Suburban Turmoil: Life lessons from a Vanderbilt babysitter

Thursday, July 9, 2009 at 12:00am

I watched from my dining room window as she pulled up in a Lexus SUV, grabbed a Louis Vuitton from the passenger seat and strode confidently toward my front door.

She was blonde, tanned and toned, with impossibly long legs that ended in a pair of hideous (and therefore expensive) fur-trimmed boots. Anxiously, I glanced around my house, noticing, as if for the first time, the peeling paint on the baseboards and the floors that desperately needed refinishing.

The doorbell rang. I threw a worried glance at myself in the hall mirror and went to answer it.

“Hi, I’m Lindsay,” I said, extending my hand and smiling as warmly as I could. The children came running to see our guest.

“Kids,” I said, “This is Meghan. She’s going to watch you for a few hours.”

My daughter gazed at her in reverent wonder. My son giggled with wolf-like glee. It was their first Vanderbilt babysitter, and as I looked at my children’s shining faces, I realized with dismay that my days of fishing from the Trevecca Nazarene Career Center pool were totally and irrevocably over.

The path I took to landing a platinum-edition Nashville sitter was predictably paved in dollar bills. A couple of years ago, I signed up for a $100-per-person party that introduced the “right” sorts of moms to a bevy of Vanderbilt girls who were willing to watch children. I attended in order to write a column about it, and not surprisingly, I stuck out at that party like a suburban soccer mom who’d taken a wrong turn and ended up at the Belle Meade Country Club.

The mothers there bragged of 3,500-square-foot homes, outdoor heated pools and posh private preschools. All I had to offer was a Playstation 2 and a pantry full of Cheetos. I went home with a binder full of names and phone numbers and an inferiority complex, swearing to myself that hell would freeze over before I used it.

But that’s exactly what must have happened, because when my workload picked up six months ago, I found myself in desperate need of a regular weekday sitter. In desperation, I turned with trembling fingers to The Binder. Within 24 hours, I had a response.

Meghan was the first of a long parade of Vandy blondes who came to watch my kids twice a week. During the weeks when she was vacationing on the Turks & Caicos Islands or visiting her boyfriend in Manhattan, she was thoughtful enough to send a sorority sister to take her place. After a while, I had trouble telling them apart, and so did my children.

“Are you Kayley?” my daughter asked one girl with confusion when she showed up. “Or Maria?”

“I’m Kristen,” the girl laughed, “but Kayley and I are co-chairs of Fashion for a Cause, and Maria roomed with me freshman year! Hey! Wanna practice some French words? I brought a bunch of picture books for us to read together!”

Yes, while I’d like to say these immaculately-dressed trust fund babies were too concerned about getting poop on their French manicures to change my son’s sodden diapers and too consumed by the text messages popping up on their Blackberries to read along with my 5-year-old, the truth was that the Vandy girls were some of the best sitters we’ve ever had.

They sang songs, dressed as princesses, drew treasure maps, read endless piles of books aloud, and even miraculously convinced both my children to eat their lunches. I wanted to hate them and their designer bags. But I couldn’t.

I also couldn’t figure out why they were agreeing to come to my house in the first place. I speculated sometimes that they were driving out to my subdivision as amateur anthropologists, determined to learn how the other half lived. I imagined them reading a full report to their classmates, standing before a frowning professor in a bow tie, who’d thoughtfully stroke his beard as they read.

“The subject has a freezer full of ground beef, and often uses it to make dinner,” they’d say. “She has no help with housework, no nanny and her husband does the yard work himself.”

The students would gasp and whisper among themselves.

“And you say this family unit resides in a place called Bell View?” the professor would ask in disbelief. The sitter would nod earnestly

“I have pictures on my iPhone to prove it,” she’d say.

Oh, I don’t want to be too harsh. My Vandy sitters were young women with necklaces, earrings and hearts of gold. They taught me that there may well be more to a Vanderbilt coed than her surgically-altered nose.

Besides, I’m sure most of these girls will one day be moms themselves, toting around town in their Volvo Crossover SUVs. Perhaps they’ll pass a public school on the way to hot yoga one day and see a frazzled looking mom heading inside. Their gaze will rest for a moment on her bowed shoulders, and they’ll smile sadly at the reminder of poor Mrs. Ferrier and her pathetic, middle class life.

Read more of Lindsay’s columns at www.suburbanturmoil.com

10 Comments on this post:

By: BenDover on 7/9/09 at 7:18

My experience with wealthy young ladies is that they often transcend all of the stereotypes.

By: sidneyames on 7/9/09 at 8:31

This was precious and insightful!

By: damons on 7/9/09 at 8:50

What a great story! Thanks for sharing!

By: azmommy06 on 7/9/09 at 1:41

For the love of cheese-the things I had to do to leave a comment. Obviously I don't live anywhere near you!! But I had to come de-lurk myself, and I was unable to leave a comment on your blog. Love it by the way.

http://azmommy.blogspot.com/ come stalk me!!

By: momtothree on 7/9/09 at 3:38

Love the story... It didn't turn out the way I thought.
I use a local 15 year old girl and give her $20 a day.
She is great, too!

Melody

Please, please, please come by my site again. When you visit, it makes my day and I tell everyone I know!

http://makingthatspecialface.blogspot.com/

By: learjet on 7/9/09 at 5:28

A mom at my daughters' preschool went to Vandy, and I thought of her while I read this :) She drives a Volvo! Enjoyable as always, Lindsay...
-Bethany
(you made my day last time you visited my blog, thanks!)
www.borderlandtraveler.blogspot.com

By: thebloggingmum on 7/9/09 at 9:48

lol! I often wonder WHY girls like that babysit, do they need the paltry sums I could provide? I think not.

I wonder if they're just having a little fun, or using babysitting as a way to squelch the ticking of a newly-launched biological clock? That's my guess, anyway.
-Melanie
http://thebloggingmum.blogspot.com

By: Deanna Piercy on 7/11/09 at 4:06

My only experience with Vanderbilt students was at a bar in New Orleans. There were scads of expensively dressed students packing the place for most of the night. We are friends with the members of the band so my husband took their tip jar around the room (he happened to be dressed like a pirate but that's another story). Guess how much he collected? Three dollars. The bartenders also told us they were horrible tippers. Perhaps they hadn't had enough babysitting jobs in the weeks preceding their trip to New Orleans. ;)

http://wellgroomedhippie.blogspot.com
http://teawithdee.blogspot.com

By: Charlee on 7/13/09 at 2:46

I would like to offer this small tidbit: those girls are probably babysitting because their parents want to impart their own value of hard work in their children. I know from experience that the fact that parents make enough money to bestow expensive gifts and take extravagant shopping trips from time to time does NOT necessarily mean that these girls have everything handed to them. I'm willing to bet that their parents worked hard to get where they are and even harder now to stay there, and they want their daughters to know what hard work can do for the soul as well as the pocketbook. It's easy to see the noisy, over-the-top reality TV and think that everyone who has money is like that, but they are the exception, not the rule... and if they are anything like me they may have even saved and saved for those bags and shoes from their multiple babysitting jobs ...

but what do I know.

By: knewman4 on 7/13/09 at 9:12

I am thrilled to see your tribute to the Vandy ladies. They were everything you described. I, too, wondered why they were babysitting my children, but like you in the end I was simply grateful. Great column! http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/opinion/2009449601_guest12newman.html