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Return of the Babysitter Stealer

The mothers in the Tiny Kingdom come in all varieties:the crafty moms and the social climbers, the well-coiffed and the sweatpant wearing, the tennis players and the perpetual room mothers (God bless them), those who engage in sordid affairs and those who quickly let the rest of us know the gory details. I make no judgments about these women. Many are my friends. But I do want to be clear about one thing:

There is a special place in hell reserved for the most vile of all creatures, those who will stop at nothing to get what they want: the babysitter stealers.

Childless readers may not fully appreciate the importance of a dependable babysitter to those of us saddled with children. A babysitter is the promise of freedom. Without my sitter, I’d be confined to a house full of smelly boys, endless laundry, and Go-gurt that disappears almost as soon as it is purchased.

Friends share clothes, jewelry, table cloths and china without a second thought. Friends do not share babysitters so casually. I treat my babysitter’s name and phone number as classified information, divulging it only when a dear, trusted friend is in desperate need. Just because someone was in your wedding and could be counted on to walk down the aisle without dropping a bridesmaid’s bouquet does not mean that she will automatically be privy to your babysitter’s phone number.

Many babysitters don’t realize their significance to the women they work for. They might like the children they are keeping, but ultimately babysitters are in it for the money. Therefore, it’s up to the parents to police themselves and observe the protocol of babysitter etiquette. It is an unwritten rule that when you share your babysitter with someone else, it is for one time only. If the friend wants to call the sitter again, good manners dictate that she call you first and ask if you will be needing her. You have the right of first refusal of your sitter for that day.

Of course, if you’re a complete bitch, you can steal a sitter from someone else. But be warned: stealing a woman’s babysitter is like sleeping with her husband. Maybe worse, depending on the babysitter’s skill and the strength of the marriage.

I was the victim of a babysitter snatcher was several years ago. She was crafty and cunning; she used my mom to do the dirty work. My mother called me with a tale of woe. A friend’s daughter was new to town and needed a sitter for the weekend.

“I’ve only got one babysitter, and that’s Katie,” I told my mom. “I don’t give her number out to anyone. Even when The Voice used her one time, I made her tear up the piece of paper with Katie’s number on it after she called her.”

“You girls are so crazy about your sitters,” my mom said.

“Hey, a good sitter is extremely hard to come by, so when you find one you have to guard her like the only Hershey’s Kiss in a room full of PMS-ing women,” I protested.

Mom snorted. “Very funny,” she said. “Leah is having some health problems and is in a bad fix. I’m sure you could help her out this once.”

When Mom mentioned the health problems, that made me pause. I’ve been there and done that. In a moment of weakness and sheer stupidity, I gave my mom Katie’s phone number.

“Now, you make sure Leah understands that this loan is for the weekend only. Katie is my regular babysitter. She keeps my kids after school three days a week while I am at work. She is a vital part of my family,” I emphasized. “If Leah needs her own babysitter, she can ask Katie if she can recommend a friend, or she can call the number of the Placement Office at the University and they’ll send her a list of people who’d love to help her out.” For good measure, I gave Mom the Placement Office number to pass on to Leah as well.

I never saw Katie again. Apparently Leah put her on retainer and forbade her from accepting any other babysitting jobs. I couldn’t blame Katie– a babysitter has to take the best money available, although a little loyalty would have been nice. It was Leah who had stepped over the line, using my mother and her own illness to get to my sitter. Hell, she never even wrote me a thank you note for helping her out for what I thought was just a tough weekend, but turned out to be the next three years. Leah’s transgression was serious– no one likes a babysitter stealer, and you can ruin your reputation quickly when you engage in that type of behavior.

Last week, I was asking my current sitter, Angela, about her availability several days next month. She was already scheduled to keep another child on one of the days I needed her.

“Dang,” I said. “I’ll ask Chatty Mom if she can keep the boys that day.”

“Maybe I could bring the boy to your house and keep all four there,” Angela suggested. “You probably know the mom. Katie gave her my name.”

“Really? Who is it?” I asked.

“Her name is Leah,” Angela said.

I was dumbfounded. She’d struck again.

“Don’t worry about it,” I said to Angela before I could let my feelings get the best of me. “I’ll just work something else out.” I hung up the phone and started breathing heavily.

Then I realized that I could get pissed or I could get even. I decided to get even. I called Angela’s number and got her voice mail.

“Hey Angela, it’s Anne,” I said. “I tell you what. I’ll pay you double if you cancel on Leah at the last minute and come sit for me that day. Let me hear from you!”

Payback’s a bitch, honey.