I hated babysitting. They say kids and dogs know when you’re afraid of them and they take advantage of your terror. That they can tell when you don’t like them. Even as a teenager I didn’t like kids (not counting my own if you’re reading this, DEAR Liz and Gwen) and didn’t know how to relate to them. They knew it.
But there were no other jobs available for a teenage girl back in the day. If you wanted to earn money you had to baby-sit. You got exactly 50 cents per hour, even if the family had 13 kids. My mom said the rate was the same when SHE was a babysitting teenage girl during the Middle Ages. For that princely sum you were expected to make dinner, clean the dishes, invent games for the kids, get them scrubbed and to bed, tidy up the living room and put new aluminum siding on the house.
My two older sisters, Mary Kay and Terry and I are three-in-a-row, age wise. When I was 13 that made us all of prime babysitting age. Our house was babysitter central and our Mom was the sitter-pimp. Mary Kay had a lot more gigs than I because she was 16, I think, and could drive. Besides she was good at that sort of thing.
On the day in question, MK had a job to watch some kids she regularly babysat for, but she got sick at the last minute. Because the lady had plans she couldn’t break or something, my Mom said I had to go in MK’s place. I didn’t even have time to learn anything about this family because I had to walk there, which meant I had to leave right away. So off I go to the home of strangers, a place I’d never been, to watch kids I didn’t know from Adam.
You might wonder why Mom didn’t drive me. It was possible that one of my 8 brothers or sisters had something going on that Mom had to go to. But the bottom line was that kids didn’t get rides unless our parents needed to go with us to find out what we were up to; like a parent/teacher conference or a doctor’s appointment. Kids walked or rode their bikes everywhere. This built character.
I was given the street address of this family’s house and was pointed in the right direction. I was told to go straight on street X, then turn west on street Y, then go straight, then north and it’s about 3/4 mile from our house.
Did I mention I had never been there before? And though I was a life-long Girl Scout, we were more a crafting-with-Popsicle-sticks kind of troop than an orienteering-by-the-moss-on-the-trees group. And although my hometown was not Gotham, it wasn’t Mayberry, either. I knew my way around my little corner of the world, but not much outside of that.
I don’t think I would have had any trouble finding the place except it happened that street X split off into two streets at a 45-degree angle about 3 blocks before I was supposed to turn onto street Y. Nobody had mentioned this. Now I had streets X, Y AND previously unmentioned Z to navigate. I also had to contend with northeast, southwest and all kinds of compound directions instead of just the original north and south.
As I walked back and forth in this 6-block area, I became more miserable. I was late; I KNEW I was horribly late. But this was in the days before cell phones and I didn’t know what to do, so I just kept walking around, up and down blocks that all started to look the same.
I knew this woman was impatiently waiting for me, late for her big appointment and I was a big, dumb, LOST 13-year-old doofus. I started to cry.
I wandered around for more than ½ hour when I saw some lady a block down, standing out on the sidewalk. She seemed to be looking for something. Or someone. I headed in her direction. As I approached I could see she was an older lady (mid-thirties) and she looked ticked-off.
“Are you Mary Kay’s sister? Where have you been?” She asked, snappily.
“Yes” I replied, weak-kneed with relief. I didn’t care that she was obviously annoyed with me. I didn’t care that she was staring at my red, wet face and wondering what kind of childcare-giver the Richart Babysitting Emporium had saddled her with.
(You may have noticed from my avatar that I am blond. At one time it was natural. I am also very fair-skinned and, in my youth, suffered greatly from my inability to control blushing at the least provocation. Whenever I cry my face turns puffy, red and blotchy for a good 2 hours afterwards. Not quite “the crystalline tear slid slowly down her alabaster cheek” picture from romance novels that I used to long to present. But I digress.)
I didn’t care about any of that stuff – I was lost and now was found! Halleluiah!
I started sputtering my explanation of how I got bad directions, how one street suddenly morphed into two but she wasn’t listening. She hustled me into the house, fired off all sorts of directions, instructions and introductions to the approximately 80 children in the living room, none of whose names I caught, and muttered something like she “was late for a very important date”. Then she scurried out of the house like the White Rabbit off to see the queen.
After the door slammed, I turned around to survey the children a little more closely. It seemed there were only 4 of them ranging in age from 5 to 11. They took in my nervous demeanor and blotchy, tear-stained face. They sniffed the air.
They caught the scent of fear.
Smiles spread gradually on their child/devil faces as they slowly, oh so slowly, approached me, the substitute babysitter. Fresh meat.
Angie over at Childhood Relived just ran a hysterical post, An Epic Adventure in Babysitting. This mess right here started life as a comment response to her post. It grew legs and went on and on and on and, well, it turned into a post. Deciding it was rude to monopolize Angie’s blog, I moved the mayhem back here.
Angie’s post was in reply to Darla, over at She’s A Maineiac, who requested stories of the most embarrassing moments of our youth for a contest Psst! Hey…Wanna Hear Something Really Embarrassing?. Ironically, I am entered in the same contest, my entry having been posted here as Today’s Brown Plate Special. Angie’s entry (the one I am responding to), is spanking my entry so bad right now it’s practically blogger abuse.
Isn’t this an incestuous little world?
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