The Substitute Babysitter

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.

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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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About pegoleg

R-A-M-B-L-I-N-G-S, Ram...Blin!
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58 Responses to The Substitute Babysitter

  1. Roly says:

    Bet you’ve hardened up a lot since then. Now just a look makes kids step carefully 🙂

    Like

  2. stephjms says:

    This brings back memories…

    Like

    • pegoleg says:

      Babysitting was a rite of passage for girls, one neither of my kids ever did, I guess because we live out in the middle of nowhere so they couldn’t walk anywhere.

      Like

  3. bigsheepcommunications says:

    I did a ton of babysitting and I think I made a whole dollar an hour.

    Like

  4. I didn’t do much babysitting myself. Didn’t really care for it. We did enough babysitting and household chores at home with so many younger siblings!

    Like

  5. Audrey says:

    The illustration perfectly captures this. Ugh, babysitting…

    Like

  6. Pingback: All the Cool Kids Are Doing It | FiftyFourandAHalf

  7. robincoyle says:

    I made 50 cents an hour too and was fired from a regular gig when I asked for a 10 cent raise. Now, babysitters make something like $12/hour.

    Like

  8. I’m 26 and I have NEVER babysat. Yes, you read that correctly. Never. They smell the fear.

    Like

    • pegoleg says:

      Same for my kids, ages 22 and 20. I think it’s something about young adults nowadays being given everything they could ever want or need on a silver platter without ever having to work for any of it. Or it could be the fear thing…

      Like

  9. musabee says:

    I have a child phobia as well! I really cannot explain it. haha

    Like

    • pegoleg says:

      It’s not a phobia, per se. I really love kids! I have just never been that interested in babysitting them. Perhaps because,as my sister Tar already mentioned, with 6 younger than us we had to do that all the time at home and we sure as heck weren’t paid for it.

      Like

  10. My youngest daughter was making some pretty decent cash babysitting. When she started to prefer waitressing, I was unable to parlay myself into any of her former babysitting gigs. Apparently these parents today take a dim view of a man in his fifties spending quality time with their kids. They would’ve probably hid the booze anyway.

    Like

  11. Mary K. says:

    The same thing happened to me when I asked for a 10 cent raise for babysitting 2 small ones and I was turned down. I was mortified and didn’t babysit there anymore. Babysitting was not my favorite job (except for the Johnson’s) but it paid for my album habit! Thanks for filling in for me. Could I suggest therapy.

    Like

    • pegoleg says:

      Those people lived on 6th. I ended up on Trumbel where it splits off by the orphanage..I think? I was all turned around.
      Naturally when Mom forced me…er, suggested I help you out I was glad to do so and never complained for a minute.
      Thank goodness you had those gigs to buy the albums that fueled my love for good rock n roll.

      Like

  12. lexiemom says:

    This brings back memories…horrible memories.
    I, too, never liked children and determined never to have them. I was going to be a CEO of some fashion company, wear Versache everyday and have a fabulous high rise apartment in some major city, possibly in Europe. How I ended up an accountant with a mini-van, a mortgage in suburbia and 2.5 kids is a long story, and I digress…
    I, too, did not like babysitting, and would mow lawns when I could get the work. (Most people would rather hire the neighborhood boys for that work…well, my lines weren’t that straight and I wasn’t allowed to wield the weed-eater.) But I liked earning money, and my parents believed in work, so I did babysit on occasion. They were never good experiences, and I cringe to this day thinking of it.

    Like

    • pegoleg says:

      My brothers had paper routes, because that’s what boys did, along with mow lawns. I remember being forced, er, volunteering, to get out of bed before dawn to drive them around when the weather was inclement. Did I see a dime for my troubles? No, I did not.

      What did you do that you were banned from wielding the weed -eater? Must have been something horrible.

      Like

      • lexiemom says:

        No, nothing. My father was just very over protective, and decided that girls shouldn’t handle “men’s” equipment. I think he was afraid I’d cut off my fingers or something. It took him a while before he’d let me mow the lawn.
        You definitely should’ve been paid for the chauffeur service. Cost plus a percentage maybe? Now why didn’t I think of that when I was a teen?

        Like

  13. Oh, man. I am having huge flashbacks now. I babysat all the time. I started when I was 12! Twelve! To think any adult trusted me with their kids, crazy! I babysat for this family (happened to be our local vet) and their four hellion daughters (one was a newborn). What you described was perfect, Peg. No cell phones…we walked everywhere. My mom would just kick me out the door and tell me to go earn some money and I did. My brothers went door to door mowing lawns and I babysat. Times have changed drastically since those days.

    I also had a paper route. I would slog through the snow after school to make a few measly bucks (then blow it all on gum and candy). My point being: I worked hard for the money, so hard for it honey. And your damned straight it all built character. I had character coming out my ears.

    Like

    • pegoleg says:

      I had a paper route for 1 week in 7th grade. My friend agreed to do the route for HER friend (a classmate of ours) while he was on vacation, and she talked me into helping. We went around with him once before he left.

      It was one of those early morning, butt-crack of dawn deals. Well, here’s day one, its cold and I show up on my bike at the side of the road where the papers are dropped off and I see…lots of papers and no friend. I didn’t know what to do! Pre-phones, of course, so I figured out how to fold the things, how to get them in my borrowed bag and somehow work the bike with this huge bag banging on my legs. I read the list of addresses and it took me an hour past when they usually got their papers (so dangnabbit, some of those geezers complained about that), but I got them delivered. At school I saw my friend and said “Where in the goddamn hell were you this morning??!!” That’s what I would have said now, but back then it was probably something like “Jimminy Christmas, where were you, huh, for Pete’s sake?”

      She replies, as unconcerned as anything, “Oh, sorry, I overslept. I don’t want to do it anymore, so you can keep all the money yourself.”

      And me, with the more highly developed conscience, apparently, had to get up every friggin morning and do the route so this kid, who I didn’t even like, would still have a job when he got back from Wally World!

      So what do we learn from all this? It IS possible to write a whole blog post in the space of a single comment. Guess I should have done this post as a comment on Angie’s blog as originally planned.

      Um…so what were we talking about?

      Like

      • She overslept?? Yeah, see that’s another thing that would never happen in my house.

        I did my route for my stupid older brother. He was playing soccer (and was the golden child of the family) so my dad took him to practice and informed me I would be taking over his route after school until the season was over. I ended up keeping his route for years (guess I got too used to having all the Big League Chew gum and wax lips a paper girl’s salary could buy)

        I remember my first day. I had to cut the plastic strip off the big stack of papers and nearly took of my thumb. And it was a Monday, which meant the papers were super thick— just chocked full of all the bad news that had spilled over from the weekend. Took me nearly a half hour just to cram the damned things into my bag. Then I would have to rush through my route, running away from angry dogs, jumping over mud puddles, that heavy sack full of papers banging on my side the entire way, the strap digging painfully into my shoulder. Night would fall and I would pick up my pace so I could make it home in time to catch the ending of Little House on the Prairie, maybe huddle over a quick dinner of cold soup, which was hard to eat because my ink-stained hands would be numb from the cold. Oh, the things I sacrificed!

        But a girl had to make a living back then, and dammit, I did.

        I did.

        I’m sorry. Were you sayin’ something? Where am I?

        Like

        • pegoleg says:

          Some are born to paper routes…some have paper routes thrust upon them.

          I’m proud of that can-do, free-enterprise, God Bless America! attitude. So, continuing this noble tradition, are your precious little ones forced to sell lemonade on the street corner for pocket change?

          Like

      • Angie Z. says:

        Did you know I’m doing a guest post here on Monday, Peg? Oh, I forgot to tell you. My next blog post will be published here. In a comment box. See you soon.

        Like

  14. Janu says:

    Very funny!

    Like

  15. As someone with a horrible sense of direction…driving wasn’t the problem when I started it was finding the place i was headed , in my defense every car journey previous to actually getting behind the wheel was spent with my head stuck in a book so anywhere I hadnt walked looked alien 🙂 Also kids really do smell fear the only thing worse was when the family had a pet dog too…oh dear lord my poor adolescent nerves…

    Like

    • pegoleg says:

      I agree. I never look where we’re going when I’m the passenger, and especially when I was a kid, so I could have been driven someplace 100 times and still have no idea how to get there.

      And you’re SO on with the dog. We never had dogs around our house (too many kids) and I was afraid of them.

      Like

  16. pattisj says:

    The only kids I remember sitting for lived on our street. I would go there on my way home from school so the dad could go to work; and I stayed until the mom came home. I learned a lot from that job!

    Like

  17. Hilarious! The only thing I really feared about babysitting was watching the Care Bears movie over and over and over again 🙂

    Like

  18. Sandy Sue says:

    You poor little cherub. I thought it was proper etiquette for the client to come get the babysitter. At least that’s how it worked for me. I would have been hysterical, too, in your predicament.

    Like

    • pegoleg says:

      No, but the dad would drive you home if it was after dark. When our kids were little my husband refused to drive the sitter home lest she say/allege/imply anything improper happened, so I had to – sad commentary on the state of the world.

      Poor cherub- I like the sound of that.

      Like

  19. lexy3587 says:

    hah, you can just about hear the ominous roll of thunder in the distance at the end, there 😛 I didn’t babysit much, but was definitely in teh same ‘kids make me uncomfortable’ boat. oh wait, I’m still in it!

    Like

    • pegoleg says:

      I’m surprised, since you love dogs. It seemed to me that being uncomfortable with one went with the other. Although in my case, with 9 kids in the family it was probably that I was SICK of kids more than afraid of them.

      Like

  20. Comments, comments, comments. We LOVES those comments and clicks!

    Like

  21. Angie Z. says:

    I felt ill reading this — I remember getting lost a couple dozen times in my life and every time brought me to tears. You poor thing. And then in addition to that hell, you had a sitter-pimp at home, waiting to beat you up if you didn’t bring home the dough. Oh, wait? Maybe I’m confusing that with an episode of Hill Street Blues.

    They can smell fear. I know it. They can.

    Like

    • Angie Z. says:

      Thank you for the kind shout-out. It was so nice that it almost made me feel guilty about kicking your ass.

      Like

      • pegoleg says:

        Yeeaaahhh. About that ass-whuppin’. Poop SHOULD trump babysitting on any planet. Curse you and your crazy writing skills, Angie!!!!

        Like

        • Angie Z. says:

          I think it’s just that more people have so far felt sorry for me because they probably realize I’m still that 90 pound weakling that no one would trust to manage small children.

          Like

    • pegoleg says:

      I used to love Hill Street Blues. Stayed home every Thursday (I think?) to watch it. And I think I do recall an episode with a babysitter pimp who got lost and wandered in to the wrong house after watching somebody else’s kids, then got in the truck with some strange man…no, wait, that was Falcon Crest.

      Like

  22. Dana says:

    Oh, babysitting. By the time I reigned queen in the land of sitters, I was making a startling $4 an hour… but I had to split it with my younger sisters, who were nowhere *near* babysitting age and just tagged along on my gigs so my parents could have some alone time. Gah– capitalism! (Or is this a prime example of communism?)

    My middle sister (aged 9) would make about $1.50 of my $4 hourly wage, and my youngest sister (6 YEARS OLD!) commanded the 50 cent per hour wage for playing with the kids, two of whom were slightly older than she was. It was a win-win-lose situation: my sisters loved tagging along and essentially being given free cash, my parents loved having the house to themselves, and I hated to see my already measly wage divvied up amongst dogs. 😦

    Like

    • pegoleg says:

      This is TEXTbook communism. Instead of your parents paying you extra for, in effect babysitting your little sisters as well as the other kids, they forced you to share your earnings with them.

      I just checked my copy of The Little Red Book and there’s a picture of you happily passing out your hard-earned babysitting loot to your deadbeat sisters. Shameful.

      Like

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