When I was 12 years old and in the 7th grade, I had a regular babysitting gig for a family down the street. They had three kids under 6, one was a baby. I remember babysitting a lot. Three three times a week, or more. Probably because I came cheap. I think I got paid $2 an hour.
I didn’t care all that much about the money anyway. The hours I spent at the Bowser’s house was unsupervised time away from home and all my siblings. Time my mother didn’t hassle me because I was babysitting. Time I could spend in an air-conditioned house watching cable TV while eating junk food my mother wouldn’t buy and talking for hours on end to my friends and/or boyfriends, via phone or in person if they could come over.
Me, circa 1985 (Wow…do I look like Kelly here or what?)
I remember ignoring the kids a lot. The middle boy—he was probably 3 or 4—was a pain. He was always wrecking stuff, refusing to do what I told him, whining, and being a pain in my ass when I just wanted to smoke Newports on the back porch and maintain a social life.
The truth is that I was too immature to be any kind of a decent caregiver at that age, but…I kept them alive, fed and changed, which is all the parents really asked of me.
My daughters are years older than I was then and I cannot, for the life of me, imagine them taking care of any child, let alone a baby. Let alone a baby, a challenging preschooler and a kindergartner.
They’ve never changed a diaper. They’ve never held a baby. They’ve never tried to hold onto a squirming 2-year-old hellbent on dropping skull-first to the ground. They’ve never dealt with a 3-year-old’s temper tantrum after giving them milk in a blue cup and not the yellow cup they wanted. They’ve never been back-talked by a 4-year-old.
They’ve missed out on so much, and like any good mother worth her weight in ulcers and worries, I’m now convinced that I’ve failed them. They’re going to be one of those women who have never changed a baby until they give birth to one.
But the fact of the matter is that times have changed. People don’t hire 12-year-olds to babysit anymore (do they?) and there just weren’t any babies in our family when they were younger for them to cut their teeth on.
Also, I’ve deliberately tried to preserve their childhood and not rush growing up. I’ve done nothing to encourage the packing up of Barbies, the cleaning out of childhood book shelves, the wearing of makeup, or the acquisition of boyfriends. I’ve not prevented any of this stuff, but I haven’t pushed it either.
It’s going to happen anyway, I know.
This weekend, Lauren decided to clean out the playroom. She’s going through all the toys and making piles — to give away, to pack away, to sell on Ebay/Craig’s List.
I went up briefly to see her progress and, wow. I don’t know what possessed her (probably the riches she expects to reap through eBay), but she’s really cleaning house up there. Leaving childhood behind. Piling up Lightbrights and Etch-a-sketches and Polly Pockets and Zhu Zhu Pets and pop-up play tents and dress-up clothes and dollhouses…
So I guess it’s time to move on. Time to swap giant stuffed Care Bears and Little Golden Books for teenager-y stuff like gaming chairs, stereos, and lava lamps. Time to turn the playroom into a hangout. It’s probably about four years past due anyway. And yet I’m still not ready.
In her to-sell pile is a popup play tent we got plenty of use out of. It often annoyed Dan when they would put it up because it took up half the living room and we would constantly trip on the tent legs, but I never cared. It was a clear and visible, if inconvenient, sign that two happy little girls lived in my house.
They still do. Though the signs have changed. It’s all cereal bowls and YA novels and elastic hair bands now.
I’m not selling that tent. I’ll find a place to tuck it away in case I ever have granddaughters to play in it again. I imagine they’ll be over a lot. Their moms aren’t going to know how to take care of them, you know.
About Just Write: Just Write is my adaptation of free writing, a technique in which a person writes continuously and quickly without little regard for spelling, grammar, or topic. It helps writers overcome blocks of apathy and explore everything from meaningful topics to mundane observations with the same effort and without the pressure of crafting perfect prose. I just start writing.
“What ends up revealing itself when free writing is that everything has meaning. That is a magnificent gift of writing. If we write from a free heart-gut place, our souls start speaking.”