At the beginning of the summer, before I headed to Boston for the weekend, I posted on the Dinner with the Smileys’ Facebook page, “Have babysitter; will travel.” Halfway across the world, my husband, Dustin, whose military training has afforded him far more etiquette than even my Southern background gave me, saw the post and sent me an email.
That sounds tacky, he wrote. You’re lucky to be able to take a babysitter with you. Most people could not.
I removed the post, picked up my teenage babysitter, Kara, and thought about Dustin’s advice as we drove south with my three boys.
For the record, I ended up doing two trips this summer with two different babysitters who are sisters, and I didn’t pay either of them for it. I gave them a roll-away bed in the hotel room and I bought them lunch and dinner.
But this isn’t about money. And it’s not about me not being able to take care of the boys by myself, either. It’s about being lonely. While the boys fought in the backseat or played tic-tack-toe at the restaurant, I had someone to talk to. Ordinarily, on family vacations past, that person would have been Dustin. This summer, it was first Kara, and then her older sister Becca.
But the boys, who don’t have cousins or extended family in the area, benefited as well. It was as if we were traveling with their aunt or sister or cousin — someone willing to go to the hotel pool at 11 p.m. or stay up late watching movies when I was already ready for bed.
In other words: Dustin didn’t know what he was talking about!
I highly recommend this setup to military spouses dealing with a deployment. Although, it need not be a babysitter; any traveling companion will do. It’s a win-win situation. The babysitter or friend gets a free vacation (plus another bonus — keep reading), you are less lonely and the kids are happy. My trips this summer with Kara and Becca are ones I will never forget. I don’t think they will, either. (My apologies to their future spouses. More on this in a minute.)
Before I get too far, however, I should stop and tell you that when my husband and I travel, he is the adult. Dustin is much more worldly than I am. He knows about tipping and hailing cabs, and, most importantly, he knows that the water inside the in-room refrigerator isn’t free. Perhaps this is partly why he worried about my summer vacations with young babysitters. Kara, Becca and I were like puppies whose backyard gate had been left open. We ate at the breakfast “buffet” which ended up not being “all you can eat,” and we chose valet parking because — well, because when we pulled up to the hotel, a guy came along and told us he’d park the car for us.
Using a GPS, we circled Boston’s Back Bay more times than necessary (channeling Chevy Chase: “Hey, look kids, there’s Boston University! Fenway! Boston University again!”), but our dilemma did not lead, as it does with Dustin, to an argument about who’s better with directions and who lost the television remote two months ago. My sitters’ had a free vacation; of course they deferred to me. I mean …
It was yet another lesson in community: who says family vacations have to be “just family”? I didn’t necessarily need to take a babysitter with me; I wanted to take one. And throughout our trips, we all learned some valuable lessons about humanity, kindness and generosity. A hotel in Boston spontaneously upgraded our room and delighted in our responses: the boys dancing in the lobby, screaming “Oh, yeah! Oh, yeah!” and the babysitter awing over the special key for the elevator. A toll booth operator in New Hampshire patiently (never mind the traffic) gave us directions when we were headed the wrong way. At Aloft, in Lexington, Mass., an employee gave the boys Matchbox cars, then smiled at me and said, “I see how hard you’re working.”
The point is, had these been ordinary family vacations, I might have been in a Smiley bubble, hyper-focused on my husband and boys. We would have retreated to our room as if we were taking a holiday from the rest of the world. But my family of five was not together this summer, so the boys and I took a trip with and among the community. We were open to the possibility that people around us — even strangers — could make our vacation something better. And over and over again, they did.
After so much generosity and kindness, it’s only fair that I give something back. And, boy, did I! Free food and lodging weren’t the only things my young babysitters received this summer. They also got an education in traveling with three children. My gift to humanity: two fewer females at risk for unwed, teenage pregnancy.
Maine author and columnist Sarah Smiley’s writing is syndicated weekly to publications across the country. She and her husband, Dustin, live with their three sons in Bangor. She may be reached at www.Facebook.com/Sarah.is.Smiley.