Seven months ago, I was laid off from my third post-college job. It hadn't even been three years since my college graduation, and though I was known to complain my employers were the ones with the problem and not me, I knew that my job hopping record simply didn't look good on paper. The economy was in a rough place, especially for aspiring journalists, but I was definitely doing something wrong.
Rather than scour job listing sites, contact everyone in my professional network, or run around the city begging for another media job, I gave up ... temporarily, at least. I told everyone I was sick of wearing "boring" office attire, maintaining professionalism all the time, and constantly worrying about screwing up. Besides, the holiday season was approaching and few workplaces hire aggressively at that time, so I just didn't try to find a "respectable" job.
I joined UrbanSitter and began applying for Manhattan babysitting openings. Though I hadn't babysat since high school, when I was the go-to sitter in my suburban neighborhood, I knew I was a competitive applicant: I had a college degree, five nieces and nephews, experience watching babies as young as one-week-old to high schoolers, diaper changing expertise, and beyond. Upon uploading a photo of me and my nephew for my profile picture, I applied to regularly nanny for a 4-year-old boy in Gramercy. Three hours later, his mom responded to my inquiry, and after meeting with the family one night, I landed the gig.
A lot of friends and family members expressed disappointment with my choice to babysit while unemployed.
"If you want to be a defeatist, that's your decision," one of them told me. "I never thought you of all people would just give up like this."
I was immediately defensive, as I didn't think taking a temporary nannying gig because I was sick of corporate adults was the same as letting myself go, but knew these folks were merely looking out for me, not to mention concerned. I'd built up a strong career for myself in media, and it appeared I was throwing it all away simply because one job hadn't worked out.
After Thanksgiving, I started picking Desmond ("Desi") up from school everyday and walking twelve blocks with him to his apartment, where we'd have a snack, read a book, and play a game before going outside if he was in the mood to run around. At first, the hardest part of the job was hauling around a pre-schooler in bitter cold weather, as NYC winters didn't seem to faze him. He also had rituals he had to honor throughout our stroll home: pressing the automatic door opener outside one of NYU's hospitals, staring at a tree with a DO NOT CLIMB sign pinned to it, and sprinting through a park. Though freezing, I ended up enjoying his traditions, which said a lot about his sense of adventure and appreciation for the city in spite of its dirtiness.
The first few weeks were really fun. I could be as silly as I wanted without judgment. He loved that I read to him in weird voices and was willing to dance to "Party Rock" in the living room, and I didn't mind doing these things over and over again at his request. I also got to ditch my shapeless, ugly corporate attire, which I'd never grown to like. Babysitting had been fulfilling in high school, and it was fulfilling for me at 24.
As time went on, however, I started feeling lonely and missing my peers. The only person I'd see everyday (besides my roommate) was Desi, who of course couldn't engage with me like someone my age. I couldn't confide in him about my life, so I saved all that for journal entries and phone calls with friends. I began to miss nerding out at my laptop and discussing news with like-minded co-workers. As much as I'd hated sitting at a desk all day, I missed my desk job and following the 24-hour news cycle, and I even missed having a reason to put on dull, totally unattractive clothing. Chasing a 4-year-old around the park had gone from being fun to physically exhausting, as I'd never had to move around so much at previous positions. Reading Spider-Man on repeat had also gotten old, not because the story was cheesy, but because I'd heard it before. From my babysitter in the 90s. It was time to find another story.
It dawned on me that I would be moving backward if I continued babysitting rather than searching for a job in my field, which was my one true love, so in mid-January, I started actively looking for work. PolicyMic saved my life and gave me a sense of purpose again, so when I accepted a position at this site, I told Desi I'd no longer be watching him. He was let down even though he didn't show it, and in truth, so was I. He'd been my partner-in-crime during a period of uncertainty, and though I had some security again, I no longer had Desi.
After months of not working with adults or wearing anything besides jeans and a hoodie, I was ready to clean myself up and look like a 20-something with a full-time job. I was also suddenly surrounded by a bunch of awesome, creative people my age, and they all made me feel welcome right away.
Though I'm glad I only babysat for a few months between jobs, the experience was one of the most valuable of my life. Nothing teaches patience quite like having to reason with a child, and nannying also gives pseudo adults a chance to act like a kid again. I had so much fun with Desi and still think about him all the time, particularly at 1:30 every afternoon, when I know he's waiting to be picked up at school.
Have you ever had to take a post-grad babysitting gig? Chat with me about it on Twitter: @LauraDonovanUA