After we wrapped up the interview with yet another person who wasn’t a match, we went outside to speak to Kelli. She had been chatting with our boys and passing basketballs to them.
“Noah reminds me a lot of Ben, my younger brother, when he was that age,” Kelli said. I made a mental note of her thoughtful observation. Kelli had mentioned her brother had been diagnosed with autism and was a high school student. She had a lot of real-life experience living with autism day to day.
“Did you ever play basketball in high school?” my husband asked, as we walked inside.
“Yes, I led the team in fouls,” she said with a laugh.
I liked her immediately. She was genuine and honest. She talked about her brother, her familiarity with autism, her easygoing personality, and various work experience. She answered all of our questions directly and with a healthy dose of humor. When she offered to do science experiments with the boys because she was majoring in science, my eyes lit up. At the time Noah was obsessed with Bill Nye the Science Guy. When Kelli said she was available most evenings and weekends, we were sold.
Hiring her was one of the best decisions our family has ever made.
Kelli babysat our three boys every summer afternoon while I worked part-time. Nothing ruffled her feathers. Even after a few rough days when most babysitters would have turned in a resignation, she came back to work. There were days when my boys gave her a run for her money, but she never complained to me. She loved my kids. They grew to love her, too. I was surprised when she returned every day. I’m the mom, and there were times when I dreamed of running away.
Kelli traveled with us to Chicago to help during my brother-in-law’s wedding. Her top priority was to look after Isaac, my son who had limited communication skills and occasionally disruptive behavior. She sat with him during the rehearsal dinner and the wedding (he didn’t last long during the ceremony) and escorted him out when things became too overwhelming. When everyone else went to the wedding reception, we told Isaac he could stay with Kelli. I will never forget the relieved look in his eyes. The crowd and loud music were too much for him. He needed a much calmer environment in order to be comfortable. Kelli took Isaac to Dick’s Sporting Goods -- a store next door to our hotel -- where they rode the escalators together. He had a blast. They went swimming at the hotel pool. When the rest of our family returned to the hotel later that evening after we were all partied out, we found Isaac asleep in Kelli’s adjoining room. Kelli had written a note that said Isaac wanted to sleep in her room. Who could blame him?
Kelli worked for our family for two summers. We felt like we had won the lottery. She was available almost every time we needed her during other seasons, too. We met her brother Ben and welcomed him into our home. The boys loved spending time with Ben and Kelli's boyfriend, Dave. We even spent time with Kelli's parents, sister, and her nephew. Our families had a lot in common; we all knew and loved someone with autism.
Kelli graduated from college and now works with kids who are on the autism spectrum. I wasn't surprised when she chose that line of work. She's a natural. She owns a home in Minnesota with her husband, Dave. She said when she moved to Minnesota the first thing she hung on the wall was a photo she took of four-year-old Henry in Chicago, standing next to a hotel toilet. She hung it in her bathroom. It makes me laugh every time I think of it.
Kelli and Dave are expecting their first child in December, a few days before Christmas. I can’t imagine a better gift. I can't think of anyone who might be a better mother. It makes me feel old, though. My babysitter is married and having a baby . . how can that be possible? Wasn't I just having a baby a few years ago? How can it be possible that my twins are now thirteen, and Henry will soon hit the decade mark? Kelli's not the first babysitter we have loved who has grown up and started a family of her own. But I have a soft spot in my heart for anyone who has connected with my boys. It's not an easy job. It's difficult to find the right person.
When Kelli's family invited me to her baby shower, I was thrilled. Chris and the boys went shopping for a gift. (They picked out a musical piano from the gift registry that Isaac loved to play. It was quite calming. I had to wrap it up before the batteries died.) I asked Henry to make a card. I asked Noah to think of some advice to give a new mom. He said he didn't know what kind of advice to give because he had never been a parent. He had a good point but said he would think about it.
I was happy to see Kelli and her family in person, so I could give her a hug and see her pregnant glow. She and her family are friendly, fun people who like to laugh. Kelli didn’t want to play shower games, which was fine by me. Two games happened anyway:
1. An adorable 16-month-old girl picked up and tossed plastic ducks from a table onto the floor repeatedly. It was such a fun game! When she shrugged her shoulders after the ducks were missing, a serious look spread across her face. “Where are the ducks?” she seemed to say as she held out her hands. She was hilarious. When she tried to pick up the ducks, she wasn't often steady on her feet. The happy toddler was entertainment for everyone.
2. How long does it takes a pregnant woman to bend over and pick up a tiny duck off the floor? (That game didn't last long. After picking up a few ducks, it was over.)
1. Keep your child clean.
2. You’re going to lose a lot of sleep over the next several months after childbirth.
3. You are going to have to get used to relatives going crazy around your infant.
One day after school Isaac said, "Baby boy." I think he may have been listening to a conversation about Kelli and Dave's baby. Henry reminded me I needed to videotape this and share it with Kelli.
I’m holding her to it. Let's hope Kelli thinks I have the right qualifications for the job.