By Jim Rosenberg

Baby-sitting is a pathetic contract:

The party of the first part ("Parents") agrees to pay cash to the party
of the second part ("Baby-sitter") to watch TV in the vicinity of the
party of the third part ("The Kids") so that the party of the first part
can go out to a restaurant and complain about the behavior of the party
of the third part and the cost of the party of the second part.

Baby-sitting night at our house is a predictable disaster.  Jacob
already senses something is up, perhaps from his $900 worth of calls to
the Psychic Infants Network.  He reacts with the most potent offensive
maneuver in his arsenal:  the hanging on to Barbara's butt like a
chigger gambit.  This tactic, attempted by me while we were dating,
meets with the same result:  time out for the attempter.

David, God bless him, actually looks forward to a baby-sitter now, under
the same theory that teenagers relish a substitute teacher ("Why, yes
Mrs. Havenoclue, we always shoot spitballs at each other in third
period!").  As we get in the car, I can hear him shoveling it to his
regular baby-sitter:  "Des, we always have lollipops for dinner, we
*always* do!"  Part of me is proud of him for the nerve to attempt a
death-defying, unheard of *dinner full of lollipops*, but most of me
remembers the 20/20 interview I saw with Jeffrey Dahmer's father -- the
one where he painstakingly recalls what Jeffrey was like as a little
boy.  The man seemed wrung out from replaying over and over again what
he *should have done* in the early stages of parenting.  Sometimes when
I see David snowing the baby-sitter, I get the vague feeling I am
heading for an interview with the Barbara Walters of the 21st century,
but I'm not exactly sure what to do about it.

The biggest hurdle to a good baby-sitting night is getting out the
door.  If the baby-sitter is new, we must first painstakingly review the
David and Jacob Owner's Manual, which is like a NASA pre-launch
checklist.  It begins with a two hour filmstrip entitled "The Rosenberg
Boys -- A Handful."  When the filmstrip is over, it's time to review
medical records, including the consistency and appearance of each
child's stool.  By then, I am no longer interested in dinner and want to
scrub the whole mission.

The trick for me is to actually get out of the house *before* David says
something which humiliates me.  I rarely do.  Imagine my pride when,
after successfully stealing a top-notch baby-sitter right out from under
the noses of good friends of ours, I hear David tell her in a bratty
blurt:  "*Excuse me*, Amber, I'm picking a booger out of my nose and
flicking it" -- and then, the parting shot:  "like Daddy."  Great.  Now,
every time Amber looks at me I can see her doing the internal math: Jim
= Boogerpicker.

Once we are out of the house, we begin a round of "I dunno, what d'you
wanna do."  This can take hours, and -- if done properly -- should end
in a big fight.  What we really want to do is be *at home* without the
kids.  There are chores to do, books to read, fluffy cushions to sit on,
even more brothers and sisters to make.  But we can't.  We are nomads.
We must roam the city in search of fun, with only our bad moods to keep
us company, while our mercenary deals with the kids.  Usually, this
means dinner and a movie, but lately I've been thinking the Journey's
End motel for cable television with a side order of l-u-v, during the
commercials.  I didn't read "The Bridges of Madison County," but I can't
imagine it gets any more romantic than PieWorks, ACC basketball, and an
occasional "love you, hon" during the commercials.  How could it?

Barbara and I are deep into a complicated and mysterious system
regarding griping about the boys.  Once at the restaurant, one of us
begins complaining about how they don't listen and are too violent and
loud.  The other must interrupt halfway through and say, "honey, he's so
little -- he's really a good kid."  Somehow, it works out so that we
alternate roles.

My final comment about baby-sitting is to all the ladies in the
audience.  It's a request, really.  When I am out with the boys alone,
women will invariably approach me and ask "are you *baby-sitting*
tonight?"  When a father is with his kids, it's not called
baby-sitting.  I call it "accumulating points."  You can call it
something else -- just not baby-sitting.

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