all, our wonderful babysitters excelled at JOY - creating treasure hunts or illustrating stories together; reading aloud with voices or playing endless games of soccer; building huge Lego towns, teaching my kids new dance moves, or baking brownies and adding Skittles to the batter. I now realize what a huge impact that had on my kids - being comfortable with college students, thriving without TV, building up some flexibility skills in responding to an ever-changing schedule of sitters. What a privilege to come home from work and always see my kids happy, dirty, and with a story to tell. "We went scooting to see the ducks!" "We invented a new kind of lemonade!" "We played wall ball to 100 points!"
When we moved away, my kids were in 5th and 7th grade, and we made the decision to have them "on their own" after school. I think if we'd stayed in Chicago, we would have continued to have college sitters, helping them navigate middle school, a near-peer voice of reason to give them advice or distract them from getting too angst-y. We've stayed in touch with many of these young people, who are now becoming parents themselves. I'm sending them babysitter karma, positivity paid forward, for all the dance parties and Skittle-filled brownies they created for my kids.
* That is our real ad from 2011!