Adventures in babysitting

Chicago artists can babysit instead of wait tables thanks to a new agency. 

A REAL LIFESAVER Sitters add CPR training to their already-impressive resumés.

 

Chicagoan Tiffeny Meyers arrives at babysitting jobs with dress-up hats, tutus, colorful scarves and a smiling puppet. The 22-year-old Mendota, Illinois, native is a folk singer with a degree in interior design and a flair for painting (on canvas as well as on walls). So how did she end up watching starry-eyed toddlers on Friday nights?

Meyers works for Sitters in the City, an agency employing “artist babysitters” that opened a branch in Chicago this month.

Eugenia Bachaleda and Kristina Wilson, both actors, singers and dancers who founded the agency in New York City in 2006, had spent summers taking care of children, so they looked for employment with babysitting agencies to allow them the flexibility to go on auditions. “There was not a single service in the nation employing artists like this last year,” Wilson says. That’s when they took matters into their own hands. “Artists and performers are naturally fun, creative and enthusiastic,” she says. “It’s their job!”

The agency is a valuable resource for parents who want an extraspecial sitter to watch their kids, as well as artists longing for nonrigid schedules.

Rates are $15 per hour with a four-hour minimum; the sitters pocket $11 an hour; the rest goes to Sitters in the City on the honor system (sitters submit time sheets and checks at the end of each week).

Amber Makalous, a 26-year-old actress with a dance and musical-theater background, spends months out of town when she’s touring with a production. When she’s home, she babysits regularly through the New York branch of Sitters in the City, booking four or five jobs a week. Parents who hire Makalous get not only a responsible sitter who’s trained in infant CPR, but also a former figure-skating instructor who has musical theater and dance experience. “I tap dance and do a lot of rhythm play with babies,” Makalous says. “Infants as young as eight months can really work out a beat.”Older kids, including one ten-year-old who aspires to be a performer like Makalous, may want to put on a show. “The other night I acted out scenes from Grease with the three kids I was watching,” she says. “I even taught them the hand jive.”

Sitters already available in Chicago include a Northwestern University dance major and a graduate of the Art Institute of Chicago who aspires to teach art and illustrate children’s books. “Each sitter shares their own form of expression with the children,” Bachaleda says. “Parents appreciate the artistic pull.”

The response from New York clients has been huge, and Wilson and Bachaleda expect the same in Chicago. “I love having someone come who’ll really entertain her,” says Gabriela Self, a Brooklyn mom who uses Sitters in the City, of her 18-month-old daughter. “We recently had a circus performer sit—my daughter just lights up when they walk in the door!”

According to Wilson, some clients take the artistic offerings seriously. “There was the parent who called up and said, ‘My son loves opera. Do you have a sitter who would be willing to sing arias live to him?’” (It does.) And a photographer who regularly books child care through Sitters in the City requests only visual artists for her child—so it sends painters and photographers to align with the mom’s inclinations.

How do the sitters reconcile the weirdness of combining high art and child-care duties? Pretty easily. “A lot of artists take part-time jobs that are unrelated to their dreams so that they’re able to go to auditions and perform,” Makalous says. “I can be a lot more creative with kids—and I get to bring my art to them. That’s something you can’t do waiting tables.”

To book a sitter or learn more, go to sittersinthecity.com or call 312-890-8194.

-Melissa Walker

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