We hired a babysitter!

We did not hire Mary Poppins. But we did hire someone great.
We did not hire Mary Poppins.

Last week, I hired a babysitter.

You might be puzzled about why something so ordinary would merit a blog post. I’ll tell you why. My search for a babysitter was only slightly less difficult than keeping track of all the characters on “Game of Thrones.” (What about that season finale? Sheesh. Didn’t see that coming.)

Our longtime babysitter, Anna, came to us through a babysitting agency. She’s seen Bini through toddlerhood and into primary school, and she’s genuinely fond of him. She seemed like the obvious choice to get me some free time and Steve and I some much-needed date nights. But when I called the agency last month, they told me Anna was in Poland, and they weren’t sure when she was getting back.

I panicked, but then threw myself into the babysitter-search process. If you’ve never done it, you just don’t know. You just DON’T KNOW. It’s a nightmare.

I spent the next month asking friends for recommendations and posting on local websites and even signing up for Care.com. I refined my job description to include 10-12 hours of weekday child-minding, since Evan was doing so well and I’m sort of dying to start working a little bit.

I had plenty of prospective sitters come on like gangbusters: I’m super-excited about the opportunity, you seem like such a nice family and I really LOVE boys, etc. But most were ultimately flaky, and gave me references that were out of date, or blamed a “family emergency” for missing our meet-and-greet date. Others just weren’t a great fit, either because they seemed ill at ease, or because they hadn’t figured a babysitting job would require actual work.

We did find a fantastic young woman, but she was looking for full time hours. When the final candidate vanished into thin air, not returning calls or emails, I was in despair. It looked like a long, hot summer with no free time and no work for Mama.

It’s said that the darkest hour is just before dawn. Last Tuesday, I was moping about when the phone rang. It was Anna.

“Hi there!” I said hopefully. “Are you back?”

“I am back!” she sang. “I hear you might need me this summer?” I hired her on the spot.

Now, our happy ending isn’t the only reason I bring this up. Adoptive parents reading this post probably know The Rule about leaving your newly adopted child with a caregiver: Don’t. Not for six months.

I remember being at an all-day training last year and the facilitator (a social worker) talking about the importance of hunkering down and allowing everyone to bond. She further advised that it was best if one parent could take six months off to assist in that process.

In the same breath, this facilitator also told us that we must find time to take care of ourselves — get enough exercise and sleep, and to nurture our marriages. One brave soul raised her hand and asked the question we were all thinking: “How do we do that and not leave our kids with a babysitter?”

“It’s difficult, I know,” was the maddeningly vague reply.

I broke The Rule with Bini, leaving him with a sitter for four hours a week so I could run errands and drive by myself in the car. I didn’t end up in Parenting Jail, but I’ve always felt bad about leaving him after just two months. Did it affect our bonding process?

I do think that I’m a better mother if I have a little time to myself each day — to walk the dogs, get some exercise or go to the grocery store without two kids begging me for Gatorade and Pop Tarts. I come back refreshed and more focused, which is good for everyone involved.

Now, if Evan (or Bini, for that matter) had been fearful or inconsolable whenever Steve or I left the room, we wouldn’t have even considered a babysitter. We’re not barbarians. Lots of newly adopted kids are understandably terrified of new people or new environments, and in those cases it’s crucial that families keep their child’s world simple and small.

But my kids aren’t like that. Bini was always a sunny, engaging and happy child. Evan is joyful and easygoing, delighted by new things and new people. The only thing that scares him is our coffee grinder.

I asked Evan’s pediatrician in early April how he felt the bonding was going. “I think you know best how it’s going,” he replied. “He seems to be attaching really well, but you’re an experienced parent. What do you think?”

I got a similar response from the social worker at Children’s in Seattle, when we had our initial visit with the cleft team. Evan had blown away the audiologist, the speech pathologist, the geneticist and the pediatrician with his intelligence and rapid language development, so the social worker said the same thing: trust yourself.

It took a visit from our agency’s social worker to convince me that I wasn’t a horrible, selfish person to need some alone time. He came to observe and talk with us for our first post-placement report, and Evan alternated between sitting on our laps and running off to play Duplo.

“That’s the gold standard, what he’s doing,” the social worker said. “See how he brings you a Lego, and then runs off to play with it? That’s attachment. And that’s exactly what you want.”

So I hired a babysitter. She starts next week.

Guangzhou, the introduction

The Garden Hotel, from above.
Guangzhou, through the haze.

Whew, it’s been awhile since I shared my story about the Chinese toilet. My parents and brother came to visit, it was Bini’s birthday, XJ has been snoring like a buzzsaw and we’re not getting any sleep, etc. That’s a post for later. I’m long overdue in posting about our travels, and we’re in the final leg, Guangzhou.

I should also note that we’ve renamed XJ to Evan, which is how I’ll refer to him forthwith. OK, back to the story.

We arrived in Guangzhou on Friday, March 13 (which yes, I just realized was Friday the 13th. Nothing unlucky happened, just a crappy airplane flight). It was nighttime, after 8 o’clock, and both boys were tired and cranky. We were met at the airport by Helen, who is quite possibly the nicest guide in the world. Except for Sarah and Elsie, who are also based in Guangzhou.

These aren’t their Chinese names, of course. All of the guides explained to us that they chose their American names while studying in college, and what’s kind of sweet is that they’re all these old-fashioned names, like Helen and Elsie and Sarah. Not a Brynlee or Kyleigh in the bunch.

I usually got polite, slightly piteous looks when I told experienced China travelers that our itinerary included eight days in Guangzhou.  Guangzhou — called GZ by those in the know — isn’t usually on anyone’s top five list of places to see in China. It has 14 million people just in the city limits, and it’s a major transportation and trading hub. But it’s not very pretty. It’s vertical, in the same way that Hong Kong and Shanghai are, and it’s modern. It has a sprawling skyline and a humid climate and it’s close to both Hong Kong and Macau. We were there because it’s also the location of the American consulate — the final stop for all families looking to leave the country with their adopted Chinese children.

Helen, who was that rare combination of cheerful and calm, shepherded us to a van and we were off. She told us a bit about what to expect in the coming days, and asked us how Evan was adjusting. We asked her to tell Evan a few things for us, in Mandarin: That we still weren’t home yet, that we’d be in this hotel for a few days and then we’d go home on a big airplane flight. That we loved him, and that he was a good boy. His face lit up at that one. “He likes praise,” Helen said.

We pulled up to The Garden Hotel, which from the outside, looked like a Vegas hotel. It felt a lot like Vegas on the outside, too, with the upscale mall across the street and the pedestrian overpasses crisscrossing the busy, wide streets. I was very curious about The Garden, which is where tons of adopting families stay. In the adoption community, The Garden is beloved for its Western beds, its spacious suites, its unflappable housekeeping staff, its varied and plentiful breakfast buffet and its expansive grounds. We spent a fair bit of time roaming the hotel in the ensuing days, for lack of anything better to do.

It was nearly 10 o’clock, but the entry of the hotel was a hive of activity, with staff scurrying about and people wheeling their luggage in and out. The lobby was enormous and ornate, with no fewer than three restaurants and a half-dozen fancy-looking stores just in the immediate area. For the first time since we arrived in China, I saw people of different ethnicities, and nobody gave our little rainbow crew a second glance. I saw Eastern European men decked out in club gear, a Middle Eastern family with piles of luggage, and lots and lots of Chinese kids and their new Caucasian parents.

The Garden Hotel, from above. I'm not sure how Steve got this picture. Maybe in his private helicopter?
The Garden Hotel, from above. I’m not sure how Steve got this picture. Maybe in his private helicopter?

Most of the kids had obvious special needs, like cleft lip, or microtia or Down’s syndrome. With others, it wasn’t clear what their need was, but the vast majority of families there were adopting children with some medical issue. Parents who want a “healthy” child can wait up to five years to be matched; after submitting our dossier, we waited five months to be matched with Evan. But I digress.

We took the elevator up up up to the 27th floor. Along the way, Helen told us that we could have breakfast downstairs, or in the executive dining room, on the 30th floor. “Most families on the executive floors find that dining room to be quieter,” she said with a smile.

I want to just clarify here that I didn’t realize our suite was going to be three times as big as my first San Francisco apartment. I knew it was a suite, that there was a separate bedroom and two bathrooms. But I didn’t realize that there would be a large living room and dining room, a wet bar, a walk-in closet and vanity area, and a big master bath. Three TVs, including one over the big jacuzzi tub.

“Wow,” I said to Steve as we toured the suite. “If you have to be in Guangzhou for a week, this is the way to do it.”

There was a knock at the door and a housekeeper wheeled in a crib for Evan. No cot for Bini, which irked me. We’d asked for a cot for him in all three hotels, and it had been this big issue. “What if we put the sofa cushions on the floor and it’ll be like camping out?” asked Helen. Bini was game for that idea, so the housekeeper scurried off to get a set of sheets, and then made up the cushions like a bed.

After giving the housekeeper a big tip, we unpacked as much as we could, wrestled the boys to bed and crashed out. We had the medical visit the next day, which was legendary in adoption circles for being hectic, tear-filled and characterized by long waits. “The medical” was another in the long list of official things we had to do before we could have our consulate appointment on Thursday, and get the heck out of China.