A Latina mom's baby-sitting lament

Where do you look when you run out of relatives and close friends to baby-sit?

Story highlights

  • Rose Arce was lost when her regular baby-sitter, Rosanna, took a vacation
  • Arce's daughter, Luna, chased away the women an agency sent to watch her
  • Rosanna arranged an army of Latina sitters to sit in for her, which seemed to work
We began breakfast one recent morning delivering this news to Luna: Rosanna, her caregiver, was going on a two-week vacation. "Who is going to take care of me?" she asked. And then she gave me "the look." I call it pouty face. Her dime-sized brown eyes squeeze together, the lower lip rolls out, the hands ball up. Every time she looks like that, my crazy Mama Head empties of sugarplum fairies and fills with fears of pedophilia and child snatching.
We have had the same babysitter since Luna was born. Rosanna would step in front of a train for Luna. She is not easily replaced. But when Luna was a baby, we figured we had options. There is a reason God gave us mothers, tias (aunties), abuelitas (grandmothers) and the occasional BFF you call "co-madre" regardless of whether they are actually your kid's godmother and hence your "co-mother." The problem is every Latina in New York works until death. There is no cotton-topped Grandma on standby sitting in her house-dress feeding chickens.
I don't think all Latinas are so overprotective of their kids. But this one is. Luna was just a baby the first time Rosanna went on vacation. I called my mother who lives in DC and laid on the guilt. I recited the CDC statistic that 1 in 4 girls is sexually abused before age 18 (it's all about sexual abuse with the Mamas). She hopped on a train and I left for work.
She called me an hour later with Telemundo blaring in the background. Luna had early pouty face. She must be malnourished by my lousy parenting and in need of chicken soup. I told my mother she drinks only breast milk and to look in the fridge. Luna began throwing up at 3 a.m. I called the pediatrician, who yelled through the speakerphone to call 911. "You ate soup when you were a week old," my mother admitted sheepishly.
Rosanna demanded to vet her next replacement. She hangs out with a legion of sitters representing all the nations of Central and South America, and they have their special ways. Children should be stuffed with comfort food; pock marked by lipstick kisses, wrinkled from hugging and rocking, and wear fuzzy socks because their feet can never be too warm. I'm not saying other ethnic groups don't coddle their kids, but Latinas just seem to excel at it.
Baby Luna gives "pouty face" to her caregiver, Rosanna
I remember being handed a worksheet at a Mommy and Me group that mapped out three goals for toddlers: adaptation, separation, and integration. My sitter and her gang laughed at me. Adaptation? Baby will do it when she's ready. Take potty training. For months my toilet was surrounded by Latina sitters staring at Luna, waiting for poo. Separation? Never happens. Mamas, grandmas, nanas, your 400 tias and most particularly your girlfriends are in this with you cradle-to-grave. Integration? Yes, they are allowed to play with children being raised by their friends. That's plenty.
I wasn't going to be drawn into this kind of ethnocentricity. My employer offers a service providing bonded, certified, triple-A, recommended, backup babysitters. My sitter threatened to pull my Latina card. "You're leaving your/my child with a total stranger in a strange land?!" I reminded her I was born here. The next morning "Grace" arrived. Luna gave me pouty Face, but I walked out the door with my head high. I got a call an hour later. One of Rosanna's snitches was at my apartment. "She's feeding her cold plantains," she whispered in Spanish. I told her to butt out. Then came call No. 2, this time from my neighbor. "The Spanish nannies are icing the replacement," she warned me. "Luna has pouty face." Call No. 3 came from the sitter herself. "Luna doesn't want to take a nap or eat her porridge," she said. "Luna no longer naps, and what is porridge?" I asked. I came home after Call No. 5 to a troupe of nannies staring down this poor woman from "a Caribbean country where they don't even speak Spanish." I accused everyone of bigotry and got that stare that says "new mom." Grace revealed she had never cared for a child "this particular age" and said she had to go.
The specter of Grace reigned over our household for months. If you don't behave, Grace will be coming for the weekend. Clean up your toys, or Grace will pick you up from preschool. If only I could find that woman, I'd hire her one more time just to revive the memory. The next replacement sitter was an aging woman sent by an agency with hearts and fairies dancing across their logo. Not an hour after her arrival came phone call No. 1. "Mama, it's Luna. I'm on the phone upstairs." Let's start with the fact that Luna had never dialed the phone on her own. "Why are you upstairs?" I inquired. "I don't nap. I don't want bath." I could feel pouty face through the phone. Then came call waiting. The nanny was on the other line complaining that Luna wouldn't bathe at 2 o'clock in the afternoon. I clicked to Luna. "Mama come!" I was home in an hour.
Rosanna had won. During her next vacations, she outsourced Luna to her tribe -- Monica from Chile, Delma from El Salvador, Jaime from Guatemala. It was a brilliant solution for about a year, until all their kiddies started school. Suddenly, mamas were ditching their Latina sitters left and right in exchange for grimy after-school programs and college students trying to make an extra buck toward tuition. Those who didn't soon lost their sitters to more fulltime jobs. We clung to Rosanna. But her next vacation left us in a lurch. We requested a Spanish speaker from an agency, and they sent a woman from Puerto Rico. An hour later, my building superintendent called. "Your baby sitter is a freak," he said. "Luna told me to call. And she's not Puerto Rican." Who pretends to be Puerto Rican to get a job? I couldn't come home.
I posted a cry for help to my faux friends on Facebook, which elicited only sympathy. The super called again. "Would you like me to take her?" he asked, he of the four kids who've scampered our halls chatting in Albanian since they were toddlers. Great! He even has the keys! I expressed my glee on Facebook and the replies poured in. In short order, my super was accused of being a pedophile, a child trafficker, a canonize-able saint, and a shyster looking to rob me. I got home to find Luna with his daughter, Ana, all grown up, making paper bag puppets. Pouty face no more! Ding Ding Ding -- sitter Lotto! I had found an unemployed college graduate who lives down the hall and is great with kids. I was all set until I got altruistic and recommended her to a friend. Less than a year later she had a fulltime job.
That brings me back to this week. As soon as I mentioned back-up care, Rosanna sprung into action and ran it all by Luna who now talks in full sentences. They announced a girl named Yomaris would be monitoring Luna. I also hired a lovely girl from back-up care who they allowed to hang out with them. I still had Luna cruising from play-date to play-date. Rosanna somehow managed to monitor the entire thing from the Dominican Republic. By week's end, everyone had it covered. I was out of it, sitting totally detached at work, sporting my own pouty face.