Monday, November 14, 2011

Dude, that's my babysitter

In seven years of hiring babysitters, I've had one of nearly every kind.
There have been grannies and nannies, sweet middle schoolers and lovely co-eds, cheerleaders who are flirts and quirky actresses in maxi-length tie-dye skirts.
They've zoomed through our lives with their foam crafts and finger paints and pop-up books. They've played tag and baked cookies and watched Disney, women and girls who all truly care about the well-being of my brood.
But my new favorite caregiver is all that and more.
At six feet six inches, our new babysitter has a machine gun laugh, a wicked dodge ball serve and biceps bigger than my head.
My new babysitter is a 17-year-old dude.
I first hired Guy as a lifeguard.
He came to Grandma's house in September to monitor the big kids as they swam while the toddlers and their parents played out front.
Turns out, he lead a series of games for three hours then told me he had "the best time!"
Intrigued, I hired Guy again to lead backyard sports with my second-grade Sunday school class.
He was a complete prince, gently keeping the peace while constructively engaging the entire lot.
I was further sold when he suggested his little brother--a guest at the party--enjoy a bottled water instead of slurping up another sugary Capri Sun.
Guy didn't text.
He didn't talk on the phone.
He plans to attend college in the fall and has already shadowed local fireman and paramedics to get a taste of what those careers might be like.
I was downright smitten when I called him last week to offer up another job.
Still, my cultural bias interfered.
"Would you like to, um, come over to practice sports with my twins?" I asked.
I knew the statement was downright ridicious, especially coming from me, a woman so worried about gender constraints that I carefully provided my son with his own lookalike brunette doll and a pink stroller to push it in.
But my decision to tread softly comes with some knowledge of Texas men.
Unlike the guys I know out East and in the Midwest, the cowboys I'm acquainted with down here are happy to be modern guys--so long as you keep that fact quiet. Sure, they'll play with the kids in the cul-de-sac, switch out the laundry then start the dinner--so long as you don't bring up what they're doing. They'll moonily take their girls to a Daddy and Daughter Dance--albeit in their pickups--or sit down for a school conference--while glancing down the hall to see if other men are around.
I met one man at Kroger in Flower Mound who was eagerly reading the label on the back of jar of baby food.
"Ma'am, can you help me with this?" he politely whispered, eyebrows furrowed. "Does the 'organic' part really matter all that much? I want to do what's right."
Many studies claim that Americans have eradicated gender roles--research that includes Texans. They say men and women share the burden of earning income equally. Child care is evenly split. So, too, is the amount of time spent doing chores.
Still, it seems the guys I know down here like to keep a line of manly demarcation. They'll wear the apron--so long as they can keep their dusty boots and a Stetson in the closet.
Like many Texans before them, they want to forge their own path in their own way.
Meanwhile, I'll never know if Guy would have been offended had I used the term "babysitter."
And guess what? I'm not going to ask him anytime soon.
As long as Guy can outlast my kids in a game of baseball then reheat the mac-and-cheese, I'll thankfully call him "Dude."

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