- The Babysitter
Our son is five months old, and it is time to hire a babysitter. Pete doesn’t crawl, doesn’t talk, doesn’t even sit up unassisted yet, but he requires all of our attention.
We have just moved to the South. We know no one. My husband, adopted from Korea as an infant and reared in a taciturn, Lutheran Minnesota, does not understand the chatty grocery store cashiers, the next-door neighbors who cut a path through our front yard as part of their morning walk, the owner of the roadside peach stand who talks to me for ten minutes while Mat and Pete wait in the car.
“A lot to say about peaches?” he asks, when I slide into the driver’s seat, which has been baked by the sun in my brief absence. Pete is fussing; he hates the car seat. Mat sits behind me. Usually it is the mothers who ride in the back, distracting the baby with a stuffed animal, a rattle, but I am prone to motion sickness. And anyway, I like to drive.
“Just the South,” I say. The peaches are warm in their plastic bag. They will be disappointing, later—mealy, flavorless—but for now they are something to look forward to.
“Pete’s a tyrant,” I announce to Mat, later that night, after Pete has gone to bed. “A very sweet tyrant.” [End Page 49]
The red well of his mouth, his pulsing fontanelle, his hands so fat they appear swollen: he is a tyrant I love beyond measure.
Before Pete was born, I expected to be scared by him, by what might happen to him. He could contract any number of illnesses—meningitis, strep, herpes—and die. I could drop him. I could leave him in the bathtub for a split second, just long enough to drown. If I lay him on his stomach, I’d read, over and over, he could smother himself with the weight of his own head.
Yet when we take him home he weighs eight pounds and one ounce, and he surprises me with his sturdiness. Also, I am too exhausted to worry about all the horrible things that might befall us. Still, at night when we are sleeping, Pete in a bassinet beside our bed, I graze his head with my palm to make sure it is warm.
I feel, if not exactly careless, cavalier. I let our cats remain in the bed with us at night, a thing I never thought I’d do.
I surprise myself in another way, too: I don’t worry about his safety with a babysitter. I worry about what the babysitter—still nameless, now, still a young woman yet to be invited into our house—will make of us.
I post an ad on the university’s student job site and wait. Must have experience with infants, I write. Must be a non-smoker. Must like animals. Must be certified in infant CPR, though neither Mat nor I are.
There are barely any responses, at first, and I wonder if I have done something wrong. I wonder if the college girls—I picture them lounging on colorfully clad dorm beds, laptops propped up on knees, scrolling through ads late at night—sense something about our family. If they can read between the lines. It’s what good babysitters do, after all: they know how to manage controlling mothers, vaguely inappropriate fathers. They know how to disappear from a room, quietly, taking the child with them. They know how to become indispensable without calling attention to the family’s need in the first place. [End Page 50]
What exists between the lines for us? My son isn’t white. My husband isn’t white. We aren’t religious, in a place where half the people we encounter have decorated themselves with crosses: dangling from necks, embroidered on shirts, stamped on license plates. We are driving to get barbeque for lunch, Mat and Pete in the backseat, and Mat asks, of a large building, “Is that a bank?”
“No,” I say. “That’s a mega-church.”
“Jesus,” Mat says, and we laugh. He was...