Tuesday, July 5, 2011

My adventures in babysitting

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.

40 comments:

  1. Funny stuff. I'm thinking adventures in baby sitting was a bit different on the west coast. 50 cents an hour (seriously, 15 bucks?) and I often called Ramona to help me. She would come over and beat them into silence. I still got called back despite her assistance.

    One of those dads wouldn't take me home and kept asking me to sit on his lap. I should have told Ramona, She'd have beat him too.

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  2. Ladies--honestly, between the two of you you should be attending MOTH for your essays and receive wide acclaim

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  3. "Linda's husband walks in the door. He just drove the fourteen-year-old babysitter home and his tie is untied and his shirt's buttoned up all wrong. He puts the keys on the table, looks up at Linda and says, 'Oh did we need milk?'

    Bring 'round the boat
    Bring 'round the boat, girls
    Bring 'round the boat, girls
    From what I hear
    The islands are very nice this time of year."

    - Susan Werner "Bring Round the Boat"

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  4. No rides home. I babysat in the neighborhood. What I wonder is if the Setchells noticed I ate half a pie in one evening.

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  5. There's one of you who's getting no TV tonight.

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  6. That's all right, I'm used to it. Just give me an ice cream bar and I'll leave you alone.

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  7. I had some wild babysitting adventures: kids who escaped out the front door and had me chasing them, naked, (them, not me) through the neighborhood for hours.

    Then there was the couple who had me watch the kids in the back bedroom while their Hare Krishna group chanted, beat the drums and burned incense in the family room. For a strait-laced fundamentalist worried about devil spirits (I'd just read C.S. Lewish), it was terrifying.

    The dads were a kick. Some made passes, which I pretended not to pick up on. One guy kept me in the car for more than an hour giving me a pro-gun lecture. Argh...

    And all for .50 cents/hour. It went up to .75 cents eventually, but for that I fed the kids dinner, cleaned up and got them to bed. Usually. I was never so glad the day I got my first minimum-wage office job and gave up babysitting!

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  8. I initially read your post title as, "My adventures in babymaking."

    Nevertheless, this was another good KB story.

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  9. A very cool song by Dar Williams (that's not really about babysitting):

    THE BABY SITTER'S HERE

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  10. CP, glad we could clear that one up.

    Karen, These stories are too good. You and PA are giving me an idea.

    Earl, I know that song! Thanks for reminding me. I love it.

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  11. Being a bloke I did paper rounds rather than babysitting.

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  12. Great story! My prime babysitting years were age 13-15 when I lived in Kentucky (where pay in the late 70s was $1/hr). I was extremely popular with the parents as I never had anything better to do on a Friday or Saturday night. And my fridge/cupboard raids included an attempt to make it appear as if I hadn't taken anything. At one job I remember finding Judy Blume's "Wifey" high up a bookshelf. Of course I skimmed it looking for juicy parts. Two dads in particular stand out: one who smoked a foul-smelling cigar on the ride home, and another who not only came home drunk as a skunk from evenings at the country club (one place in our dry town where alcohol was allowed) but would mix a drink to take in the car to bring me home.

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  13. Babysitting paid for my trip out west to see my BBF in grade school. But although I remember babysitting, I can't seem to remember what the kids were doing. Painting my nails must have taken a lot of concentration.

    Wish I'd had a fancy mother with great make-up like you :-D

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  14. Ah yes, poking through the vanity tables. Never forget when I found a dildo buried under the scarves in one of the mom's drawers. Worst part was the kid saying, "What does my mom do with THAT?" Later he said, "Well maybe it belongs to my DAD?!"

    I should have stuck with just putting on the eyeliner.

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  15. "I should have stuck with just putting on the eyeliner." -LA

    Oh, ok LA, so now for the rest of the story?!

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  16. My adventures in babysitting brings back memories of finding one guys secret stash of Playboy magazine.

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  17. I once got locked out of someone's freezer for eating too much of their frozen Sara Lee goodies. Stingy in my opinion. My babysitting adventures were all "on base", the places where my dad was stationed. He was the "base chaplain" so no weird stuff, besides I either walked or rode my bike over. In those days and in those places you could roam anywhere and everywhere and feel free as a bird. I came home when I felt like it.

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  18. As Girl Scouts, we dutifully went up to the Red Cross on Madeline and took babysitting First Aid. I remember there were different tactics if an infant or toddler, or child were choking, but I know they didn't teach us CPR. I was the star of beating the various dolls on the back and getting them not to choke anymore and years later, am REALLY glad I never had to use that skill, ever. Similarly, I've been skilled at CPR for almost 25 years and have thankfully yet to use the knowledge.

    I did not get a ton of babysitting work--I think my parents didn't want people to think we *needed* the money, so they'd cut off the requests before they got to me (I later learned). I did do some sitting tho. I remember taking care of 4 kids up the street, one a teeny baby, that I had *no* idea what to do with, other than how to stop it from choking. I remember being scolded and not asked back to another job because I *didn't* raid the pantry---yes, really. I'd been taught not to eat other people's stuff, so I didn't, even tho they said it was ok. And one particularly memorable one--the children were so perfect it was sad. They had a movie to watch, a snack to eat (which they dutifully ate at the table so no crumbs would get away, then washed the dishes), then brushed their teeth, then into PJs and into bed. Hardest part of the night? Fighting off the father who drove me home and thot I was cute. Feh!

    Laurie...wow, that might teach one to stay out of other's drawers! ;-)

    wv: rated...yeah, at least R rated, what the Dad wanted to do with me

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  19. Katie -- hysterical. I told your story at breakfast. Babysitters were not driven home by a designated driver.

    I'm going to collect all these stories and pitch an article.

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  20. I babysat for a family for 4 years. I went at 4PM the first Saturday of every month, so the mom could get all dolled up while I fed the kids. They got home between 3AM and 5AM, after going to the jai alai fronton. If they lost, I got $50 for the night. If they won, he gave me more than that. She explained that if they won, their Christian morals required that they share with the Church, and with the babysitter. I was good with the whole Christian morals applied to gambling there, of course.

    They also took in "Fresh Air Fund" kids during the summer. An extra inner city kid meant an extra $20 for me. I liked that program also.

    Babysitting in Connecticut at that time paid $1 per hour. You bet I didn't let them lose my number until after I went to college!

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  21. Apparently some of us should have hired an agent during the babysitting years. I think I only got 75 cents an hour.

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  22. Wow, never dawned on me to try on the mommy's make up. I got 50 cents an hour per child. I loved cruising through their bookshelves, looking for books my family didn't allow. Sometimes I'd find pretty interesting reading...
    The worse thing I ever did was ignore a kid while he was in the bathtub. He was being a brat...
    I didn't realize what a brat. He pooped in the tub while I was out of the room. That taught me - "always watch your kids around water!"

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  23. This is good everywhere, but you really end with a bang. Looks like you've got a lotta sister veterans in this biz. I'll read 'em soon.

    Having been one of those dads, tho' not one for unsolicited advice, I hope you're not too tough on 'em as you think back (unless you got a certifiable creep, of which there were and are a few, I'm sure). I always wondered who was more uncomfortable, the sitter or me.

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  24. The Baby Sitter Vets Club!! Holy cow, one more way to learn about the seedy underbelly of middle-class American life! AH, this is worth more than an article--how about a book! Seriously.

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  25. I'm with PA on the $15. Wow! That's real money. I got a dollar an hour. Plus, you know, I was such a goody too shoes. I wouldn't eat anything unless expressly given permission. Mostly, we watched Love Boat and Fantasy Island.

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  26. I’ve never been babysitting, not even to my siblings kids ... so this is way out of my field. The eyeliner too.

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  27. Laurie: Did the dildo family ever have you back? You think the kids kept their mouths shut?

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  28. Earl, I babysat that kid for five years. The dildo discovery was our secret. He was too traumatized to say anything!

    I got $2-3 per hour depending on the family but they usually threw in more.

    I also remember watching R rated movies on cable because my parents didn't get HBO.

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  29. Nope, never did the babysitting thing. If I'd known free cosmetics were involved, I'd have reconsidered my stance.

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  30. One babysitter we hired to look after our kids invited her boyfriend round for you know what on the sofa. I think we walked in on them - not a nice ending to the evening. Another brought lots of chocolate and played Bon Jovi really loud for the kids, who were 4 and 5 at the time. We suspected they were having perhaps too good a good time when they started pushing us out the house as soon as the babysitter turned up.

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  31. Compromise, Banjo -- a long article. This is going to be fun. I think I'll divide the stories into decades, because they really give a interesting view into the culture.

    Oh and Tony, when we were kids, we had a bloke for a babysitter. Just one time, though. My sister and I developed a terrific and immediate crush on him, so I think my parents decided to go back to the girls.

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  32. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vjvjQPdTtRU&feature=player_embedded

    Check out Tdf.

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  33. You are so right! Babysitting like this just doesn't happen much anymore. Another great thing lost.
    I'm thinking that the fathers ruined it...

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  34. When I was 12, the next-door neighbors rented their house for the summer to a young couple from Manhattan. They spent days at the beach and evenings around town leaving their toddler with the babysitter - me or my friend, Maryann. We and our posse of friends spent many hours in that house, playing Spades and Hearts on the back porch and raiding the refrigerator. The poor kid got so attached to us, he would cry when his parents came home and we left.

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  35. Definitely a great story idea, and lots of places to pitch it.

    Parents who came home falling over drunk, and hours later than I expected, were the worst.

    I know parents today who won't leave their children, ever. Even with adult relative babysitters. Our parents from the Mad Men era were SO irresponsible by comparison, but I also think it was because most of the mothers stayed home all week and were dying to get out of the house by Saturday night.

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  36. Karen, I'm really excited about this idea. And you're right. When I was little and my parents left for the evening, they'd return bearing gifts -- the paper umbrellas from their whiskey sours and daiquiris. Lots and lots of umbrellas. And we'd balance the umbrellas in our orange juice the next morning, and pretend we were drinking cocktails.

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  37. Oh this might be the one post I can relate to. I spent endless hours as an only child with my parents at their supper clubs in the bedroom playing like a good girl with the "high heels", what I loved more than life itself, and some jewelry. Thanks for the memories KB.
    V

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  38. I had a regular Saturday night gig at a neighbour's house. They always stocked Captain Crunch cereal. My favourite and not to be found at my own house. I'd dish out a little into bowls for the kids & then eat the lion's share myself. That way, if the parents asked them later, the kids would tell them THEY ate it.

    Another favourite trick of mine was to tell the kids it was bedtime one hour earlier than it was. When they wheedled me to stay up longer, I'd acquiesce. I was always their favourite babysitter because I let them stay up "past" their bedtime. *wink*

    Ah...good times.

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  39. $15? Rich neighbourhood. I was lucky to get $2.50 for five hours of hard labour trying to nail three little boys in bed at the same time.
    (I also cruised the kitchen cabinets on a mission of mercy for sustenance.)

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