Babysitting 101: The class you don’t want to miss

What babysitting throughout college taught me

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Sarah Ashman is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily.

Chandler Collins | Cavalier Daily

The dream of every undergraduate is to be paid to take classes. Imagine — instead of having to pay tuition, you can clock in in for the hard work you’re doing and material you’re learning in AMST 3001, “Theories and Methods of American Studies” or ENGR 2500, “Introduction to Nanoscience” — what could be better?

Well, finally, as a fourth year, I’m starting to realize that I’ve actually been doing that.

The summer going into my second year, one of my housemates put me in touch with a mom of two baby boys living in Crozet in need of a regular babysitter for a few hours each week — mostly so that she could go to the grocery store without her “little helpers.” Coming from a big family with lots of younger siblings under the age of 10, I have had a lot of experience with babysitting and was happy to find a job that didn’t involve taxing my negligible income. I quickly answered that I would love to help.

A week later, I drove my car down a long gravel driveway, past a big red barn and a horse pen, to the little farmhouse of a family that I actually needed much more than they needed me.

Three years later, I am convinced that babysitting for the Carringtons has been one of the best and most rewarding experiences I have had in college. When I agreed to give my time and energy to their little boys — and later a brand new baby girl — I had no idea what I would be receiving along the way. Babysitting gave me a place in the community outside of the University, a home away from my parent’s home in Richmond and a new perspective on the temporal issues of college. I was expecting to only make snacks, pick up toys and go on walks — instead, I was gifted with caring guidance from adults who have been in my shoes and the opportunity to be humbled by small joy.

Even with the various forms of community service available to students, my personal experience is that the University can feel like a very insular place. Even as a Young Life leader, who spends a majority of her free time volunteering at Albemarle High School and mentoring high school girls, I point to babysitting as my sweet bridge off the island of Grounds.

Babysitting connected me to the greater Charlottesville community in a way that wasn’t contingent on my performance at the University. It allowed me to be known for my gifts and work outside of those praised in the academic world, and it gave me an identity outside of being a student. Being a University student is a wonderful, powerful thing, but it is never all of who you are. Babysitting reminded me that I was a part of a bigger community.

The phrase “home away from home” is cliche, but I can’t think of a better way to describe a physical house that is not the house you grew up in, where you feel free to take off your shoes at the mud room door and eat the last slice of pizza from a fully stocked, stainless steel fridge. At the University, most of us go from dorm rooms — where we fit our entire lives into a 10-by-6 foot white cinderblock rectangles — to tiny, run-down apartments or houses where over 15 people sleep in tripled rooms. Being able to escape to a home — with heat, air conditioning, food and matching furniture — is much more restful than it may sound.

The house I babysit at — though it may be chaotic in its own way — is not dictated by the schedule or stress of classes. It’s a house of people with concerns and stresses, but it has different concerns and stresses than those defined by college. College has a way of being so all-consuming — making courses, internships and possible job opportunities feel so gigantic and small failures feel so definitively destructive — that can only be tamed by experiences which show that college is only one phase of your life. The things that feel the biggest and most daunting will come and go.

In my opinion, the people inside this home are the greatest gift of all. The Carrington family lavished love on me in times when I didn’t realize I was lonely and lacking. The Carrington parents became sources of advice, guidance and wisdom that I trusted whole-heartedly. They were adults who helped me understand what my car insurance was supposed to provide me with when I got into an accident, and they recommended premarital books when I got engaged. I have learned more about marriage, family and parenting from them than I could ever put into words.

But for as much as they taught me, their kids might have taught me more. Babysitting can be hard, physically and emotionally, depending on the day. Toddlers have inhumane energy — chasing after three can be absolutely exhausting. There were a lot of snacks to make, clean-up games to play and walks to be had.  But along the way, I learned so much about patience and how to giggle at little silly things again. There is something about children that is incredibly humbling — maybe it is their joy for things we take for granted, like mud puddles and blueberries, or their excitement for mundane tasks we dread, like helping empty trash cans. Whatever it is, they can make us feel grateful for the very small, very precious aspects of life. They teach us how to approach days with optimism, endless curiosity and boundless self-confidence.

Babysitting isn’t just for girls who want to become stay-at-home moms one day. In fact, it’s not even just for girls — my fiance babysat throughout college and loved it. These gifts are available to anyone who is willing to be consistent, learn as you go and be a little goofy. Not everyone has the same experience babysitting — sometimes the kids, or family in general, are not a good fit for the babysitter’s abilities or personality. But I can confidently say that it’s worth it to keep trying until you find the right situation. Why? Because I wouldn’t take back my time babysitting for the Carringtons over the past three years for the world.

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