Experience report: getting a babysitter from an agency

I decided it was time to experiment with having a babysitter. A- has been getting more interested in other people and in practising independence from me. I wanted to give her opportunities to like more people and to have different kinds of fun. If babysitting could open up the possibility of doing some consulting during office hours, all the better.

One afternoon a week seemed like a good place to start. I like spending time with A- and school will start soon enough, so I wasn’t keen on putting her in daycare or getting a full-time nanny. One afternoon of 4 hours a week didn’t seem to be a good fit for any of the sitters I reached out to via personal referrals, so it was time to find my own.

I asked J-, since she’s got such great rapport with A-. We might explore that a little more once her schedule settles down. I also asked the neighbours, since their kids sometimes work as babysitters or mother’s helpers.

While those conversations are on the go, I wanted to experiment with babysitting without worrying about my interviewing skills. I decided to pay the premium for working with a babysitting agency that could take care of vetting and scheduling people. I contacted In a Pinch first, but they couldn’t issue receipts for the babysitting portion as well. I went with Nannies on Call instead. They sent me a bio of the sitter who accepted the booking. One day before our appointment, the sitter injured her foot, and the agency sent me the bio for a new sitter.

In the days leading up to our babysitting experiment, I prepared a quick guide, labeled all of A-‘s toy bins, and drew a 12-page book about babysitting. I borrowed “Penguin Misses Mom” from the library, and we read about Mrs. Duck the babysitter several times.

My expectations were low, since A- was often slow to warm up at drop-in centres and other activities. I figured we might spend an hour all playing together. Then I might gradually move to the background or the other room, and then I’d try working downstairs. I prepared for the possibility of letting A- cry for an hour or so. I figured it might be at least a month before we got the hang of it.

And then the babysitter came. We had a brief chat, and then we headed to the backyard. A- immediately started digging into the soil. She talked to the babysitter. She played with the babysitter. After about 15 minutes of feeling like a very happy third wheel, I excused myself. I got my work laptop, set myself up on the deck, and started being able to actually think about code. I could hear them laughing and talking at the end of the backyard. I didn’t even need to set a timer. It was brilliant.

They came over for snacks when A- got hungry. She was covered in dirt: success! The babysitter helped A- thoroughly wash her hands while I put together a snack plate. A- insisted on eating outside with the babysitter, so I got back to work. I was even able to have a super-helpful impromptu web conference with another developer, who gave me the scoop on the network infrastructure and plans for the upcoming project.

At some point, they wandered back into the house. I heard them play with the xylophone and the bells, and I heard A- ask for playdough, and I heard her play with paper, and I think they did stickers at some point too… A- went through so many of her favourite things. She used the potty twice. I was aware of them in the background (mostly because I’d occasionally get this urge to say “This is so awesome!” to myself), and I could still get stuff done.

All in all, I used 4 hours of childcare for:

  • 2.5 hours of consulting,
  • 0.5 hours of organizing my notes for babysitting interviews
  • 0.5 hours of helping with transitions
  • 0.5 hours of other stuff

and A- had 4 solid hours of fun with someone new.

I want to experiment a bit more. It might be good to try maybe two or three other providers from this agency so that I can get a sense of what’s different and what we prefer. I’m also going to try interviewing people, because that’s a useful life skill and it might result in a good arrangement for regular sitting.

Then, if things work out, I’d love to settle into a rhythm of using the time much like I did this afternoon: some consulting and continuous improvement for me, lots of outside time and interaction for A-. As we become more comfortable with babysitting, I might even venture out on errands like going downtown for a work laptop refresh. Coding and continuous improvement are more valuable to me than most errands are, though, so that’s probably how things will go.

I probably won’t always be this lucky, and that’s okay. At least we know what’s possible, and it’s awesome.

I liked how the sitter didn’t bat an eye when A- climbed into the garden box. Instead, she started piling soil up and she invited A- to help make a tall hill. I liked how the sitter talked a lot with A-, and A- clearly enjoyed talking with her too.

The sitter said that she liked our toy bin setup and the list I put together of the things A- could do with a little help (shortcuts to the zone of proximal development!). I wonder what I can do with the backyard to make it an even richer environment while waiting for the plants to come in. Maybe a small pile of river stones, a small pile of sticks, and a yogurt container for making sandcastles? Hmm…