English Parenting

Canguros

In Spanish, we use the word canguro both to refer to the marsupial animal and to the person who takes care of our kids during short parental absences. A canguro, therefore, is a babysitter. For some reason my college students have always found this extremely funny. And what did they find even funnier? That my 22 year old niece, who plans to spend the Fall in Chicago, doesn’t have any jobs to list in her resume. Not even a canguro job. And neither did I at her age.

For American women being a babysitter at some point in their lives seems to be a rite of passage. I don’t think I have ever met one who never held a babysitting job. Reciprocally, parents are used to leave their kids with these young girls, a good part of them high school students.

In Spain, it is not that common to hire a babysitter. I babysat my nephews and niece occasionally when they were young, but I was a very young aunt, and the exception. None of my friends did it, most likely because Spanish teenagers and college students don’t tend to work. Part time jobs are not easy to come by there, and the course load in college is big enough that even working part time is a challenge. Add to that that the cost of a public university education is ridiculously low compared the the US. Why would they work, then? Leaving a fifteen year old taking care of younger kids would be unthinkable there. It turns out that, despite my student’s surprise, my niece and I are not the exception, but the norm.

I still remember reading El club de las canguro, a kids book collection that, back then and from Spain, sounded like the stories took place in Mars. They actually were set in the Connecticut suburbs, but that was several galaxies away for 13 year old me. I don’t know  what I liked more about them, the stories or the fact that the author, Ann M. Martin,  had the English version of my name.

El Club de las Canguro, back from my childhood
El club de las canguro, back from my childhood

So, what do Spanish parents do when they want to go out or work? They send the kids to daycare, hire a nanny, or call the grandparents. The last option seems to be the preferred one, and how wouldn’t it be, if you have free child care with the best references in the world?

But I am here in Chicago, without grandparents on hand, lacking a big network of people who can give recommendations for babysitters, a great nanny who just left, and a job I need to perform, even if it is only for eight hours a week. Coming from a country where babysitting is not common makes me very paranoid about leaving my baby with someone I just met. It is not part of my culture, or of how I was raised. Since he can’t talk yet and tell me how it went, I’m terrified of hiring someone new. And the urbansitters of this world don’t sit well with me. Still, today I will be interviewing a babysitter to cover the last weeks of class, and hopefully to allow us to have a date night every now and then. Ironically, she is Spanish. And that may be a good enough reason for her to get the job.

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