"What time is the babysitter coming?" My 7-year-old daughter, Zoe, asked for the hundredth time.
I checked my watch. "Two minutes ago," I said, calling into the den where she and my 10-year-old son, Andrew, were watching TV.
It was a Saturday night. The pizza had been delivered, the kids were vegged out on the couch, and my husband, Brett, and I were ready to hit the ground running. The movie tickets had been bought online, the table at the restaurant reserved for two. I had on high-heeled boots and my favorite dark washed jeans, and a lip gloss was packed in the clutch purse tucked under my arm. Brett, looking dapper in a blazer and jeans, was sending out one last work email.
Now all we needed was the babysitter.
At five minutes past six, I was still hopeful. "She's running late. No biggie. She'll be here any minute," I assured the kids. By ten minutes after six, I started to believe that something was indeed amiss. By a quarter after the hour, my heart sinking, I was sure she had blown us off.
The movie, playing across town, started at 6:45. I calculated the variables in my mind. We needed to drive there, find a parking spot, buy popcorn and get good seats. Not just any seats. The prime real estate ones. In the upper-middle portion of the stadium seating arena. I would not accept those front-row, strain-your-neck-and-call-the-acupuncturist-seats. We had seen "Silver Linings Playbook" that way and I still had pinched nerves from the experience.
I checked the clock on the microwave. 6:17. How bad would it be if she walked in the door this very second? At 6:18, with no babysitter in sight, we were cutting it close to front-row bad.
"Let's just forget it," Brett said, tossing his car keys back into a drawer in the kitchen. It seemed like his car, used only on weekends for the most part, was not going to be taking an evening spin around town. (That's the universal symbol of "we're not going out," by the way, when the keys to the Saturday night car get tossed back into the drawer. We only go out once or twice a month, so the car doesn't get a lot of partying.)
I sent an SOS email. A frantic text. I called her phone, which has an annoying message. "Hi!" Alyssa the babysitter chirped. Pause.
"Hi!" I said back. "I was wondering -"
"I'm not here! Leave a message!"
"Argh!" I growled, hanging up. "Alyssa's message makes it sound like she's answering the phone!"
"Yup. And you fall for it every time," Brett reminded me, smirking.
Zoe entered the kitchen, a terribly worried look on her face. "Is she really not coming?"
"Sorry, sweetie, I don't think she is," I said, soothingly.
"Bahhhhh!" She cried, bursting out into full-blown hysterics.
"I know just how you feel, Zoe," I said, wiping away a tear of my own.
"I love Alyssa!" She wailed.
"I love her too!" I cried. "I love when she shows up and Daddy and I get to leave!"
"Me too!" Zoe wailed.
Brett rolled his eyes.
I pulled myself together and crouched down to Zoe's level. "Well, maybe we can do whatever special thing it is that Alyssa does. Dad and I can be fun, too, right?"
Zoe cried harder.
Just then the phone rang. Caller ID: Alyssa. Time: 6:21.
"Hello?" I asked with trepidation, expecting the beloved absentee babysitter to tell me that she was skiing in Vermont or vacationing with her family in Florida.
"Ohmigod! I am so sorry! I totally forgot! Can I still come over now? I'm coming over now!" Alyssa said. "I'll be there in five minutes!"
"She'll be here in five minutes!" I told my delighted family. Andrew cheered from his post in front of the television. Zoe's sobs miraculously ceased on cue. Even the clouds in the sky dispersed. Brett opened the drawer and took out the car keys. I dashed over to the computer and purchased new tickets to the 7:30 showing of the same film.
The Gerstenblatts were back! And half of them were going out!
Alyssa walked in the door, embarrassed and apologetic. "I feel so bad. My mom says that she hates it when babysitters do that! It's the worst thing, she says, when the babysitter doesn't show up."
"I think I love your mother even more than I love you," I said.
"Yay! Alyssa's here!" Zoe said, hugging the babysitter's leg.
"I know just how you feel, Zoe," I said.
Then I kissed my kids goodnight and bolted out the door.
Originally published in The Scarsdale Inquirer on Friday, April 12, 2013