My 5-year-old stares at me, not really comprehending what this means. Unless it’s candy or a shot to my balls, he doesn’t have much use for it. But my 11-year-old son, he knows exactly what it means and his face falls.
“Dad …” he begins.
“No,” I say. “Don’t dad me. Don’t even begin to think I’m changing this. Your mom and I are going to see a movie and your sister is babysitting.”
He looks at me hard, and his lips go tight. But then he accepts it.
My wife looks wonderful today. She smiles in a way that she did before we had children. It’s more carefree, worry lines erased from a creased brow. In jeans and a T-shirt, she has never looked so beautiful.
Budget babysitting for parental playtime
We will be gone just long enough to see a movie. We have completed some test runs like grocery store trips for 30 minutes. The house wasn’t burned down by the time we came back. But that was only for a short time, and we were no more than five minutes away. This is her first big test and it will probably be OK. At this point, I’ll take a probably.
For the last 12 years, my wife and I have hobbled together date nights on a shoestring budget. You have to put in the amount that a movie costs, for dinner, and then throw 60 bucks on top of that for the sitter. I call it the date night surcharge. And for 12 years, we’ve paid it. We have cut dates short because we didn’t want to increase the surcharge. How much for an extra hour? A car payment, and a year’s worth of college tuition.
My daughter, Little Hoss, bounces around the living room. She’s almost grown-up, she has told me a thousand times. She can handle it, she can control it. A jump from the couch to my chair, and I can hear a piece of wood break. Or, to be more accurate, I ignore that piece of wood breaking and pretend it didn’t happen.
I need this time with my wife. We need it. Things get frantic with a family. You have to run to practices, my wife has to work late, the water heater bursts in the basement. Some weeks, I give my wife a kiss on Monday morning and don’t see her again until Friday. So date night isn’t just something fun. No. Date night is a chance to forget that we have three money suckers that demand only the brand name Oreos. Those who babysit get the brand name, those who are babysat get saltines smeared with cream cheese.
You have your orders, follow them
I line all three kids up in front of me and give them the most dad speech I have ever given.
“Little Hoss is in charge. That means what she says, goes. Got it?”
“Yes,” they all say but Little Hoss says it with a lot more enthusiasm.
“That means if she says it’s time to clean up, you clean up. If it’s time for a snack, she gets it. Got it?”
“But, dad,” my son says. “What if an airplane crashes into our house and she’s stuck in the bathroom. Then the fire department can’t get in because she can’t answer the door. How are we going to get a snack then?”
This is what my boy does. He is trying to find a way to make this not happen, like his sister is some sort of monster that wouldn’t give him a snack. So he makes up the worst case scenario to try to get me to change my mind. But it’s not going to work. I’m going to do some hardcore hand-holding today with my wife and nothing is going to stop that.
“If that happens, you can get your own snack. And let’s be reasonable. Your sister is going to take good care of you.”
“No, she won’t,” he says.
“Boy, don’t push it.”
I grab my keys and my wife and I head to the door. I give one more reminder.
“Remember! Little Hoss is in charge!” I yell.
And softly, as if almost whispered, I hear my daughter respond.
“Suck it,” she says. And I’m pretty sure she is manically laughing.
I pause. This is going to end badly.
Fuck it, I have insurance. My wife and I leave for our movie.