Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Babysitters bye-bye

When I was in high school, I worked as a waitress in a local "steak house," a family kind of place with sticky high chairs and one of those new-fangled salad bars that boasted both real and fake bacon bits. I never did figure that one out.

The other way I made money as a high schooler was by babysitting. I sat on so many babies, toddlers and elementary-aged kids when I was a teenager, you wouldn't think I'd have ever needed another chair in my life. I babysat mainly for people who knew my mom, who was a teacher. But there were also people from church whose kids occasionally needed looking after. And, of course, there were neighborhood families.

I babysat for a quite a few lovely families, a few people whose kids were total brats, some people who paid me handsomely, and others who felt that a dollar an hour should be plenty for keeping track of two boys who needed an exorcist more than they needed a sitter.

I revenged myself on them by drinking many cans of Coke and eating my way steadily through the chips, cookies and Little Debbies in their snack cabinet.

My worst babysitting adventure happened when I sat for the sister of a woman who went to my family's church one New Year's Eve. The sister and her husband promised me, like, a king's ransom, so I went, reluctantly, arriving at six o'clock in the evening. I didn't really know them at all and their house and their kids were an unknown quantity.

It turned out that the kids, little ones who were four and six, were very nice and the house was okay. There was a goodly assortment of treats available since this was the holidays and all. The problem was that the couple, who said they'd be home by 1:00, didn't show up. Two o'clock passed. Three o'clock. Four o'clock.

My dad called and said, "What is going on? Why aren't you home? Are you okay?"

"I've eaten a half a bag of Mike Sells potato chips with french onion dip, had six Tabs, two Twinkies, a candy cane, some peanut butter fudge and a glass of eggnog. I am definitely not okay. The kids have been asleep for, like, eight hours, and no one is answering the phone at the place these people swore they'd be."

"Do you want me to come stay with you until they come home?"

"No, I think I'm okay. They have HBO and I've watched Grease three times and Fast Times at Ridgemont High twice. It's getting really hard to stay awake, but Saturday Night Fever is getting ready to come on and I think all the music will help me keep my eyes open."

There was a poignant moment of silence as my very conservative father processed my entertainment choices. "I'll be right over," he said hastily.

By the time he got there, it was four-thirty and the couple had arrived about two minutes before he did. They were absolutely slat-faced drunk, reeking of it, both of them barely able to keep to their feet long enough to exit their car and crawl to the front door. His shirt was stained with something that I didn't want to know what it was, as Aisling would say, and her dress was all crumpled and kind of askew, giving the impression of someone who'd been having sex in the back of her own station wagon about fifteen minutes before.

She looked at me with bleary Alice Cooper eyes, pawed a tangle of hair off her face, and handed me a wad of money. "Thang you so mush for....." she paused, trying to sort out from the snarl of her thoughts just why I was there. "So mush, I appreshamate, thad is to shay, thang you so mush for....."

"No problem," I replied, gingerly taking the money from her. I hadn't had any experience with drunkenness at that point in my life, but I knew enough to be certain that we were all shortly going to be ankle-deep in vomit. I wanted out of there. I wanted out of there so bad, I didn't bother to count the crumpled bills I'd taken from her hand. And then I was so tired, I didn't bother to look at the wad of money until the next day.

Ten dollars. That's how much she gave me. And that was the last time I ever babysat on New Year's Eve.

So babysitting was something that happened often during my teen years. During my sophomore year, I had a standing Saturday morning date to sit for a mom of four who needed some alone time to go to the grocery. The summers after my junior and senior years were spent working as the daytime nanny for a family whose mom was a minor Christian recording artists and a dad who was an emergency room physician.

But I was talking to a group of moms today and we all agreed that babysitting has largely gone the way of the dinosaur. Meelyn and Aisling do have a few friends who babysit a lot, but those friends all have standing gigs with people who live right on their streets. Otherwise, the market has dried up.

Most of the people we know are single-income families, and with the economy in the state it's in, couples with single incomes are staying in these days.

"We rent movies, order a pizza with the toppings we like, and send the kids to bed early," one mom said.

A mom of seven drily added, "With all these kids, we're too tired to go out on a date night anyway. My idea of a perfect evening is getting to go to bed at about nine o'clock and being able to sleep all night long."

"Meelyn and Aisling are to old for a babysitter, but there are times I'd like to hire one anyway, just to keep them upstairs so that their dad and I can have a conversation without feeling that two sets of listening ears are eavesdropping on everything we say," I complained. "Or maybe I should just invest in two sets of leg irons."

"Maybe you could get them out of the house by finding something for them to do," another mom said.

"Like babysitting!" I said happily. "Oh, wait...."

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