What You Really Must Tell the Sitter

This weekend, for the first time in three years, my husband and I will go away. Together. Alone.

It's risky. When you've been married as long as we have, time alone can create just the right atmosphere for a torrid, steamy, passionate argument. But it's a risk we're taking.

Years ago, my parents encouraged us to plan an annual trip away from the kids. “It's an insurance policy on your marriage,” they said. Great advice. And they're right — time alone is the best route to romance, so most years we've escaped to be reacquainted.

Lately, jobs, busy schedules, and Catholic school tuition sabotaged our getaways. And in the grand scheme of things, we figured we should make our retirement savings a higher priority than our childless junkets.

This year, we realized we'd rather spend our retirement in a burned-out building than live in a Sun City condo but not speak to each other. Relationships require an investment, too. Who cares what it costs? We're out of here!

Which brings us to the Big Dilemma: what to do with four kids? We thought about farming them out, but this idea has major flaws.

First, we would immediately owe four families a huge favor. Bad plan.

Second, it's a logistical nightmare requiring its own software. Charts outlining sports schedules, medical issues, sleeping and eating habits, individual quirks. Information with headings like “Don't be surprised when” and “He only gets night terrors if” Planning for the contingencies would take longer than the entire romantic getaway.

Not to mention the cost of thank-you gifts. You can't exactly show up empty-handed to retrieve your kids after three days. By the time we purchase dinner certificates for four couples, we may as well pay someone to “be us” while we're gone.

But the biggest reason to hire a sitter and keep the kids at home is just that — to keep the kids at home. Sleeping in their own beds, eating familiar cereal, playing in the neighborhood. So “hire a sitter” lands on the list of things to do.

But not just any sitter. The kids have preferences: “She has to be fun! She has to sing, dance, and play basketball! She has to make homemade pizza! She has to let us stay up late and eat ice cream for breakfast!”

Obviously, my list of requirements is a little different. She has to drive a big enough car. She has to make them clean the house before we return. She has to say “No” to Hostess products as a food group. I don't necessarily need to see a current CPR certification, but I want some assurance she would know when to call 911. Mostly, she has to be someone we trust.

Since we started hiring sitters, I do this little routine before we walk out the door, even if it's just to go to dinner. “Okay, just so we're clear, no booze, no drugs, no boyfriends, no R-rated videos, no leaving the kids alone in the house, no long distance calls, no using our credit cards to buy things online, no games involving fire, no joyrides in the back of a pickup with guys named Dusty or Billy Bob…”

My husband thinks it's overkill, but I'm not taking any chances. I don't ever want a sitter to cry to me from the back seat of a police cruiser, “But you never said 'no hashish!'”

Fortunately, when we leave on Friday, our kids will spend the weekend with a terrific young woman who meets all our job requirements. Thanks to her, we'll be able to relax and enjoy something we just don't get enough of: each other.

(Marybeth Hicks is a writer and author of the features “then again.” and “A View from the Pew.” A wife of 17 years and mother of four children from second grade to sophomore year, she uses her columns to share her perspective on issues and experiences that shape families and the communities we share. Marybeth began her writing career more than 20 years ago in the Reagan White House. She also has worked in marketing and public relations positions in corporate and agency settings. Mostly, she spends a lot of time in her mini-van, where the real work of parenting actually happens. Learn more about Marybeth and her column at www.marybethhicks.com.)

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