One summer night in 1977, I hid in my bedroom and cried from the time my parents left me with a babysitter until they came home from dinner. I refused to come out and watch my beloved "Little House on the Prairie" because I was terrified of the babysitter. I was scared even though the sitter was a student at my brother's school, our families were friends and my parents weren't going to be gone long.
So what was so scary? He was a boy. I'd never heard of such a thing. A boy as a babysitter? No way. Not for me. In light of my histrionics, my parents never used a male babysitter again.
Now I'm a mother looking for an after-school nanny. Our search has grown urgent, as our current nanny is moving in two weeks. We comb through the listings online every day for someone suitable to pick our kids up from school and hang out for a few hours until my husband and I get off work. All the candidates we like have issues like they don't drive, can't work afternoons or didn't show up for the interview.
The search has been frustrating and time-consuming.
Then I got an email from an articulate, professional, polite candidate meeting all my qualifications. The fit is just about perfect. The hitch? The dream candidate is male.
Now, I think of myself as an open-minded person. I've certainly grown since 1977. In the past 38 years, I've learned a few things. In theory, I think a man could be a nanny as well as a woman, or at least come pretty damn close. In theory, I think it would be outrageous and self-sabotaging to close off the possibility of having a manny instead of a nanny. But now the theory is being tested, as I'm interviewing the male candidate in 24 hours.
If women are less likely to be sexual predators, does that obligate me to hire only females to care for my children?
I polled my friends on Facebook: "Would you hire a male nanny?" Out of the gate, one mother said, "No way, I wouldn't hire a male babysitter for my daughter." Of course I get that. Then I thought about the Catholic priesthood scandal and that movie with Philip Seymour Hoffman, "Doubt," and realized that if I hire a pedophile, male or female, both my son and daughter are at risk.
The next seven moms who responded said they would absolutely hire a male babysitter. Three more said they would actually prefer a male for their sons. A wise-cracking dad made a joke about the manny on "Modern Family" and a few more moms said "it depends."
Ever since I set up the appointment, I keep thinking about this episode of "Oprah" I saw on child safety back in the 1990s, where an "expert" was giving advice on how to keep your child from getting molested. She told Oprah and her millions of viewers that you should tell your child that if they ever get lost, they should look not for a police officer or the nearest adult. "Look for a woman," the expert said. Why? Because women are less likely to be sexual predators.
So here's my internal struggle: If women are less likely to be sexual predators, does that obligate me to hire only females to care for my children? Is it irresponsible to entrust my children to a member of the population who is statistically more likely to sexually abuse them?