Monday, February 20, 2006

Adventures in Babysitting

We've got warming winter weather on the horizon* and I am thinking thoughts of hot summer days. To celebrate the warmth the thoughts bring, I made myself some pink lemonade (read as: I'm out of Coca-Cola and thirsty).

I spoke with my mother today and was reminded again of what an unusual child I must have been. She has a friend who is about my age. Her friend has a daughter who is turning 9 this week. She is a sweet little girl, full of smiles and polite. The girl likes to visit Mom's house because she can play with all the pets. Pepper likes this the most; Chip would rather cuddle than be chased by a youngster. Smoke is quite independent and unless tuna fish is involved, he could care less. Mac tolerates her just as he tolerates me (what can I say, I'm not a huge cat fan and he knows it. I am nice to him, but also find it amusing to watch his puzzled expressions as I make him do what my mom termed the "kitty-dance".)

With her birthday approaching, my mom asked her what she would like. She is interested in scrapbooking. What can I say other than it is taking over the world. My mom has seen my scrapbooks and thought this might be a fun project for the girl to explore her creative side. Then my mom checked the price tags of certain scrapbooking products. She thought, 'Okay, we could start small.' Then the girl came over and my mom realized she has about a thirty second attention span. This type of gift may wait a few years.

My mom said an interesting thing to me as she explained all of this over the phone. "I forget that kids are not like you were." I had the opposite of a short attention span. Activities would grab my interest and I'd spend a whole day working on some project or another. One of my favorite memories (and yes, I'm a nerd**, dork, geek, whatever you want to call me) of my childhood is spending a rainy Saturday afternoon/evening in the basement with my parents, organizing a pile of 300+ factoid cards my cousins gave me in a jumbled mess.

This should have made me an easy child to watch while my parents were out.

When my family first moved to Fridley, my parents did not know many our neighbors. They relied on sheer age when picking sitters for me and it was not the best process.

There was the sitter who thought my attention should be diverted to a stapler as she stole all the food from our refrigerator to give to her friends. The lesson I learned that day? When you staple your index and middle finger together, there will be a lot of blood and pain. To this day, I still make sure I hold staplers properly.

This sitter was not fired immediately. She was allowed to watch me a few more times until my parents noticed my toys missing. I had an extensive collection of Care Bear figurines and the collection was seriously compromised when she was near.

Let's move on to sitter number 2. This sitter was terrific at asking my mom for first cigarettes, second cigarette money, and finally just for money to purchase drugs. Her other skills involved watching television and eating potato chips while I was entertaining myself in my room.

One afternoon, I thought to myself, "If I had a hammer, I'd hammer all day long." And I did. I was about 5 or 6 at this point and I found my dad's hammer along with a box of nails. So I started pounding nails into the wall. I was practicing my hammering technique. You would think that an observant babysitter would have heard my pounding in the room above her head and might have actually checked to see what the noise was before I had managed to put more than 30 nails in the wall. You would think that. No, I only stopped because I ran out of nails. I was in the process of taking them back out of the wall (practicing the removing of nails is just as important as the actual art of putting them in the wall) when my parents arrived home from work.

The next season of sitters included a couple of great ones. First, my cousin Ellen stayed with our family for a couple of summers. She was terrific and would make up stories with my Barbie collection that rivaled any daytime television show. Ellen made up her own board games and found value in watching me and finding creative outlets.

I had another sitter, a high schooler named Kim, who watched me one or two summers. We would take walks to the convenience store each day (2 mile walk per day) and rode our bikes and just had fun. She loved the movie, Summer School, starring Mark Harmon and we'd watch that every afternoon while playing a Rummy game and putting the Monkees on the record player once the movie ended. Repetition that didn't cease.

I know that I've written about Ellen and Kim before, somewhere on this site. They were examples, good examples, for me for the time I started babysitting myself.

The first kid that I watched was Joel. He lived across the townhome complex (it was a large circle) from us and a few years younger. He had very bad asthma and the main reason he needed anyone around was in case he had an attack. Like the first time I ever sat for him.

I was the nice sitter. I let him stay up a half hour later since it was a Friday night and there would be no school the next day. We watched the television shows he wanted and we played video games. It was an easy job. His mother left a phone number for the party she was going to along with the instructions, "Just have fun. Joel rarely has any problems with his asthma, if he does, he knows how to work his machine and it usually happens around 2 AM."

After Joel went to bed, I sat in their living room, reading a book and listening to the music on television quietly. Midnight came and went. A "rare" asthma attack set in for Joel. And the "he knows how to work his machine," was a total lie. Luckily, the machine involved pouring water in a spot and turning it on. We got that working and he was able to calm down and go back to bed.

During this turmoil, I called the number his mother left. It was not a party. It was a gas station.

But hey! At 2:30, a car pulled up to the drive. She was back! Hurrah! Let us all celebrate. I gathered my bag (full of study books and such) and patiently waited at the bottom of the steps by the front door. She proceeded to make out with her date for another 45 minutes.

And then paid me $1 an hour.

My mother was furious!

Another single mother eventually got my number and hired me to watch her son (about 7 years old if I remember correctly) three nights a week. I was to arrive right after his favorite TV show was ending and make him dinner. She was good about arriving home on time and I had always got him to bed before she arrived. This was a struggle.

What I remember the most about this child was his hyperactivity. I was lucky enough to arrive right as Power Rangers ended and he would spend the next three hours fighting and kicking at imaginary monsters. He also put ketchup on everything that he ate. White bread tastes better with ketchup. Mac & Cheese? Oh yeah. Fish sticks? You guessed it.

I don't miss babysitting. I never had a horrible experience with it, just more annoyances. I did sit for a family with two young boys and I always had fun with them. I would bring over a couple of Disney movies and they loved having something new to watch. I'd grab a couple of Nintendo games and they'd have fun trying to figure out a new game. And their parents? They paid nice. A Sunday afternoon could net me $30. The mother would also order a pizza to be delivered right as I got there and would pay for dinner.

*It hit 29 degrees today! We're having a heat wave. Can you believe I'm joyous over freezing temperatures?
**Need further proof? Consider the fact that I am seriously considering purchasing Calculus textbooks so I can do math problems for fun.