Once again my daughter has introduced me to a strange new underworld.
The last few weeks have seen me browsing the profiles of strangers on the internet, judging them on their photos and arranging to meet them alone in their homes.
Not internet dating. Not booking an escort. But looking for a childminder.
Various third party websites exist for desperate parents to sign-up to, in order to search and find people in your neighbourhood who you trust with the life of your offspring.
First you must create your own profile, painting a picture of your child as a perfect little angel, who will be a breeze to look after, eat what they are given and make no mess. At the same time you must come across as a reliable, dependable and friendly. But not too friendly.
Once you have shared this edited version of your family you are given entry into a portal of strangers through which to scroll with trepidation.
Some choose a photograph of themselves out drinking in a bar. A fun friend perhaps, but not the level-headed matriarch one might envisage yourself trusting your precious little life into the hands of.
Other young aspiring ‘nannies’ think a highly-posed selfie, flaunting full Kardashian contouring and heavy false lashes as they pout to camera is a good way to portray themselves. Whilst they are busy posing the perfect selfie, one can’t help envisaging a vulnerable young toddler just out of shot, reaching out to grab the scalding hot curling irons discarded on the floor…
Rather than risk being judged on the maternal instincts radiating from their face, some more experienced participants opt for a picture of their impressive facilities. The spare room or outhouse that has been converted into the ideal environment to entertain pre-school children. Kitted out like a nursery, bursting with toys and miniature furniture, the walls adorned with the craft the happy children have created during their idyllic days in situ, while their parents toil at the grindstone. These inspirational settings certainly have some clout. But could equally be located next door to an S&M dungeon. Or left pristine and empty while the children are all crammed onto a grubby sofa watching TV in a darkened room all day, occasionally thrown a bag of crisps at mealtimes.
We all know that images posted online are more likely to be a fantasy than reality…
My message alert flashes! Whilst I have been scrolling daunted through the reels of choices in my postcode, unsure what my next move should be, someone has contacted me.
Their profile looks great. Kind, but firm. Maternal for sure. Their credentials are impressive. They have an opening right now and can do the times and locations I need.
I call the number. She sounds wonderful. It’s too easy! I frantically start messaging random profiles. I can’t pick the very first person I speak to to become the primary carer for my only child, three days a week. Can I…?
She texts me an address and soon I am pushing my pushchair down an unfamiliar street on the other side of town, my heart beating in my chest. Are my daughter and I about to be human trafficked?!
But my childminder of choice is a real person. And a good one too.
Before I know it I am waving off my daughter in this stranger’s car every morning, as I head to a packed and sweaty commuter train.
Every evening as I get off the train I can’t ignore that tiny panicky feeling deep down in the pit of my stomach that they won’t be there to greet me. But they are always waiting, and always smiling.
Proof you really can find love online.