The babysitting Sisters soon became beloved members of the family.
- Posted on Dec 27, 2020
“Afternoon babysitter needed.” That was the ad I put in our local shopper newspaper, a common way to find help back in 1975. My firstborn, Jenny, was six weeks old, and I was scheduled to return to work teaching half days at school. “Maybe we’ll find a grandmother who raised a big family of her own,” I said to my husband, Don, after placing it. I didn’t have much experience with children myself and thought I could use a good role model.
A few days later I received a call from an applicant. Not a grandmother or even a mother. “A nun?” I repeated, unsure I’d heard her correctly.
Two nuns, as it turned out when they arrived at the house to meet us. Sister Thomasine and Sister Joan, of the order known as the Humility Sisters. Thomasine would do the babysitting, but she didn’t drive, so Joan would bring her to and from our house.
“We work at the rectory,” Sister Joan explained. “I do the cooking.”
“I do the laundry,” Sister Thomasine said. “We do the cleaning together.”
“But our afternoons are free,” Sister Joan added.
“We’d like to do something good with the time,” Sister Thomasine said.
I explained my situation. They were excited to learn that I would be teaching at a Catholic school they were familiar with.
“And this must be Jenny,” Sister Thomasine said, tickling my daughter’s chubby cheek. Jenny broke into a grin.
“You seem to have a way with children,” Don said.
“I have a lot of experience,” Sister Thomasine said. “I worked for many years at the Christ Child Home—that’s an orphanage. I love children.”
I glanced over at Don and knew we were in agreement. These two nuns were the answer to our prayers.
We quickly discovered that the arrangement was more than we could ever have hoped for. Sister Thomasine was a perfect guardian for Jenny. Her only flaw was having a name that Jenny, once she began to talk, couldn’t pronounce. “Sissy here!” she would cry when her babysitter arrived each day. So Sister Thomasine simply became Sissy in our family.
Sissy wasn’t just a babysitter. She was a teacher as well. When Jenny started reading street signs at age three, Don and I had no doubt it was because of the many hours she spent snuggled on Sissy’s lap reading stories with her.
That year, Jenny’s brother, Andy, was born. The sisters were overjoyed to have another baby to love. Jenny was less impressed. “She says her baby brother is no good,” Sissy reported, her eyes sparkling with amusement. “He can’t do any of the things she can do. He can’t even walk!”
As the years went by, Sissy still loved recalling that story. She thought it perfectly encapsulated the feeling of being an older sibling when you were too young to know how quickly babies learn. And Andy loved describing the joyful laugh that always accompanied the story when Sissy told it. “It’s so fast,” he would say. “Like a chipmunk laughing.”
When the children got a little older, I went back to work full-time and eventually became a school principal. By then the sisters often joined us for holiday dinners. One Christmas, Don and I went to a late party alone. The children were asleep under Sissy’s watchful eye by the time we got home. “Something happened you should know about,” Sissy told us seriously as soon as we took off our coats. Don and I braced for the story. “Jenny said to me, ‘Sissy, don’t tell Mommy and Daddy, but I know reindeer can’t fly.’ Don’t worry,” Sissy finished, to our great relief, “she promised not to tell her brother.” Her eyes lit up, and there was that laugh.
When Jenny was 13 and had to choose a sponsor for her confirmation, she asked Sissy. Joan, of course, attended the ceremony. The nuns were both there to support her, just as they did at her wedding years later. Sadly, Joan had to attend Andy’s wedding alone. Sissy had gone to heaven by then.
“Besides my family,” Jenny often says to her own two children, “no one loved me more than Sissy and Sister Joan.”
It’s hard to believe that it all started with a simple ad in a shopper newspaper. I thought I only needed a part time babysitter. But God gave our family something more. Two blessed sisters, our angels on earth.
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