Being prepared for the unexpected is just one of the many things baby sitters must be.
After an hour of fussiness, Jordan finally was resting quietly in his crib. I sank into the couch and curled up with a book.
A frantic holler sent me flying back to his side -- only to find the 6-month-old baby in an awkward position on his back with a leg sticking out through the bars of the crib.
The leg would not budge, despite my best attempts to untangle him. His round little thigh was wedged tightly between the bars.
This was a tragic situation. I didn't want to hurt him, but I couldn't leave him like that until his parents got home. Calling them was a solution, but as a young baby sitter, I didn't want to disrupt their dinner unless absolutely necessary.
My solution was close to home. My house was just across the street so I called my mom. She came over and, with a little lotion, eventually loosened his leg from the clutches of the crib.
We laugh at the episode now, but it was not funny at the time. I was scared.
It is strange events such as the Jordan incident that baby sitters must be prepared to face.
As she taught the American Red Cross Babysitting Class recently, instructor Lori Greenfield reminded the potential baby sitters, who must be 11 to take the class, that because they are young, they will be experiencing many situations for the first time.
"They are the parent in some situations and need to know how to respond in an emergency and how to fix minor emergencies," Greenfield said. She said it is important for the sitter to feel comfortable consulting his/her own parents or have the name of a trusted neighbor or nearby family member in case help is needed.
The baby-sitting class, which is offered three times a month in the summer and as needed during the school year, teaches sitters basic baby-sitting knowledge. For a fee, future baby sitters attend a six-hour class, receive a baby-sitting basics handbook, learn life-saving techniques including basic first aid, get a first-aid flip chart and receive a completion certificate. The students also learn how to diaper babies using cloth and disposable diapers, how to hold a baby and what to do if an emergency occurs.
To be completely prepared for everything, it is important for the baby sitter to get necessary information about the children and rules of the house before the parents leave. Greenfield suggests doing this in a separate visit a few days before the job, so the parent is not in a hurry to leave. During this visit, the baby sitter can fill out a basic information sheet about the new client.
Emergencies do happen, so it is important to know the full address of the house and nearest cross street in case an ambulance is needed. Knowing the child's doctor, the parents' hospital preference, the family's insurance plan and how to contact the parents is also necessary in case of an emergency.
Learning the daily routine and sticking with it is another part of making a baby-sitting experience go smoothly. Greenfield stressed discussing meals, snacks, television rules, bedtime, health problems and other basic information while the child is present.
"That way they know that you know the rules," Greenfield said.
For example, some parents prefer that the television not be turned on at all. Diane Church, Fairway, said she wants her children to take advantage of interacting with a new person. She likes sitters who play creative games and stimulate their minds instead of using the television.
Another selling point for Church is a sitter who leaves the house as clean, if not a step cleaner, than she left it. This does not mean vacuuming, but it does mean working with the children to pick up their toys after playing, she said. Along the same lines, Church leaves a clean kitchen for her baby sitters and does not expect to come home to a dirty kitchen late at night.
Parents also view the potential sitter's previous experience with children as important, Greenfield said. Playing with children while parents are at home or playing with young family members is a good way to learn.
Sarah Marlow, 11, Lawrence, attended the baby-sitting course and also helps with child care at her church on Sundays. Nathan Warner, 11, Lawrence, also attended the class and said he gains experience from living with his baby cousin and playing with friends of the family while their parents visit.
On the job fun
But the most important part of baby-sitting is giving the children a safe and fun time while the parents are away, Greenfield said. If the children don't like the sitter, parents will not hire him or her back.
"I try to get the child engaged in an activity before the parent leaves, that way the parent can slip out without the child even noticing," said Becky Heinrich, preschool teacher at Century School and a longtime baby sitter.
Lastly, have fun with the children.
"Play with the children," said Greenfield, "offer them a fun time, then you will have another job because they will want you back."