"One, two, three, four!" Drumming a beat only she can hear among the chatter of the other kids. A little blonde girl about her age sits quietly, playing with her shovel and bucket a few feet away. My daughter spots her and decides to take five.
The little girl extends her hand, giving my daughter the shovel. "Look she is sharing," I say, encouraging her to take it and say thank you. I instruct her on how to take turns. She reluctantly hands it back and the exchange stops there. "Oh! She no sharing!" my daughter observes and I marvel at her immediate mastering of the word. I kneel down to facilitate what has now turned into a standoff.
I look around for the parent to approve of this interaction and hopefully help me out. A young woman with dark hair, maybe in her early thirties, stands behind the little girl, looking at her phone. She looks at me, nods to indicate the child is with her, and goes back to texting. Its very obvious that she'd rather be anywhere else but in this park.
I do my best to keep my boundaries with someone else's child while trying to help them play together. The little girl gets up and moves towards the center of the playground where my daughter follows her. Her sitter maintains her stance at the fence. It seems like this would be a perfect time to be supportive as this child is so nicely, yet cautiously interacting with my daughter. Perhaps it would also be a good time to get her away from the group of boys rough housing close by that are making me nervous. But its clear this babysitter's goal of the day is just to keep this kid alive until 6pm.
This child's parents are likely miles away, sitting in a boring meeting or drowning in paperwork. They are probably daydreaming about their little girl outside playing and happy she is being well cared for. I can't help but think about what well cared for means these days. How do we as parents define that? What are our expectations of those who watch our children? Is it a sitter's job to literally just watch the kid or to aid in his or her development by interacting with them?
I'm certainly no stranger to the look in that woman's eyes. The desire to be anywhere but watching Sid the Science Kid or stacking blocks. But I'm getting paid for this job in lifetime fulfillment and occasional kisses. Not actual dollars. And unless grandma and pop are around, I never get a day off despite going to work. While parents don't pay others to do the actual job of parenting, there has to be some kind of responsibility on the primary care taker to be more than just a pair of watchful eyes. This little girl's parents are in their respective offices giving their 100% to their jobs so they can put food on the table. And because this sitter isn't necessarily being supervised she doesn't put on a happy face or get involved, which in turn, can affect this kid's emotional and cognitive development.
Women like these are always around near my office. Most often the child is screaming or crying while the woman pushing the stroller is on her cell phone, talking to someone else nearby, or just staring vacantly ahead. It takes a lot of self control for me not to go over and put the kid's fallen shoe back on or give him a hug. The obvious physical characteristics indicate adult and child are not related, but its more so in the behavior. The lack of fear as they maneuver the child by hand through a busy crosswalk and inability to understand the kid is clearly pointing to and wanting his sippy cup, that creates the distinction between the parent and the paid help.
I'm fortunate that on any given day my husband will send me a photo of our daughter having a dance party in our living room, or text me an update about what she ate or when she slept. I love hearing stories of what they did together when I come home and seeing performances of new tricks she learned throughout the day. I'm sad that I have missed out on these things but thankful he is the one providing the nurturing, education and fun for her for 50 more hours a week than I can. He is the only other person in this world who has as much invested in her well being as I do.
We say good bye to the little girl and gather our things. The babysitter doesn't flinch as we walk away, leaving the child alone in the center of the playground. I tell my daughter how polite she was while buckling her into the car seat. She repeats her new favorite word "sharing" while stuffing her face with goldfish crackers.
I check the clock, counting the hours before bed time and gear up to push through my fatigue. Thankful to have this day off and time with my daughter I'm still looking forward to my husband coming home. I see the woman and little blonde girl leaving the park. A boy with blonde hair joins them and the woman still looks less than enthused as she pushes the stroller to the parking lot. I'm sure she too is counting the hours. Wondering how long it will be until she is relieved of these quiet, well behaved children to go home and unwind from such a stressful day.