Needing spending money as a young teenager, I decided to take up babysitting as a profession. I had no experience with little children, had never changed a diaper, and was terrified of the dark. Big deal! I could do this.
I didn’t know how to drum up business either. I was incredibly bashful. Put me in a room with someone and I became invisible. I could hide in the middle of my own birthday celebration, simply by blending in with the upholstery on the couch. So how was I going to approach neighbors and ask for work?
Because my brother was a superb salesman, he did the legwork, and then I followed through with the delivery. This worked for the diverse things that we took on, such as a small Midwest newspaper that came out once a month. My brother knocked on doors to get clients; I left the merchandise on the porch.
We sold fruits picked from our neighbor’s backyard, vegetables from our own, seeds from catalogues and various kinds of magazines. All in all, we did well.
I loved the feel of independence that salesmanship gave me. With my bicycle tires humming along the pavement, I felt strong and brave. I envisioned myself as all-powerful: capable of doing anything, anytime, anywhere.
That all changed after I deposited the paper on the welcome mat on the Wilson’s front porch. Normally no one answered, so imagine my surprise when the door opened.
Mrs. Wilson smiled warmly. “Hello! Aren’t you the newspaper girl?”
“Do you ever babysit?”
I wanted to yell, Oh, yes, but I was a horrible liar. “No, but I am interested.”
“Are you free Friday night?”
Of course, I’m free. I’m always free. We never go anywhere. “Yes.”
“Can you come around seven? My husband and I are going into Dayton for a company party. We should be back by ten.”
I should ask my parents first. If I agree without their permission, I could get into big trouble. “Sure.”
“Can you come in and meet the kids?”
You mean the ones screaming in the background? The ones pushing each other off the couch? “Sure.”
Mrs. Wilson, with a fake smile plastered on her face, held open the screen door while I stepped inside. The living room floor was covered with bits and pieces of toys. The couch cushions floated between the detritus, like icebergs in an artic sea. On each cushion, stood a little boy.
“What’s your name?”
“Terry, I’d like you to meet my sons. This is Billy. The one in the middle is Joe. That one over there is Mickey. Mickey and Joe are twins.”
Billy looked like a demon, primarily due to his flying red hair and jam-encrusted face. All he needed was a pair of fangs and some horns. Joe and Mickey were duplicates, down to the brown freckles dancing on their cheeks. They even wore matching clothes. As long as they didn’t move, I shouldn’t have any trouble.
“Come into the nursery. I want you to meet Nancy.” Mrs. Wilson led the way, with the flotilla of boys drifting in her wake. I brought up the rear, noticing as I did so, that either Joe or Mickey had sat in something brown and gooey. Could it be?
“There’s my little girl!” Mrs. Wilson stood in the doorway of a pale pink room. A stark white crib sat along one wall, a matching chest of drawers on another, and a changing table on the third. Fortunately, she explained how to operate the changing table, or I would have been in terrible trouble.
“When you come, the boys will already be in their pajamas. After you read them a story, send them to bed. They know the routine. Nancy will be asleep. You shouldn’t have to do anything with her at all.”
The family headed for the front room, so I tagged along. By now I knew that I was in over my head. Three boys, all under five, plus a diaper-clad baby. I yearned to tell Mrs. Wilson that there was this family obligation that I just remembered, but the words failed me.
“Here’s the television. After the boys are asleep, you can watch whatever you like. You don’t do ironing, do you?” Her hand swept melodramatically toward an ironing board set up in one corner of the room. A huge pile of clothes filled up a nearby chair. “We’ll pay extra if you also iron. What do you charge?”
I had no idea. Not only had I never babysat, I’d also never done someone else’s laundry. “A dollar an hour.”
“We’ll give you one-fifty, as that is what our last babysitter charged. Then we’ll give you another fifty for the ironing. That makes two dollars an hour. Does that sound good?”
You’ve got to be kidding! For taking care of four little brats, plus ironing two-week’s worth of clothes, she should give me a hundred! “Fine.”
“Great! We’ll see you Friday!” Mrs. Wilson smiled as she escorted me to the door. Billy had his middle finger embedded in his nose, while Joe and Mickey clung to their mother’s skirt. “Say bye, boys!”
“Bye!” they chorused.
I stepped onto the porch, wondering what I had done to myself. True, I had wanted to become a professional babysitter. True, this was a prime opportunity to hone my skills. There were a few problems, one of which was telling my parents that I had accepted a job at a total stranger’s house. The other had to do with three little boys and a baby.
Surprisingly enough, neither of my parents complained about my independent thinking. My father’s only requirement was that he drive me to the house and meet both parents. I didn’t tell him about the ironing.
The next two days flew by, as all summer days do when you are young. This was long before the Internet, so I had no way to research proper babysitting methodology. I would just have to figure things out as they happened.
Just after dinner on Friday, my father picked up his car keys and headed out the door. By now I was scared nearly to death. My heart blocked my throat and my legs wobbled like pudding. Nevertheless, I picked up a book that I was reading, and followed.
When we got to the Wilson’s house, my dad said, “Let me do the talking. If things don’t check out, then I’m taking you back home.”
Please, please, don’t “check out.” Please take me back home. “Okay.”
With his normal swagger, my dad stepped on the porch and pounded on the door. He held his shoulders back, and a stern look fell across his face. He seemed much bigger than his five foot seven frame.
“Hello,” Mrs. Wilson said as she opened the door. “Is this your father, Terry?”
“I’m her father. I just wanted to make sure that she would be safe here.”
Not that routine! Please don’t embarrass me! Not tonight!
“No problem. Come on in.” Mrs. Wilson held the door open for us.
I felt like a little girl clinging to my father’s proverbial belt, as we stepped into the front room. “We should be back by ten. The boys are ready for bed, and the baby is sleeping. Terry is going to do our ironing once everyone is asleep. After that, she’s going to watch television.”
Why did she mention ironing and television?
Without saying a word, my father turned and left. I faced the boys, who sat on the couch, with hair wet from baths and faces squeaky clean.
“We’ll be going in a few minutes.” Mrs. Wilson disappeared down the hall, her skirt swishing behind her.
“Hi,” I said as I sat on the edge of the couch. “Want me to read to you?” Billy nodded and handed me a book. I found a spot between the twins, and began reading.
“We’re leaving now,” Mrs. Wilson said. “Boys, you be good and go to bed when the book is finished. We’ll see you at ten.”
Mrs. Wilson looked gorgeous, decked out in a fancy dress and high heels. Mr. Wilson wore a black suit and white shirt. They made a handsome couple.
After the car drove away, all hell broke loose. Billy climbed up the back of the couch and began shooting at the twins. Joe and Mickey ran in circles, dodging the imaginary bullets. Billy jumped down, picked up a sofa cushion, and threw it at Joe. Is that Joe or Mickey? Who cares anyway? Joe threw it at Mickey, hitting him squarely on the nose. Mickey crumpled to the floor, blood squirting between his fingers. Joe chased after Billy, threatening to kill him. As they ran in and out of the kitchen and family room, I got Mickey up off the floor and into the bathroom.
While I tried to stop the bleeding by pressing his nose with a cold cloth (ineffective, but the only thing I could think to do), Billy raced down the hall, shrieking like the devil he was. Joe wailed, complaining about an injury to his right ear. The baby woke up with the commotion.
I left Mickey in the bathroom, holding a blood-tinged cloth to his still-dripping nose. I caught Billy as he ran by, and held him up in the air, his feet pounding my thighs. His attempts to wriggle free worked. As soon as his feet found purchase, he was off and running. Meanwhile, Joe had found a plastic gun, which he was waving around like Clint Eastwood. Nancy’s screams reached ear-splitting level.
I decided to check on the baby, and to let the boys kill themselves. When I picked up Nancy, my hand squished something cold and wet. She was soaked all through her pajamas. The din in the hall had escalated considerably, as Mickey had joined the fight now taking place in kitchen, front room, hall, and family room.
I placed Nancy on the changing table, and unsnapped the pajamas. I got the clothes off of her despite her flailing arms and thrashing feet. Not only was she wet, but she had also pooped a gooey, sloppy mess.
The bathtub seemed too big for a baby, so I immersed her in the sink. Using the only washcloth that I could find (the one with Mickey’s blood on it), I washed off the urine and poop. Nancy stopped shrieking, which was the only good thing happening.
I got her reasonably clean and then carried her back into the nursery. I fished around the table until I found a diaper, a plastic cover, and a clean pair of pajamas. While she wriggled and squirmed, I got the diaper in place. Unfortunately, I didn’t know to put my hand between her body and the diaper pin, so she got stuck. Her face turned dark red, and then a wail erupted the size of Mount Vesuvius.
I could hear the boys, now hooting like banshees, throwing something that thumped and crashed. I prayed that it wasn’t breakable.
As soon as Nancy was dressed, I put her in the crib. That was not what she wanted, however, and so she resumed screaming. I picked her up, thinking that I had better get the boys in bed.
When I stepped into the family room, I thought a bomb had exploded. Books littered the floor, the pile of clothes covered all surfaces, and pieces of tableware (fortunately not broken) were balanced on the arms of the chairs and the couch.
“Stop. Please, stop.” When there was no change in behavior, I searched deep inside and found my “parent voice.” “Stop, now.” I put my left hand on my hip and glowered, as I’d seen my mother do. They’re stopping! Yes! Now what do I do?
“It’s time for you to go to bed. All of you,” I said.
One by one, they peeled off the couch and headed down the hall. I followed to ensure that their intentions were honest. “In your own rooms,” I said as all three turned into the same room. With a sheepish grin, Billy went into the next room and slammed the door. I watched as the twins climbed into their beds. I patted each one on the head, and said, “Good night.” Before stepping into the hall, I asked, “Do you want me to leave the door open?”
“No! Close the door! Close the door!” Mickey stood up in bed, and began jumping and chanting. Joe did the same. Nancy thought the whole thing was pretty funny, and she started giggling.
“Get back in bed. Your parents will be angry if they knew what you were doing.”
“No they wouldn’t. We do this all the time,” Joe said. “Jump, jump, jump,” he sang in his high-pitched voice.
A loud pounding came from the direction of Billy’s room, so I left the twins. When I opened the door, Billy threw a hardball against his wall.
“Stop,” I said.
“Make me.” He threw the ball, aiming for my head. Just as it bounced off the wall behind me, I grabbed it and tucked it into my pocket.
“Go to bed.”
“You can’t make me,” Billy sang. “You’re dumber than our last babysitter. She quit and won’t ever come back.”
My heart skipped a beat. I knew that this was too good to be true! Mrs. Wilson took advantage of me. Nevertheless, there was nothing I could do except get these kids in bed.
“Well, I’m here, and your mother wanted you to be in bed. I’m going to stand here until you get under the covers.”
Billy, for some strange reason, complied.
When I left him, I was feeling ill. My heart had grown ten sizes, and was ready to explode. My stomach churned like Niagara Falls, and my head spun like a carousel.
I stopped outside the twin’s room and listened. All was quiet. That left Nancy to get back in bed, and then tackle the ironing. I carried her into the kitchen, opened the refrigerator, and found a bottle filled with milk. Nancy pulled it to her open mouth. Thinking that all would be fine now, I put her in the crib. She sucked noisily, making a snuffling, gurgling sound.
There was still no noise coming from the other rooms, so I sighed, thinking that the worst was over. About that time, Nancy’s yells echoed off the walls. I scurried into the room. She had spit up, and a creamy vomit covered her pajamas, the wall, her blanket, and the sheet. I took off her messy clothes, only to discover another pooped-in diaper. I got her cleaned up, then put her on the floor.
After changing the sheet and blanket, and scrubbing the wall, (while trying not to throw up!), I got her back in bed.
By now it was nine, and I was exhausted. I straightened up the family room and kitchen while the iron warmed. With the television on, I made it through the huge mound of clothes. I hung up each item, proud of my work.
It took me over an hour, but I felt satisfied with my efforts. Thinking that the parents should be home at any moment, I stretched out on the couch to watch a little television.
I must have fallen asleep, for I jumped when a man leaned over me, calling my name.
“You were sleeping,” Mr. Wilson said.
“No, I was just resting my eyes.”
“So, you got the ironing done. That’s good. And the kids are asleep. Thanks. I’ll drive you home.”
I followed him out the door. I got in the passenger seat and closed the car door. He drove me home, talking constantly. When we pulled up in front of my house, he said, “We’re going out next Friday. Would you be interested in babysitting?”
“No, thank you.”
“Well, here’s your money. I put in a little extra since we got home so late.”
After I had closed the front door, I looked at the clock. It was two in the morning! Then I counted my money. Mr. Wilson had given me one dollar more than he owed.
You would think that I had learned my lesson and would never babysit again. Unfortunately, I gave it two more tries.
The next was on a stormy night. Branches scratched against the windows and the wind whistled as it blew. Lights flickered and all the shows on the television were frightening. I ended up calling home for help. My dad came and spent the time with me until the parents came home.
The last time I took care of a baby boy. When his diaper needed changing, at least this time I knew what to do. I took out the pins, removed the stinky diaper, but as I was putting on a clean one, the baby let out a stream of urine that shot into the air. I caught much of it with the diaper, but then I needed another clean one. Just as I got it into place, he pooped. I went through all the diapers on the changing table before I finally got one pinned on. When his parents came home, the mother was horrified.
After that I gave up babysitting for good.