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Sitter's streak makes her valuable player in home game


Congratulations, Cal.

You have shown up for work every day for 2,129 days. You haven't called in sick for 13 years and three months. You've been there for day games after night games, road trips and rain delays. No matter what they've thrown at you, you've hung in over the plate.

That work ethic, that employment record, has real meaning for women like me. Women who work and rely on sitters.

For that reason, I'd like to introduce you to Grace. The Lou Gehrig of sitters. She has a streak of 11 years and one month. She arrived when my firstborn was 6 months old. He's in middle school now and she's still our starter. Experts say her record will never be broken.

Only mothers who have gone through the anguished transition from sitter to sitter can appreciate this. Only the women who have had sitters take themselves out of the lineup at 7:30 a.m. on game day can understand what this streak means. Especially to the two kids she manages.

Grace covers the gap for my husband and me.

She has been there for my road trips and his. And for the children's. For years she has driven them to ballet, swimming, soccer. And, yes, to the baseball field.

Grace has arrived before dawn and she has packed a bag to stay overnight. It is a good thing she doesn't have Cal Ripken's agent, because we couldn't pay her what she is worth to our team.

Grace's children were in high school when we drafted her. Now she has grandchildren. My kids couldn't talk or feed themselves when she started, now they are mouthy and could cook if I'd let them.

They could not reach the doorknob until years after Grace's arrival. Now they want their own key. There is talk of retiring Grace. My children think the game may have passed her by.

No chance, kids.

Grace was my eyes and ears and my hands when my children were babies. She kept them from falling down the stairs or stepping off the curb or reaching to the stove. She protected them. Now, as they approach adolescence, she must continue to do that for me.

My children, especially my oldest, chafes at the indignity of a "baby-sitter," and I understand. He has friends who come home to an empty house and check in with a parent by phone and he would like that autonomy for himself. He would like to feel trusted and grown up.

What I have not told him, because it would start a fight, is that my children will never come home to an empty house after school.

Right now, I fear they will leave the toaster oven on or watch reruns of "The Simpsons" or get into a fight and pound each other. And I am certain they will not start their homework.

But soon enough, I know because I was a teen-ager once, the temptations are greater and they carry more serious consequences. Cars, alcohol, drugs, sex.

If you have kids, especially teens, you have these same fearful daydreams. You know kids will push whatever limits you put on them. And if there are no limits, they will very likely show no restraint, no judgment. Or very little of it.

According to a recent report in the Wall Street Journal, more than three-quarters of children between the ages of 14 and 17 have mothers who are employed, up from 56 percent in 1975. A great many of them are unsupervised after school.

The Journal also reported research that showed a teen-ager's initial experience with sexual intercourse now occurs most often at home after school.

Alone in the house, kids can get into drugs or into the liquor cabinet or into bed. They can get AIDS or pregnant or killed driving around with friends.

These are deadly, terrifying reasons why children need someone at home when they get off the bus. But they are not the only reasons.

Kids this age can be lost or lonely or angry or afraid. They can be dizzy with new love or proud of a test grade. It is unwise and unkind to have these feelings bounce back at them off the walls of an empty house.

For all these reasons, we won't be retiring Grace's number. I can not expect her to meet their intimate emotional needs, but she can keep my children from stepping off the curb of adolescence until their mom and dad get home.

Grace's streak will continue until she takes herself out of the game.

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