The text message on my mobile reads:
“Bonne Année. Je voulais juste avoir des nouvelles de [Tadpole] – Myriam”.
It is dated January 4th. Oh dear. I do dimly recall having read this some time ago and making a sarcastic comment to Mr Frog about how the babysitter was touting for business again, but then I promptly forgot all about it. I haven’t the faintest idea whether I replied. The post-partum brain is a fickle creature.
Tadpole has somehow unearthed this message while tappety-tapping on the keypad. It’s really quite impressive the way she holds the phone to her ear and strolls out of the room as if she is having a private conversation I cannot be privy to (“Allô? Allô? Allô Gram ma!”).
So now I’m feeling guilty. Both about the dose of radiation Tadpole may be self-administrating (justification: the mobile is the only ‘toy’ I have to hand here in the doctor’s waiting room) and also about my lack of courtesy to the babysitter. She is not someone we can afford to offend. Our very social lives depend on her goodwill.
When you live in a big city, many hundreds of miles/kilometres from the nearest relative, finding a reliable babysitter is a big deal. There being no teenage girls conveniently located in our apartment building, we asked the childminder if she could recommend someone. She came up with a friend’s daughter who lived a half hour walk from our flat and required chaperoning home at the end of the evening. On foot, as opposed to on the back of Mr Frog’s Vespa.
In desperation I put an advert in our local boulangerie asking for a student with childcare references – one of those little ads you see everywhere in France with tear-off strips bearing our phone number. I was prepared to take the the risk of receiving a few heavy breathing perv-calls from mac-wearing stalkers who happened to buy a baguette that day. It was for a good cause.
The advert disappeared, I suspect removed by our soon-to-be babysitter, anxious to eliminate the opposition. She was perfect: nicely spoken, lived close by and had been picking up a toddler from school and minding her every evening for three years. Her references were duly checked.
And she is reliable. But I can’t help feeling that we are not the ones who call the shots here. She charges € 7 per hour – equal to the minimum wage in this country, but non-declared and therefore tax-free. That’s pretty good television watching/internet surfing/cupboard exploring money, by anyone’s standards. As we never seem to have any change when it comes to the crucial moment of paying her, the amounts inevitably get rounded up in her favour. Just to rub it in, she shows up carrying a different genuine-looking Chanel/Dior/Gucci handbag every time, her hair styled as if she has just come from a salon, her clothes pristine. I leave the flat feeling dowdy, in spite of my glad rags and make-up.
And then there is the guilt factor. Our ad said we would require someone about once a week. This was in the optimistic, naïve days before the reality of paying someone and then also paying to go out had really sunk in. You have to read really good reviews of a film before you want to spend €100 paying the sitter/seeing the film/buying Mr Frog the obligatory bucket of salty popcorn/having a bite to eat before/after the film. As opposed to renting the DVD for € 3. But occasionally Myriam adopts a petulant tone in her texts and implies she had hoped to work more regularly, so like the mugs we are we end up booking her just to keep her sweet, so that she will be there for us when we really do need her.
I suppose we should count our blessings though. A friend of mine uses an Orthodox Jewish girl whose family live in her apartment building. She has a bizarre set of rules about babysitting on the Sabbath. She can’t be paid on that day, nor can she do anything which constitutes ‘work’. The mother in question returned from a night out to find her children still wide awake and bouncing off the walls at midnight. Their bedroom light was still on, as the babysitter wasn’t ‘allowed’ to turn it off.
I try not to dwell on what our young lady gets up to when we go out. I know that when I babysat in my early teens I pretty much cased the joint for films with ‘rude’ scenes or mildly titillating literature (Women in Love, Tropic of Cancer). God only knows what I’d have got up to if I had broadband internet access.
I only hope she never stumbles across Mr Frog’s fluffy baaing sheep thong.