Phyllis Britt

Phyllis Britt

I had one of those moments this week – a reminder of an experience I’m glad I’ve mostly outgrown.

When my first child was born, we found ourselves 450 miles away from our nearest family, with parents young enough that they were still working. As a result, we had to make our own way. There was no calling mom to ask, “Can you watch the kids for a couple of hours so I can go to the grocery store?”; no chance to plan for a “date night”; and certainly no possibility of going out of town together without kids, unless we planned way in advance.

Luckily for me, at the time there was a well-organized, huge babysitting co-op already established here. We came into South Carolina at a time when Savannah River Plant was hiring lots of young professionals just like us – many of whom were in exactly the same situation with regard to family. The co-op was a godsend. There was a secretary who kept track, and you’d just call her or call one of the other moms to set up a time for someone to keep your child while you had a kid-free lunch or shopping or maybe even a bubble bath and a glass of wine.

The only problem was that, for the most part, the babysitting co-op was relegated to daytime hours. At night you were on your own.

I’m sure most parents have found that getting a babysitter, particularly a reliable one, can be a struggle. If you’re a member of a church, that can help – many of the babysitters we used were older children of people we knew from church – or maybe you’re lucky enough to have neighbors with kids of babysitting age.

Of course, we also found that often a child was a reflection of the parents. By that I mean that if the parent tended to be a bit flighty – willing to break one responsibility to do something more appealing or to make last minute excuses to get out of something – you could count on the child to have a similar attitude. As a result, my list of potential babysitters dwindled over time. Call me once to cancel on Friday night 30 minutes before we had reservations at Calvert’s, and I’m never calling you again – unless I’m truly desperate. Happily, over time we found a couple of babysitters who weren’t in the band (a wonderful, but time-consuming activity), who weren’t playing a varsity sport and who weren’t entangled with teen love. (In fact, one of those dependable babysitters grew up to be the pediatrician for some of my grandchildren. I like to say we trained him well – Tom actually taught him how to change a diaper!)

But getting there was tough. I remember one fateful night when I called about 12 kids, all of whom said “no.” I discovered that even as an adult dealing with a teen, I did not handle rejection well. How could a 15-year-old make me feel so insecure?

The result was that I tried to compensate – and to forestall that feeling of rejection – by paying well. Truth be told, one of my neighbors had a son old enough to babysit, and I used him often. Then his mom called and said, “You’ve got to stop paying David so much. He’s no longer happy to sit for his brother and sister, because we only pay him $1 for the evening” – compared to the $20 (generous at the time) I was paying him.

But it was worth it. I rarely experienced that feeling, although occasionally we would decide, after six or seven unsuccessful calls, that we would just stay home.

I cannot tell you how happy I was when my kids were old enough that I never had to experience that rejection again – until last week.

My husband and I are members of a couples bridge group – yes, we seem to be a dying breed; however, this group of six couples has been intact for about 30 years. It was our turn to host in August. With people our age and stage in life, we are a very busy lot, so finding a date when all can be there is virtually impossible. I tried to stay away from Labor Day weekend; however, five of our six couples could play last Saturday, so we agreed on the 31st. That meant I just had to get one couple to substitute – no problem, right?

Well, therein lies the rub. I do have a fairly extensive list of possible subs. So I started calling. And that old feeling quickly returned. Everyone was either out of town or had family in or had other plans already. I called more than 10 couples, and with each one my insecurity grew – Is it me? Did I unknowingly offend them somehow? Shouldn’t I be persuasive enough to get someone to play?

I thought about an ongoing conversation on the sitcom “The Big Bang Theory,” in which all four of the nerdy male characters shared their feelings of rejection in always being picked last, and I thought about my years as a kid. Now, I’m not one to agree with a “participation trophy” so Susie feels like a “winner.” The reality is that someone will always be picked last, someone will not ever score the winning goal, someone will always have to take solace that “I didn’t finish last,” as a friend’s daughter recently said of her first track meet.

I just wish there were a way to convince ourselves and others that some forms of “rejection” are not so much about us personally, but about circumstances or even about the other person. We aren’t really being rejected.

Now, if I could only stop feeling so bad about this. Rejection is never fun, even when it’s not really our fault.