I never liked babysitting. Some girls I knew in high School loved to take care of other people’s kids. As we loitered in the hall Monday morning waiting for first period to start, Debi would tell tales of how Mr. Greene’s little girl called her “Mommy.” Michelle laughed about how the Sweeney boys beat her at rummy. I always thought of babysitting as boring, stressful, unrewarding labor. Children you didn’t know particularly well and who had no respect for you did whatever they could to avoid going to bed until their parents came home at midnight.
I remember a babysitting job I had when I was 16. My family lived in the ski resort of Mammoth Lakes. A neighbor of ours, I’ll call him Bob, co-owned one of Mammoth’s most popular restaurants. Bob had two kids: a sweet six-year-old girl and a bratty, hyperactive, eight-year-old boy. One weekend when Bob’s wife was out of town, Bob called our house Saturday afternoon to see if I could babysit that night. I’d never sat with Bob’s kids before. “I hear the boy’s a real handful,” I held my hand over the phone’s mouthpiece and stage-whispered to my mom.
“Charge him a lot,” my mom told me, “and be sure he has you home by midnight.” “Sure,” I told Bob over the phone. “But you should know that I charge $5 per hour. My rate doubles after midnight.”
“No problem,” Bob assured me. “I’ll feed the kids before you get here. All you’ll have to do is put them to bed. I promise I’ll have you home by 12:00.”
I walked to Bob’s house at 5:00. Bob already had his coat in his hand when he greeted me at the door. His hair was still wet from the shower, and the smell of his aftershave made my eyes water in the dry mountain air. “Tracy’s in her bedroom,” Bob told me. “She’s a little upset about her mom being gone. She’ll be okay.” I could hear sobs coming from a room down the hall. “Troy’s right here,” Bob gestured at the little boy who ran circles around the living room and pretended to shoot things with a toy gun. Troy stopped long enough to aim his weapon at me.
“Have the kids eaten?” I asked.
“No,” Bob called over his shoulder as he headed toward his car. “Just heat up something from the cupboard.”
“When should they go to bed?” I yelled after him.
“I don’t know.” Bob shut the car door and rolled down the window. “Maybe around 8:00?”
As Bob roared away, I closed the front door and faced my attacker. “Hi, Troy. I’m Anne.”
“BLAM!” Troy pretended to stagger from the gun’s recoil.
“I’m going to go check on Tracy.”
For the next three hours, Tracy cried and Troy tried to kill me. I found some Spaghetti-Os in the kitchen and heated them up. Tracy picked at her food and moped. Troy tried to see how many spoonfuls he could cram into his mouth before the squiggly red O'.s started spilling onto his chin.
Tracy cried herself to sleep around 8:00. Troy refused to go to bed. He finally collapsed in the corner at 10:00.1 carried him to bed so his dad wouldn’t know what little success I’d had getting him to behave.
I watched Saturday Night Live and waited for the sound of Bob’s car in the driveway. Midnight came and went. At 12:30, I began to get nervous. At 1:00, the phone rang. My mom’s voice sounded angry and tired. “He’s not home yet?” she asked.
“I’ll give him another half hour,” she told me. “Then I’m tracking him down.”
At 1:45 my mom called again. “He’ll be home in a few minutes," she said. “I called the restaurant. His partner said he wasn’t there. When I explained the situation, the partner said he wouldn't be able to get in touch with him. Sounds like Bob must have a girlfriend. A few minutes later, Bob called me. He didn’t sound very happy. But he’s coming home.”
Bob didn’t meet my eye when he walked in the door a little after 2:00. His clothes were rumpled and he looked like he’d been asleep. “How much do I owe you?” he grumbled.
“Fifty-five dollars,” I answered. “Fifty-five dollars?”
“I told you the rate doubles after midnight.”
Bob slapped the bills into my hand. “Thanks,” he sneered.
Babysitting as an adult is a little different. Because I have four children of my own, I know more about kids. I still don’t get any respect. A few months ago, I was watching my girlfriend’s three kids while she ran errands. As I slathered peanut butter and strawberry jelly on white bread for lunch, my friend’s second oldest daughter, four-year-old Claire, walked into the kitchen. “Albright,” she said, “I need to make poop.” For some reason, my friend’s children call me “Albright.” Not Mrs. Albright. Not Anne.
“Go ahead,” I told her. “Call me when you’re done.”
A few minutes later as I carried the kids’ plates to the table, Claire bellowed from the bathroom. “Albright, I’m making poop. Bring me books now. ”
I took Claire her books. I finished serving lunch. I called my husband Jack at work. I got his voice mail. “Whatever you’re doing,” I said, “you’re not having as much fun as I am.”