To Babysit or Not–That Is the Question

By Roizy Baum

Ihave two daughters as different as chalk and cheese. While I love them both to pieces, the problem is that I am much more eager to offer my services to one over the other when she has an out-of-town simchah to attend, or has just given birth to a baby.

I still have nightmares about the time I bubby-sat for Daughter Number One when her brother-in-law got married in Europe. While no one would ever accuse her of being a balebusta, the house was an absolute war zone. By the time I located a pot to boil some pasta (the only thing her kids were willing to eat) they were already feasting on potato chips, adding another layer of crumbs to the already filthy floor.

The first morning of the longest week of my life, as I attempted to make heads or tails of the jumble of mismatched, wrinkled shirts and pants (could I really send them off to school like that?), the children were all whining about how they hated everything in the closet and there was nothing for them to take along for recess. The buses were already honking by the time I promised to buy them a box of Mike and Ike candies (each) if they settled on popcorn and pretzels.

And if I thought I’d finally enjoy some down time after they went off to school, there were still mountains of laundry to be done, beds to be made, pantries to restock and lots of tidying up to do. I even considered shelling out some money for additional cleaning help, but I wasn’t familiar with the agencies in her area.

Homework and bedtime were the worst. Her kids gave me a real run for my money! It is no secret that I am no longer a youngster. My once-upon-a-time seemingly boundless supply of energy has now been reduced to a precise, measured amount that expires in the early evening. By then I am too weak to argue over who needs baths and who doesn’t, or whether or not they deserve another bedtime story. I’m sure my grandchildren were delighted to think they’d hoodwinked me into believing their mother lets them sleep with the lights on. Little did they know I would have gladly paid them just to stay in their rooms!

I’m not saying that my own children were absolute angels when they were little. In fact, some of my grandchildren seem to have the same genes. But my daughter has an official policy of letting her kids “flourish” rather than be subjected to criticism that might harm them for life, so let’s just say that our child-rearing styles are very different. The day my daughter finally returned, all I could think was buying a ticket for a well-deserved vacation in Florida.

Daughter Number Two is her sister’s polar opposite. Whenever I bubby-sit for her, I arrive at a meticulously organized house. Finding things there is never an issue. Everyone’s clothing has been laid out a week in advance, and she ensures that the cabinets are adequately stocked with favorites. She has the cleaning lady come over several extra mornings so that none of the housework falls on my shoulders, and instructs her to do the laundry as well. And these grandchildren are really well-behaved! Suppers (prepared in advance by their mom), homework, baths and bedtime are all stress-free.

Yes, I know it might be this daughter’s good fortune to have been born with superior organizational skills, and nobody chooses her own fate, but I’ve witnessed how she has trained her children to throw away dirty wrappers, put away toys, place their dirty clothes in the hamper and clear away their plates after meals. When she returns from wherever she has been, I can honestly say, “It was my pleasure. Just call me any time!”

Well, here’s my predicament. Daughter Number One is flying off to a wedding shortly, and Daughter Number Two is having a baby. I know it would be awful to help one child and not the other, but the mere thought of bubby-sitting for Daughter Number One is making me break out in hives. Perhaps the time has come for a frank discussion. Another option would be to tell both daughters that I’m just not up to it anymore and they’ll have to make other arrangements, but that would break my heart because I remember what it was like to be a young mother and have to scramble to make arrangements.

Seriously, I don’t know what to do.

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