Maine Advice is a column where we discuss your truly Maine problems. Nicole Ouellette (formerly of Dear Nicole in The Ellsworth American/Mount Desert Islander) answers with a guest advice giver.

This month’s guest advice columnist is Cherie Gaylean. Cherie writes the blog Scraped Up Kid about enjoying the outdoors with your kids.  She is also the Director of Education Initiatives at the Maine Community Foundation. She lives with her family in Bar Harbor and is a bit of a homesteader. 

Dear Gift MDI,

I got an owl who I think is stuck in my chimney. What should I do?

—Who’s Up There

Cherie: You are never going to find a more proudly independent Mainer than me. I have split wood. I have gutted fish. I have maintained a fire in a woodstove to keep my family warm during a howling blizzard. I’m telling you these things to establish my toughness cred that you will trust me when I say: there’s no need to shimmy down a chimney and wrestle a wild animal by yourself. We have professionals for that.

Call your local wildlife rehab center and ask for help. On MDI, that’s Acadia Wildlife Foundation. I can tell you from experience that there is no wildlife encounter they haven’t seen before and they will know exactly what to do–which might be nothing. If you are in an area where you don’t know the local wildlife center, try the animal control officer, local game warden, or–at last resort!–the police department.

No one will call you a wimp. At least not to your face.

Nicole: From my personal experience, make sure the owl is actually in your chimney. They are really loud and they could be above your chimney hooting and sound like they are literally in your house. Go outside and see if you can’t get a visual. And I’m with Cherie, call the pros. I get we’re supposed to be pioneers as Mainers but we get to draw the line somewhere and I’d say birds with talons that can pick up small dogs are a fine place to start.

Dear Gift MDI,

My friend’s kid is older than my kids and she’s been our babysitter the last few years. I haven’t been entirely satisfied with her services recently. Sometimes I come home and the dishes are in the sink and the kids haven’t done their homework. I’d like to explore some other options but we live in a small town. How do I do this?

—Secretly Seeking (Childcare) in Southwest

Cherie: I spent April through October of my entire high school career scooping ice cream. You know those little drive-in places that sell lobster rolls, fried clam baskets, and chicken fingers? Yeah, it was one of those. All of the people who worked out front–and half the people who worked out back cooking the food–were teenagers. Most days there were only two adults on the property: the owner and the head cook, who mostly manned the deep fryer so all us 16-year-olds didn’t blow up the kitchen.

I was 15 when I started working there and barely could make change for people without panicking. I was 18 when I finished my final season and by then I was closing down shop, prepping the bank deposit, and locking up. I wasn’t some kind of fried-food-shack prodigy; the owners taught me. They outlined expectations, they left written instructions, they complimented me when I did things well, and they yelled at me when I did things badly. In short, they treated me like an employee. This is what you need to do with your babysitter.

You need to boss up.

Next time you need to hire her, ask her to come 30 minutes early to talk. Have with you a written list of what you expect her to do when you are paying her. Ask her if there’s anything on that list that makes her uncomfortable or that she doesn’t think she should be responsible for. In my experience, there is a huge variety in what people expect to fall under the realm of babysitting. Some folks want light cleaning, healthy homemade dinners, and SAT prep. Some people just want a quasi-adult there to keep the house from burning down. Your babysitter may legitimately not know what you expect. So, come to agreement on those fuzzy “other duties as assigned.” Let her know that you expect her to do these things. Shake hands. Congrats! You’ve just completed baby’s first job description.

You’ve also done two more things. First, you’ve clarified–in writing so there will be no confusion–what you both expect out of the arrangement. Second, you’ve also put her on notice in a gentle way. She now knows that she’s not meeting your expectations and that if she continues to slide, she may lose her gig. Again, these are valuable work skills that she needs to learn. And it will give you some social cover if you have to let her go.

Consider this part of your societal contract to help raise tomorrow’s workforce. Her future employers–which may or may not be you–will thank you.

Nicole: This. So good.  I would only add that if you are non-confrontational like I am (or dealing with someone who may burst out crying if confronted – I could be a bit of a crier when caught unawares when I was younger), it may be good to initiate this beforehand. A quick text or Facebook message to tell him or her that you want to talk about the job may give them time to think about what she could be doing better as well.

Dear Gift MDI,

The season is coming up and my out of town friends are being non-commital with their plans. How do I get them to understand that 10,000 other people also want to come use my guest room and I need to coordinate without sounding like an inflexible jerkface?

—Scheduling Everyone’s Vacation

Cherie: Repeat after me: deadline. Deadline, deadline, deadline. Compose an email that says…you know what? I’ll just compose it for you: “I can’t wait to see you this summer! I’ve got some great stuff planned. But there’s a problem. I’m getting worried because I’ve got a lot of people coming through and I want to make sure the room is available when you need it. Can you let me know by [insert your date of choice here] what weekend you are coming? I can’t promise the space after that because things get booked up. Thanks so much, can’t wait to see you!”

Annnnnd, done. Send that to everyone who is stalling.

If they don’t respond, feel free to book up. We warned them.

Nicole: I don’t know about you all but I want Cherie to run my life. I also recommend a public facing Google Calendar showing when the room is free because when that deadline goes by and they want to exchange ten emails with you about possible dates, you can let them figure it out for themselves… and they can see the crazy summer schedule firsthand.

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