It was the summer I was 15. Old enough to want a summer job, but not old enough to drive yet. Living out in the country, I was stuck at home…until a neighbor family asked me to babysit their kids a few days a week.
It sounded ideal–I could walk to work and I would earn tons of money. They paid me $1 per kid per hour. Most of the time, I had two kids, which means I would earn as much as $15 a day! Woohoo! But sometimes, when brothers and sisters from a previous marriage were visiting, I had as many as five children to watch, which means I was making the unbelievable amount of five dollars per hour. Plus, if you grew up reading the Baby-Sitters Club, like I did, then you knew that baby-sitting was totally awesome.
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The problem was, these kids and I just weren’t a very good fit. I was 15 (only a few years older than the oldest of them) and soft-spoken, and really would have preferred small, compliant children who wanted to read books and draw pictures and play Barbies all day–after all, that’s what I did when I was a kid. But these kids were active grade-schoolers who found sitting at home all summer with a dull teenage girl to be the worst thing ever. They soon learned that I had pretty much no actual authority over them–I couldn’t ground them, or spank them, or do anything that really made a difference. The worst I could do was give them a “time out,” which mattered absolutely nothing to them.
What I should have done, obviously, was mention any misbehavior to their parents, as soon as it happened. As a parent, that’s what I want babysitters to do when my kids are naughty. I’m sure that the parents would have enforced some actual consequences for not minding the babysitter, and we all would have gotten along much better. But I was afraid that if I mentioned anything to the parents, they would think I wasn’t a good babysitter. That I wasn’t capable of handling the job. And so I kept my mouth shut, and the kids took advantage of this (stupid, they were not). Talking back, not doing what I told them, complaining about everything I suggested–kids will generally take as much slack as you’ll allow them, and I found myself completely incompetent at reining them in at all.
One day, one of the girls–she was about 6, I think, a cute little thing with an angelic face and long blonde hair–looked at my feet (I was wearing sandals) and said, in a tone of absolute scorn, “Your toes are the ugliest toes I have ever seen. If I had toes that ugly, I would cut them off.”
But the real kicker came one day when I had all the kids. We were playing outside. Two of the boys said they wanted to walk down to the mini-mart at the end of the hill. I told them no. I didn’t want to wrangle the whole gang, and argue with them about what snacks they could buy or what movies they could rent from the little corner of the store devoted to VHS tapes (they were all partial to horror movies, which they swore up and down their parents *always* let them watch). The boys got mad. I said no. One boy in particular got even madder. I still said no. And then he just took off. This was all taking place in a rural area, with houses set on big pieces of property, bordering fields and trees. And the kid just ran off into the trees and before I knew it he was completely out of my sight. Gone.
I felt sick, and scared, and guilty, all at once. I knew that a good babysitter would never LOSE one of her kids. This did not happen to Kristy, Mary Ann, Stacey, or Claudia. What if he got lost? What if he didn’t come back? I was going to lose my job, I was sure of it. And most of all, I was so pissed off. If I had found that little sucker, there were no guarantees I wouldn’t have smacked him upside the head. Two or three or ten times.
I couldn’t leave the other four kids by themselves while I looked for him. I couldn’t let them all wander the woods with me because then I’d probably just lose the rest of them too. I yelled his name. I screamed at him to get back here right this minute. I was sure he was up in a tree somewhere nearby, where I just couldn’t see him, laughing at me. I waited. And he didn’t come back.
And then, finally, I gave up. I went in the house and called the kids’ grandmother, who lived up the street. I told her what had happened, and she came right down, and then I just left. I didn’t stay and help her look for him. I didn’t watch the other kids while she found him. I just turned around and walked out the door.
I considered never going back. But I didn’t want to be a quitter (even though walking out before my babysitting hours were over the day before kind of made me a quitter already). Not going back at all would *really* mean that the kids had won. And I couldn’t let a bunch of little kids know that I couldn’t handle them (even though I kind of couldn’t).
So the next day, I went back. And the parents assured me that the kids had faced some consequences for the day before. And they didn’t take me to task for abandoning my charges halfway through the day. And as far as I remember, the rest of the summer continued uneventfully. But I don’t think that particular family ever asked me to babysit again.
How about you, readers? Did any of you have horrible babysitting experiences you care to share? Please let me know that I’m not the only one who fell short of the BSC’s lofty standards.