For reasons good or bad, in the late sixties and early seventies, 12-year old girls took charge of neighbors’ home and hearth every Saturday evening, from 7 to midnight.
Times have changed, of course. These days, friends of mine with young kids hire only sitters who can produce proof of a PHd in physics and clean FBI scan.
But back in the day, we pre-teeners had our selling-points, mainly in the realm of availability and price.
I don’t know what parents expected us to do if a real emergency occurred, call one of the numbers they left, I guess –Drinks at the Pattersons, Dinner and Dancing at the club, Nightcap at the Paulsens.
Fortunately, my babysitting career passed without major incident, particularly before boys entered the picture.
I was a popular choice, if not with the parents, at least with their kids. The youngsters and I agreed on a live and let live code. They went their way, I went mine. They had things to do, and so did I.
First on my agenda was an excavation of all frozen desserts, followed by kitchen cabinet surfing. Twelve is a very opinionated age, and I handed down harsh judgments if a family stocked Hydrox rather than Oreos, or popsicles instead of Heath bars. Outright condemnation if the only thing on offer was fruit.
Next on the docket, a few chats with my friends on the Princess phone (“He likes you.” “No, he likes you.” “You’re crazy.” “No, you’re crazy.” “Want to spend the night next Saturday?” “I can’t, I have to babysit.”)
But mostly, I spent my hours in the bathroom at the dressing table. Her bathroom, her dressing table. The one belonging to the glamorous mother who left the house in a cloud of L’air Du Temps, with L’Oreal eyes and Revlon cheeks.
I emptied all the make-up drawers, and studied then applied everything in the arsenal. Eyeliner, kohl, blue mascara, eyeshadow, at least five different lipsticks. And perfume. Shimmer stick on the cheekbones (or someplace approximating the cheekbones), and Maybelline brows. Some dressing tables had an overhead sunlamp, so I’d camp out under the lights for awhile and tan.
By the time I was finished, the kids would be crashed in front of the TV, and that’s where I’d end up too, until the parents came home.
The father would carry the kids to bed (“Were they any trouble?” “No, they’re always good.”), and I’d pocket my $15 and wait for the ride home, shiny and rosy with my iridescent eyes and You’ve Got the Look blush.
If they noticed I began the evening as a 12 year old and ended up as a pocket Raquel Welch, they never said anything. Probably because good help was hard to find.
On the ride home, the fathers were easy to talk to, or more exactly, listen to. They’d be expansive, philosophical, with lots of advice about how being young is this and happiness that, and enjoying my time and freedom. Whatever it was, I’d nod my head, giving off a cloud of L’air du Temps.
Because with these fathers, if they drove you home after midnight, and I say this with no subtext implied, all you had to do was agree and smile, and, when we got to my house, they’d pull out the wallet and tip an extra dollar or two.
“I don’t suppose you’ll remember what I told you,” a father would say. Time would prove him wrong -- I do remember that I don’t remember. And yet I know.