Monday, February 25, 2008

Chronicles of an Unpaid Babysitter: Why and How I was Schooled by a Toddler

Today I had a play date with a three-year-old. He provided important lessons about manners, money and bathroom etiquette.
But why was I babysitting and why wasn't I paid for my time?

With a home-based office, I often babysit for my friends' children. It's a common request: Due to a doctor's appointment, a parent-teacher conference or some other event, friends will often ask me to watch their kids for a few hours. Usually, I say yes. Here's why:

1. The grocery store business: "Can I borrow some sugar, foil, ketchup or your life?" That's a common request that I make of neighbors and friends. Given the constant requests that come out of my house, I feel guilty denying a friend a few hours of my time.

2. Returned favors: Last night a friend watched my youngest daughter. How can I can not return the favor? It's a great informal barter system.

3. The Lessons: My kids are teens and tweens. They teach me a lot about life, but pre-schoolers can really take you to school. Here's what I learned today from my little buddy:

  • Conquer your fears: During past visits to my home, my little pal has been fearful of our family dog, a mid-sized mutt. Usually, other children are around to serve as buffers and body guards. But today it was just the three of us: the dog, the three-year-old and me. And a miracle happened: The little boy conquered his fear of my dog Scruffy. Watching him interact with my dog, I realized that I can overcome my fears of driving and assorted financial phobias.

  • Don't be embarrassed to ask for help: When he needed assistance with his potty duties, the three-year-old was not shy or embarrassed to ask for my help. In contrast, as an adult, I've often been reluctant to ask for help with messy finances, education or some other sticky situation. But if I don't understand a financial term, concept or computation, I should not be embarrassed to ask for help.

  • Don't be wasteful: I made a snack for myself and asked my guest if he wanted something to eat. His response: "I have food at home." Priceless: When I'm at the mall, at the drugstore or at the movies, I will remember him and tell myself: "I have food at home....I have food at home."

  • Accept the Universe as-is: Briefly, my toddler friend considered a game of throwing a tennis ball to my dog while playing on the balcony. I shook my head and the toddler looked at me and said: "The ball will fall over the wall." I pray for such clarity and acceptance in other areas of my life. In other situations, I have chased balls and dogs over walls that I have refused to acknowledge. I have beaten my head against walls. Now --when faced with unmovable objects or difficult realities -- I will tell myself: "The ball will fall over the wall." That's my new mantra.
  • Be respectful of other people's property: Before playing with our action figures, toy swords or other trinkets around my home, the three-year-old asked for permission first.

  • Listen to the ocean: We have a huge conch shell in our living room. It was a gift from a kind vendor when we were on vacation one summer. The shell is pretty, but I don't pay much attention to it. I noticed, however, when my young guest picked up the big (and fragile) shell. "You can hear the ocean," he told me. I took the shell from him and held it to my ear. And yes, I could hear the ocean.


Sharon Harvey Rosenberg is the author of The Frugal Duchess of South Beach: How to Live Well and Save Money... Anywhere!, which will be published in June of 2008 by DPL Press.



Dedicated said...

I'm jealous! I love that toddler time! I also really enjoyed your view of this toddlers insight.

~Dawn said...

"I have food at home....I have food at home."

I have to remind myself of this as well.... A good teacher you have there... and you are a good listener as well!