Jun 17, 2008

Babysitter Rejection

My most vivid rejection memory from childhood is of playing in the front yard with two older neighbor girls--the one who I choreographed the Dancing Queen routine with who ended up working at the U.N., and the one who became a track star in high school who teaches public school in the South Bronx. The Dancing Queen/U.N gal decided that we should race to her front door and so we all started to run there. I got there last and by the time I got up to the little cement step with the white iron railing they'd shut the door and announced that I wasn't allowed to play with them anymore. What a terrible feeling! I'd been slow, I'd been duped, I'd been dumped.

Aside from that, I wasn't the victim of a lot of rejection in my early years, or even in my later years. Maybe that's why I don't have tough-rejection-proof skin. Maybe that's why I can, on a certain kind of day, feel rejected so easily. Maybe that's why I can find rejection in the strangest places. Maybe that's why I cringe so much at the thought of calling around for a babysitter.

I know it's ridiculous. I do. I'm not always this sensitive. Just when I'm not feeling at the top of my game, or when I'm feeling a bit blue or disconnected--more often in the winter than in the summer. If I could just use that knowledge to my advantage I'd be fine. But I never know when a pair of tickets might end up in my lap, or some other kind of night out with my husband might present itself, and all of a sudden, no matter my mood, I find myself in need of a sitter. And the agony begins.

Take Jane. Jane never calls back right away. (Why doesn't she ever call?) But she usually comes through in the end--'Hi it's Jane? I'm so sorry I never called you back! Do you still need someone? Cuz I can do it if you haven't found anyone else.' Great, Super. She loves the kids, and ours are the only ones in her life. She's in school with a weird schedule and so I know (intellectually) not to feel bad if a Wednesday evening class means she can't watch them on a Wednesday night. But still...why doesn't she ever call?

Then there's Carly. Carly watched the kids once and wrote us a long note describing how wonderful they were. And now she's NEVER available. But I keep trying, especially since there's always that big gap between leaving a message for Jane and hearing that she can do it. Carly always sounds convincing when she says she feels bad, and she's a bigtime neighborhood babysitter and I'm usually calling at the last minute--so there's a chance she really is always busy. But still...should I be reading between the lines here?

Yolanda is fabulous, but has a way of accepting a job that unnerves me and makes me feel desperate. 'Yeah sure,' she'll say drowsily as if I just asked her if she liked milk in her tea. 'You can do it?' I implore. 'Yeah. No problem.' I can hear her shrugging through the phone. This indifference (even though it's a yes) triggers some nervous energy in me and I find myself prattling on 'really? really, it's okay?' It must drive her nuts. She said 'Yeah, sure' four mintues earlier and I'm there nervously rambling on, 'really? tomorrow? So, you can do it tomorrow? Really?' Several times I've gotten off the phone with her, still not confident that she understood what I was asking.

Adding to the awkwardness is that I call some of these women so infrequently it's impossible to avoid calling them in weird places and at weird times. Like in the middle of their own wedding ceremony ('whoa, sorry...I mean, congratulations'), on the other side of the world ('ouch, what time is it there?'), or in the wake of some tragedy ('ohhh, sorry...' I'll say, feeling guilty that I'm calling about such a ho-hum-life-goes-on reason--'so I guess that means you can't watch the kids so Joe and I can go out to dinner?' I might add sheepishly, depending on how desperate I'm feeling). Several Pratt students have just moved on with their lives (tends to happen to twenty-one year olds after they graduate): Peace Corps, Boston...but I rarely see this coming and feel foolish when my call finds them in some far off place.

And don't even get me started on the no-shows. Or the last-minute no-explanation cancelers. To be sitting in my going-out clothes with the kids in the living room all hopped up on pre-babysitter adrenaline in anticipation of some girl who never shows up is the worst feeling. My four year old LOVES babysitters, my seven year old loves it when ANYONE does an art project with her, my son LOVES that his sisters leave him alone. It's like being stood-up times four. I can know that it's a reflection of the lousy woman who didn't come, and not a reflection on me or my kids. But in the moment it feels pretty personal.

Hooray! I just got a pair of tickets to Wicked! What fun! Joe scored Knicks tickets! Wonderful! my friend just invited us to Ethan Hawke's new show! And ohhhhh crap....I think, picturing a stack of phone calls to wonderful women with busy social lives and oddly-timed classes. All it takes is one yes. One yes erases all the uncertainty, all those gaps of not knowing. It's just too bad it can take so long to find it.