I had a wonderful time babysitting last night, so I thought that I might tell a story from one of the first times I babysat when I was eleven.
Now, babysat might be an exaggeration of the word since the parents were just one house away, but I was still in charge of five kids all under the age of nine.
At the time, a number of the parents on our block were in a book club, and they would meet every month for lunch and a discussion. But instead of doing sandwich platters and lemonade and talking just for an hour, they would get really into it and serve full, gourmet meals in the theme of whatever they just read and talk for hours. All of the kids were banished from the house and put under the care of some older kid on the block. But by the time that I was eleven, it was decided that high schoolers were no longer necessary and that I and another boy my age could handle the responsibility ourselves.
In order to tell this story properly, I’m going to need to introduce you to the cast of characters.
First, you’ve got me. I was eleven, rather bossy and a bit too precocious. I was also over the moon about having the chance to be a “real-live babysitter,” which was a sure sign that everything was going to get out of hand. My boundless enthusiasm for something I know little about usually ends up turning into a disaster story. (Thursday’s post, The Time Ella Decided to Celebrate Saint Lucia’s Day and It Went Horribly, Horribly Wrong, is a great example.)
Then, there was Zach, a boy who lived down the street and one of my good friends. He was less enthusiastic about the idea and really just wanted to go back to his treehouse where we were in the process of smashing an old telephone to bits with hammers and taping the pieces to a tree with duct tape (This was one of our favorite things to do at that age, for some unexplainable reason.), but he was still game to help out.
Pippa, my sister, was nine, and both too old and self-sufficient to really warrant a babysitter.
Lee, Zach’s sister, was eight and did not fancy the idea of having anyone in charge of her. She could take care of herself, thank you very much, and did have any problems alerting anyone to this fact.
Grace was two and entirely too smart for her own—or for that matter, anyone else’s—good.
Jonah was five and perfectly willing to play with his trains in the corner and not bother anyone. He was also at that age where he completely idolized Zach and would try to copy his every move, much to Zach’s annoyance.
And finally, there was Tobias, Jonah’s brother, who was two and very easily influenced. He had also been fairly recently adopted from South Korea and was having some trouble understanding and speaking English.
We had been set up in the basement of Jonah and Toby’s house and instructed not to bother anyone unless there was a serious injury. And things were going generally well for the first fifteen minutes. Grace and Tobias built with blocks, Pippa and Lee argued over what movie to watch, Zach sat in the corner with a video game while Jonah hung over his shoulder to watch, and I marched around checking in with everyone every few seconds. I was not going to let anything go wrong.
Then, Grace started throwing blocks at Tobias, who started throwing them back. I was secretly thrilled. I get to solve a conflict now! Being a babysitter is awesome! I thought. But when I knelt down to try to gently tell them that throwing blocks was unacceptable and that they needed to apologize to each other, they began throwing the blocks at me and wouldn’t stop no matter how many times I asked them to.
I began to freak out as I held my arms in front of my face to block the flying wooden rectangles. Lee started yelling at them,and I started yelling back at her to “just let me handle it, alright? I am the babysitter, not you!” until finally Zach stood up and suggested that we play hide-and-go-seek.
I had forgotten about the power of redirection in my attempts to stop the block flinging, and began to feel like a bit of a babysitting failure. I was supposed to be the best babysitter ever! I had read the American Girl Doll book on it and most of the parenting books my parents owned. (At the time, I slept in our finished attic, which was a huge, beautiful room that also held an incredibly large amount of books. Once I moved in there at the age of nine, I started reading books that were way beyond my comprehension or maturity level. I was particularly fond of the pregnancy, parenting, and environmentalism books, for some peculiar reason.) I was a babysitting theory expert! I should have been amazing at it in practice, too. But Grace and Tobias had stopped throwing the blocks, and I wasn’t going to be so prideful as to refuse Zach’s suggestion. Besides, hide-and-go-seek is awesome.
What I had forgotten was that when playing hide-and-go-seek everyone except the seeker has to hide, and hiding means that you don’t know where all the kids you’re supposed to be in charge of are or what they are doing. And that was going to be my downfall.
I agreed to be the seeker first and closed my eyes and slowly counted down from fifty. When I opened them again, I heard giggling from the bathroom where Grace was standing in the shower. I found her just as she was about to turn on the faucet and drench herself. Phew! Crisis averted. With Grace in tow, I proceeded to hunt around the basement. Pippa was in a closet with Tobias, Zach was underneath the laundry sink, and Lee was behind a door. All was well, and we were ready for round two.
This time, though, things got bad very, very quickly. Grace had army crawled underneath the sofa and gotten stuck, bursting into tears and getting her legs covered with rug burn as I dragged her out by her ankles. But darling Pippa was just behind the TV and reappeared as good-natured and calm as ever. Then, I heard yells from the furnace room.
Lee, in some sort of attempt to hide behind the furnace (which is a horrible idea to begin with), had somehow managed to snag her dress on a pipe, but instead of relaxing and working it free, she was trying to use panicked brute force to wrench it off. Frustrated and anxious, she kept snapping at me as I freed her and then stomped off. But none of us could find Tobias or Zach.
As it turns out, Tobias had managed to lock himself in the closet in his dad’s office. I was stuck trying to explain via yelling through two sets of doors how to unlock the closet door and let himself free. The minutes dragged on, and he began to cry. English sounds garbled when muffled by doors, and to a young child who doesn’t speak the language well, it must have been even worse. He was sobbing, and I was entirely freaked out. I was not going to be responsible for his permanent imprisonment, but there was no way for me to get into the room to fix it.
To top that fiasco off, we began to hear yells and odd banging from the laundry room. It sounded like someone had stuck a bunch of sneakers that had the ability to yell into the dryer. It was all very strange, and I started to fear that there was some sort of monster lurking in there, waiting to attack all of us. Maybe it had already eaten Zach. The yelling got louder and louder, until I bravely opened the door to the dryer and discovered that he had managed to lock himself in there as his hiding place and had then proceeded to become very scared that we had forgotten about him and were going to leave him in there forever.
Kids, get out your notebooks. Never, ever use a dryer or a washer as a hiding place. Those doors lock and will stay that way until someone lets you out. Also, you know how dryers have those pieces of plastic that divide up the metal drum to keep the clothes fluffy and wrinkle free as they dry? Well, they also hurt like heck when you’ve had them pressing into your sides for around fifteen minutes.
It took us quite a while to get Tobias out of the closet and almost as long to get him to calm down.
But here’s the thing that really gets me:
WE KEPT PLAYING THE GAME!
I have no idea what was wrong with me to okay this, but we continued playing hide-and-go-seek for the next hour until the parents came to pick us up. And it wasn’t even like it was smooth sailing from then on out. People kept getting into these awful scrapes every single round. I got more and more anxious, and my voice got higher and higher, but it never occurred to me to stop the game and do something else.
All in all, it had not been a successful venture. I went home to go sulk in my room and finish a book on global warming, clutching my very hard earned six dollars (Ah, the days when my parents knew that I thought that two dollars an hour was a very generous offer. I also only got one dollar of allowance a week and viewed that as quite the bounty. Then, I discovered what minimum wage was, and things changed.) in my fist. In an hour or so the ice cream truck was going to come, and I needed a King Kone something bad.
Note: I have never since had a babysitting gig go so poorly. I mean, I’ve been thrown up on and have had kids refuse to go to bed, but nothing has ever compared to the stress and ridiculousness of that first time. In fact, I consider myself a good babysitter now. I love kids, and they seem to like me back. And while there is the occasional temper tantrum or out of control defiant rampage, all of those parenting books seem to have paid off, and I can get everything fixed up pretty quickly. I’ve even managed to get my most difficult sleeper’s bedtime dramatics down to about forty-five minutes as opposed to the two and a half hour ordeal we used to go through when first I started with her.
For the month, you can find me updating my word count on NaNoWriMo here. (I need to do it more regularly so that it doesn’t become flat for a few days, only to receive an enormous spike, indicating that I somehow magically wrote about twelve thousand words in one day.)
And as always, you can also find me on tumblr at http://emleng93.tumblr.com/, if, you know, you’re into that kind of thing.