Getting a babysitter is not as easy as it once was.
Most 16-year-olds have lives. They don't want to sit in and drink tea and do their homework while your little pets slumber peacefully upstairs. They want to be off having sex and taking drugs and undermining civil society.
The ones that are left are kind of scary. But because we're so desperate to get out on our own for a change, the girl with the vacant stare and Slipknot T-shirt gets the gig. Then, of course, my wife spends the night fret-texting, which works like this: First of all, you are overcome with nerves because the text that you haven't finished sending hasn't been replied to yet. Then, you start reading all kinds of dreadful things into a text that reads: “evryting fine”.
The other thing that tends to happen is that once the children realise you're hoping to get out for the night, they put together an emergency committee whose sole purpose is to ensure this doesn't happen.
This is when all the phantom illnesses and bogus fears start, the sore tummies and itchy bums: “The moon is trying to eat me”, or “I can't go to the toilet because there's a troll in it”. In these circumstances, the bedtime ritual drags on and on. The girl demands a story that scares the bejesus out of the boy. The boy wants a story you hate, and that's about 30 pages long . . . Now you get cranky and you start fretting about the restaurant giving away your table, so you end up buying them off with Jellytots, which was, of course, the emergency committee's Plan B all along.
The net effect of all this is that you're an hour late leaving home, and because you're ravenous and fretful, you have a fight about nothing in the car on the way to the restaurant. Then you eat your meal in stony silence, and because you were woken at six by someone who wanted to know if we could get a puppy (No!), you start nodding off halfway through the tiramisu.
When you get home, the Slipknot kid hasn't moved from where you left her and the Jaffa cakes remain untouched by the kettle, which is stone cold. Even the channel hasn't been changed. She's staring absently at Oireachtas Report with the sound on mute. “Were you up to them at all?” you ask brightly and she grunts.
Then, without ceremony, she stands up and walks out the front door, climbs into the car and sits waiting in the passenger seat for you to drive her home.
Then there's the dilemma of what to pay. You don't want to be stingy, but on the other hand, nights out are expensive enough as it is. “Is that alright?” I ask her, handing across two 20s, then, on impulse, adding an extra tenner. This doesn't penetrate the shell. “Uh,” she says, and climbs out of the car.
“She's just too weird,” my wife says when I get back. This will be the third babysitter we've torpedoed in the past few years, including the one that was just way too ‘bubbly’ and the one who more or less ate everything with sugar in it in the house, including an Easter egg that was hidden behind the toolbox under the stairs.
Asking family for help on the babysitting front is always an option, but there's only so much you can market as ‘nephew-uncle bonding time'. These days, when I ask my siblings what they're doing for the weekend, they get all jumpy and defensive, and start talking about hobbies they just couldn't possibly have (Surfing? But you can't even swim).
“Screw it,” you say to yourself and give up, reverting instead to the old plan. Pizza, wine and a DVD. We'll start going out again when the youngest one goes to college.