Since quitting my office job in June, I have been working as an ESL tutor and a nanny in Philadelphia. While teaching and tutoring my neighbors who are learning English is my passion, nannying is what pays the bills. And I like it. I like kids, it’s good money, and sometimes there are decent snacks in the cupboard. I’ve been watching a little guy part-time since he was two months old and just went full-time last month. The plan is to send him to daycare when he is six months, so my tenure as his second favorite lady is quickly coming to an end. While checking out other opportunities on Craigslist today (during nap time!), I came across an ad titled “Looking For Cheap Trustworthy Experienced Female Babysitter.” Since I am or can be all of those things, I clicked on the link and read this:
“I’m about to start a new job and looking for a experienced caring babysitter for my 1yr daughter. I can afford to pay $80 a week since my job doesn’t pay much. This would be from 6am to 2pm during the week. Your help is greatly appreciated.”
$80 a week for 40 hours! I make more than $80 a day right now and on particularly hard days, that doesn’t even seem like enough. But after reading a recent article in The New York Times about how expensive daycare is, and seeing all the Facebook discussions that ensued, I thought about how desperate this mom must be. I also thought about the kind of person who would watch a kid for $80 a week. I know I would, because I already have.
In 2010, I came back to the States after spending a year in Chile. I was sad and lonely and didn’t know where to land. Following a brief stay with my parents in California, I ended up at my best friend’s farm in Kentucky. D offered me a place to stay for the summer, rent free, but I needed to help out with chores and was encouraged to find a job. I spent the first month weeding the garden, doing chicken chores, and hanging out with his teenaged niece who was visiting. After she left, I started to think about jobs I could get that coincided with D’s work schedule because we were a 30-minute drive from town and I had no car. I off-handily mentioned to a friend that maybe I could find a babysitting job, and he said that his sister-in-law was looking for a nanny. Since I am friends with this whole family and they lived just a few miles down the road, I jumped at the opportunity.
My friends said they would love to have me as a nanny for their almost one-year-old son, but they didn’t have a lot of money to pay me. They would let me use their truck all summer, and their car when I was with the baby, but they could only pay me $80 a week. I agreed immediately. I needed a job, I only had two monthly bills ($75 credit card bill and $35 storage unit fee), and I really liked this family. I spent the next three months hanging out on ten of the prettiest acres in Eastern Kentucky with a really cool one year old. We took long walks with all of their dogs, listened to Queen, and visited his aunt and uncle who lived across the driveway. I got paid every Friday and because I didn’t have a bank in Kentucky, I put my earnings in a Space Camp mug next to my bed. I was happy. It was one of the best summers of my life.
I also remembered that when I was a kid, my mom watched a pair of twin boys before and after school. For two school years, they were like brothers and did what we did. My mom was paid $60 a week. She did it because she liked kids, she had the time and space, and she wanted to help another mom out. After she got paid, she would give me my $5 allowance and pay for my dance classes. We didn’t need the extra money, but it was obviously a good lesson for me, because 20 years later, I was doing the same thing.
Now because I have rent and bills, I need to make more money at any job I take. Taking care of other people’s children is hard work and worth every penny. But parents need to work and kids need to be cared for. This woman’s daughter deserves the exact same care as a kid whose nanny is making bank. I hope she is able to find someone good who can watch her daughter because of time and space, not because of the $80. If she were my neighbor, I would help her out. For now, I know I can’t.
Alycia Kohler lives in Philadelphia.