Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Hotel Babysitting and Why You Can Have It All!

There is a huge risk that after this post I will either lose massive readership or be mob-lynched as a terrible mother. That’s OK, I have never really claimed to be a particularly good mom. Which is why I wanted to talk about getting babysitting services when you travel at hotels. Many of us don’t have the luxury of traveling maids, or grandparents at immediate disposal at home, or weirdly independent kids who can just take care of themselves magically while you chose to prance about town at night. On the other hand, folks like to travel and given the above limitations, they have to take the kids. Even if that means dragging a whiny screaming three-year old through Florence, smiling nonchalantly to passersby as you attempt to take in the beauty and calm of the Renaissance architecture and expressive statues of rather large naked men . Or explaining every three minutes that there is NO carousel in a 10-mile radius of the Victoria Memorial in Calcutta and refusing resolutely requests to carry the heavy tired child. Or taking 48 tiny pebbles from the artsy-fartsy golden fish pond in your Kuala Lumpur hotel under the stern stare of the hotel manager while your child is asking whether he can throw them back in a little later when the angry uncle in the uniform is not looking.

The point is, whether we like it or not (I actually do) we take our kids on trips quite often and sightseeing during the day might actually be quite fun as we point out to the gorgeous Marseilles yachts or let them run through the expansive mosques of Old Delhi. But what happens at night is an entirely different issue. Many parents end up either dragging the already incredibly exhausted, irritated kids to dinners at nice restaurants that (shockingly) do not end up all that well or get back to the hotel and hole themselves in since the kids have to go to bed, while staring longingly at the glimmering night lights of the city they just paid over $2000 in plane tickets to see.

There is a solution and that is to get babysitting in the hotel. Ever since Son was 2 months old, we have used hotel baby sitting services as needed. Back then, we were in California for the annual lavish Christmas party of his company at the stunning luxury Grand Del Mar. The company has just shelled out massive amounts of money to fly all employees from the East Coast to San Diego, put us up in a $500 a night room for three days and had a black tie party at the grand ballroom. Not going to the party was not even an option. Since then we have hired sitters at fancy hotels like the Fontainebleau in Miami, the Wintergreen tennis and ski resort in the Shenandoah Valley, we had sitters in Bermuda, in Kuala Lumpur, Thailand, even in Kolkata!
So, how does it work? So far, every hotel that we have been to (arguably, we have not been to Motel 6 since our early dating days) has had a list of either babysitting services approved and vetted out by the hotel, or names of sitters who actually happen to also work for the hotel . Depending on the place and country, price per hour can vary dramatically – from the $20/hr we paid in Miami Beach to the $10 for 4 hours in India. In most cases, you will need to pay for the sitter’s transportation and even dinner depending at what time she comes in (use your judgment, of course). We always get babysitting in the evening as we prefer to spend the day with Son dragging him around with us, but all babysitting services operate also during the day if you need them to. If the hotel you are staying in does not actually offer babysitting but you and the mister are itching to get loose on the town and see its infamous red lights district (strictly scientific interest, clearly), you can try a couple of other options. If you are a fellow FSO, write to the CLO in that town (if there is an Embassy or consulate) and ask for a recommendation – many local nannies love to get overtime (a quick shout out to a magic CLO in Kolkata’s U.S. Consulate who got us in touch with an amazing ayah!). If you are not, you can still call the American Citizen Services desk and ask nicely whether they can recommend one (trust me, crazier requests have come to that section). In Bermuda, we were playing tennis with the pro at the hotel whose teenage daughter happened to babysit regularly. She was great. And then there are always professional babysitting companies in all major towns. But I personally would not go that far – even I have my limits on whom I trust with my kid.

So yes, you can have your cake and eat it too. Now, there has been the occasional funky situation where you stumble upon some, um, rather eclectic characters who eventually turn out to be excellent nannies. At the Fontainebleau, when Son had just turned one, we had to get a sitter for the night to join yet another lavish company soiree. The hotel recommended 3 different companies, and I chose the one that advertised that all of its sitters were college students of child psychology, knew baby CPR and could pretty much feel good about themselves only the company of children. So, I quickly called and arranged for a sitter to come that very night. I happened to have my two best male friends from highschool visiting Miami at the same time and they came to see us at the hotel. They got really excited that a college-age babysitter was coming to the hotel room and since she was already running a bit late and we had to go to the party (at the hotel ballroom itself), they eagerly offered to watch the sleeping Son until she came in.

About 30 mins later, I hadn’t heard anything from them or the sitter for that matter, so I decided to walk the 3 kms across the massive hotel lobby and go up to our suite to see what was up. On my way, I stumbled upon my classmates who muttered something about gold teeth and old lady, and disappeared in a cab. Clearly disconcerted, I raced in my 5-inch heels through the slippery lobby almost bumping into Timbaland on the way (gotta tell you, the guy is stout!) and arrived breathless at the suite door. I knocked gently on the door not to wake up Son, and after what seemed like eternity, a hoarse voice asked, “Who is it?” Somewhat taken aback, I responded that it was the kid’s mom and after some fiddling around with the doorknob, the door swung open and a massive African American 50-something old lady grabbed me, flashed me a resplendent front gold tooth and squeezed me in a tight embrace. Then she jumped back and after briefly introducing herself, she told me that I looked gorgeous but that she did not mean it like THAT, ‘cuz she was into men, definitely into men. In fact, she got her husband waiting for her right now home but she loves kids (has 5 of her own) and so she likes babysitting. So I had nothing to worry about, but go and have fun with my undoubtedly gorgeous husband, into whom I was assured she was not interested in the least. All of this soliloquy took a little less than 2 minutes to pour out of her mouth, all the while her fantastic gold tooth kept glistening in the dim living room of the hotel suite. I was mesmerized, just kept nodding and, after checking on Son and suffering another massive hug, escaped back to the party. All was fine in the end. Phew.


  1. This is great information! I just left the foreign service institute in Arlington, ironically. I was getting briefed for my move. Ill be overseas with my eight month old and had no idea I could find babysitting this way when I'm traveling.

  2. You rock. You tell good stories and you write well. Now, go write a book.

  3. HA, my dear Anonymous, I feel that this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship...

  4. I started following your blog when I was a Foreign Service hopeful. Now I'm in and have been at my first post for almost 3 months. I finally got a moment to check your blog and this post could not have come at a better time. We are planning a trip and I was all worried about using hotel babysitters. But this put my mind at ease. I think we might actually finally have a little "fun" on this trip.

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