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I Care, You Care, We all Care for Childcare

Somewhere out there, likely on the lonely plains of North Dakota, lives a lovely lady named Carol who is owed a long-belated apology from yours truly. But before I get to groveling, let’s explore the context that leads me now to search my soul and, should she ever happen to read this, perhaps my wallet as well.

Growing up in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s (and with two older siblings), I very rarely remember having a babysitter. Mine was the last generation of the so-called “latchkey kids” who mostly supervised ourselves; I signed my own report cards, “lost” all school correspondence that was intended for my parents’ prying eyes, and would serve as my own transportation to swimming lessons, baseball practice, or what have you. Most of our babysitters, in fact, tended to be romantically involved with one of my older brothers, which went about as well as can be expected.

All of this is a long way of saying that it was a very different time in this pre-internet netherworld, and never was this difference more apparent than between the hours of 3pm and 6pm. Current adults of my age know this to be true; the span between the last schoolbell and the dinner bell (when many parents were still working) was an absolute free-for-all. You could eat whatever you wanted and go wherever you wanted, and no one could hope to reign in your vim and vigor. And, to her misfortune (and my smirking delight), the sad task of keeping me from devouring all of the figurative marshmallows out of life’s box of Lucky Charms fell at the feet of a woman in our neighborhood named Carol.

For roughly two whole years, I went to Carol’s house nearly every afternoon, where I’d generally sow seeds of chaos from the moment I hopped her backyard fence. The applesauce in her fridge? Mine. The TV in her living room? Always on MTV, back when that meant something. I’d make prank calls from the basement, and happily teach swear words to toddlers. Then, when Carol grabbed a bar of Zest to start washing some mouths, I’d hastily head for home.

At this point, readers might be wondering, “Tyler, why would any babysitter subject herself to your childish and possibly demonic whims?” And the answer -- go ahead and refer to the second paragraph above, I’ll wait -- is that she wasn’t actually my babysitter at all, because I didn’t really have those. She just happened to be the babysitter to two of my best friends and lived two doors down from me, so I’d simply saunter in whenever I pleased, like some two-bit Eddie Haskell with an applesauce problem. But she was always sweet to me -- she rubbed my curly head a lot, if I recall -- and she certainly didn’t have to be. I even got the soap on more than one occasion, and she offered that service free of charge.

I’d never considered the full scope of my transgressions until the last few months, when I began seeking out childcare for my own kid. It was then that I realized that 1) finding someone willing to take on more than a few kids at a time is somewhat rare, and 2) childcare is shockingly expensive. Like, “cut the applesauce and Lucky Charms out of your budget” expensive.

As I amble awkwardly into this new frontier where I think about things like colic and diaper blowouts and inevitable Fortnite addiction, it’s childcare that keeps me up nights. It’s so pricey, because it’s so valuable. And it’s so valuable, because you hope that whoever watches your little hellions treats them like Carol somehow managed to treat me. So where, oh where, will I turn?

If all else falls through, I know just the place. Because somewhere out there, likely on the lonely plains of North Dakota, lives a lovely lady named Carol who I’m pretty sure can handle just about anything.

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