Like many of you, I tried to put off getting a babysitter as long as possible but there came a time when the night classes I was teaching and my husband’s work schedule meant we had at least 30 minutes of time that needed to be covered. Time for a sitter. We weren’t sure what we wanted in a sitter. We couldn’t put our finger on it. We could barely articulate what we didn’t want. We knew we didn’t want a child molester, axe murderer or someone who was going to chew tobacco and watch TV while the kids were left unattended outside. But that’s as much as we knew.

    Then one day in the cafe down the street from my house I overheard a conversation between baristas. The big girl from Texas with the loud southern drawl was telling the other girl, “My momma breastfed me till I was five; I used to fight with my little brother, each of us trying to hit each other while suckling on my momma’s boobies.”  I knew right then and there I wanted that girl to watch my kids. I went home and told my husband what I found. He was a bit skeptical but I said I just had a good feeling.

    Turned out? I was right about Ali. She was an amazing babysitter with super human strength for piggy back rides and way more stamina than I have. She wasn’t afraid to get dirty or in the thick of things with the kids and she wasn’t afraid of clean up time either. Best of all, she didn’t look at me funny for my quirks, my breastfeeding, my ways of doing things because she’d been raised by organic hippy artists that sent her to Waldorf schools. I didn’t once have to explain myself and my own weird behavior because she was well-versed in all things outside the box. To top it off--she sang to them too. After Ali we had Lisa--who was great with them too in these same ways albeit a little more reserved than the Texan. But both went off to college and we decided this time we ‘d find ourselves the perfect teenager that would be  staying around for a few years.

    Enter Amelia. I first saw her in the grocery store. She looked like "us." I can’t really describe it. And I know this is a shallow way of doing things but I asked her about music. She was an old school David Bowie fan at age 14. Score 1 in her favor. She was polite, respectful and dressed with a flair for creativity. I talked to her mother. She hadn’t done much in the way of babysitting before but she had a younger brother. They were homeschooled and she was disciplined enough to help design her own program. I was sold. My husband looked at me skeptically. Leave our precious kids with a 14 year old we barely know? Not quite yet. Our first month of sitting I invited her over to play with the kids while I worked from home. That way everyone could be comfortable that there was a parent home just in case. In a month or so, she was going solo with the kids and great at it. Amelia has now moved 90 minutes away so we have to cultivate a new one. Here’s what we’ve decided we are looking for and how we go about it:

1) Just like the Banks family in Mary Poppins’ make a list of characteristics that work for you. We wanted someone quirky and open minded that wouldn’t think our household was weird. Our babysitter had to be gay friendly, intelligent, comfortable in a non-TV household, and spiritually open. We wanted someone that could balance responsibility with creativity. Someone with a good intuitive sense. We didn’t want to have to explain what quinoa was or why we don’t drink soda. We wrote all that down in our quest. This is actually how we were able to cross off many that came our way. My sister in law chose a babysitter that could figure out what they needed before she even knew what they needed. She loved that.

2) Where is the babysitter coming from? We learned from close friends of ours to walk the fine line of trying to save someone. They had a great babysitter whose home life started to unravel. Much as they wanted to help the girl, their own kids hated it when she came over because all she ever did was cry. Look at the home life of the babysitter--is she going to bring her problems to bare on your kids or can she leave them at the door?

3) Appropriateness. My sister in law had a babysitter that sometimes went on family trips. She frequently showed up in high heel shoes and tight skirts to watch a two year old who was beginning to dash down the street. She had some good attributes but they did sit her down and tell her she should dress for running after kids and not dress for clubbing. Does the babysitter bring up inappropriate topics with your kids? One potential one I had tried to  bring up both sex and religion in a non appropriate way.

4) Cost. You often get what you pay for. I pay ten dollars an hour, partly to ensure that if my babysitter is asked by two families in one night that she goes with me. If I’m home I while the sitter is there I pay eight. Other moms I talked to in California said this was about average. Some paid as high as $15. Of course you have to see what you are being paid for the time away from home. I don’t take a job if my take home pay after taxes isn’t double what I shelled out in babysitting. If it’s for a fun night out then it’s a fun night out.

5) Trust your instincts but avoid stereotypes. The goal of course is that your kids are safe, sound, and stimulated. If any of those things aren’t happening then there’s a problem. My instincts are pumped full of growing up in the seventies with questionable adults around. I don’t immediately trust the cop or the wife of the preacher. Seen one too many movies and heard one too many stories I suppose. But don’t assume a girl will be a better babysitter than a boy and vice versa. Don’t assume the girl with the failing grades will be bad. Don’t assume the boy with the tattoos will be angry. Et cetera.

6) Complimentary. You don’t need your babysitter to be a carbon copy of you---what you need is someone complimentary. If yours plays the piano and you don’t, make babysitting piano night. If yours can read blue prints and can build stuff make babysitting night building night. Use their gifts and make the babysitting nights as fun for the kids as they are a good time away for you.

    Of course the best people to tell you if you’ve got a good babysitter is your own kids. Trust them and listen to them. If they love him or her and can’t wait to see him or her again , then I’d say you’ve got yourself a winner.  Hold on to ‘em!