Following your dreams costs money. Throughout the years you may have to work some interesting and not so interesting jobs to earn some good and not so good pay. Babysitting is a job many young people, particularly women, have had some experience of. I once got told that it is because boys just have no interest in looking after little kids. Well maybe there are girls who have no interest in this either?
I was a relatively approachable, mature young lady with a reputation for being responsible (the saddest thing is this was probably the reality). This meant that people always seemed to assume that I would be thrilled to put up with their kid’s screaming, dirty dishes, nagging requests to read “just one more” tedious chapter of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I mean, why would I want to learn about the work of Michelangelo when I can read about his giant turtle counterpart’s dietary habits? “Hold the anchovies”. Even when I wasn’t available to work people wouldn’t leave their kids with my brothers, even when my siblings reached their mid teens, when I’d been babysitting for a while.
Well, I didn’t think I had much of an interest in it either. Am I expected to really care about other people’s kids? I have enough trouble making sure I don’t get seduced by those kids that hang around the toilet blocks and fall off the rails with a can of graffiti in one hand and a smoke in the other. Should I care if the kids up the street brush their teeth, hear swear words or go to bed early? They’re only going to get up at the crack of dawn anyway. No doubt they make more noise at 6am than that “whoo whoop” bird my Mum’s been threatening to shoot for the last 8 years. Well, maybe I should take an interest, when the parents have left me in charge for the next 4 hours.
Some kids are shockers. I know; I was a shocker. The word delinquent, or at least the combo “bloody bratty stirrers and their delinquent antics” was invented to describe my three younger brothers and I. We are all within 5 years from oldest to youngest and we are all “free spirits”. On car trips we’d defenestrate each other’s teddies. Albury Bear or Little Blue’s owner would then cry and Dad would have to turn the car around to retrieve a bundle of fluff.
We played up for babysitters. At least my parents were understanding! They knew we were naughty. If you were the kind of diligent babysitter that does the dishes before your boyfriend rocks up for a marathon make-out session you were re-hired. My parents remembered that they were naughty as kids too. Some parents are of the Madam Trunchbull school of thought, somehow believing they were always mature and polite. These are the typical rose-tinted glass wearing parents who think that their darlings could not possibly have had to have been pulled out from under the coffee table and dragged up the stairs by one leg.
Some children are clever. If you baby-sit enough, you’re bound to come across them. This kid I babysat last week was so street smart he knew which video he thought made The Living End famous. These are the golden kids. I was able to discuss the staging of an Underoath film clip with him. He is six. They come out with nuggets of wisdom. These are the kids that should be working at lipmag. Forget spelling! Dammit, forget high school. We were talking about how nothing really last forever and he said, “The dinosaurs got pregnant even though they weren’t married”. A discussion about the transient nature of some values and feelings and how this illustrates the arbitrariness of our cultural and social constructions ensued. Ok, so not quite, but he wanted to keep the conversation fun in order to push back the bedtime.
There comes that crucial point where the parent has to decide whether the children are old enough to stay at home alone. Once Mum got a fifteen-year-old to baby-sit, my brothers and I, when (as the eldest) I was fourteen. That was the last one. I was inwardly raging as opposed to outraged.
Does society condition young females to expect to be called upon at some point to forgo a Saturday night at the local roller rink to baby-sit? (Or wherever the kids are going these days – myspace or yours?) Hands up if you’ve read one of the Babysitters Club books.
What are the expectations? Are you supposed to do the dishes? Are other chores going too far? Is it invasive to clean too much? Is the bedtime just a guideline? When you said, “help yourself”, did you really mean help yourself? What are the exact parameters of “within reason”?
It sounds like it is a simple matter of communication. The straight-forward solution would be to ask the parents these questions so you know where you stand. The only thing is, you generally don’t think of them until the rumble of the car has faded and you feel alone in a strange house with one or two and heaven forbid – maybe more, little charmers.
Boys are capable of babysitting too. Forget marriageable age or legal drinking age, babysitter age is both a blessing and a curse. Like all jobs that help pay for your existence, so you can pursue your passions in all that free time that you never get, babysitting has its pitfalls and its minefields. At least there’s no tax on the cash, a pantry at your disposal and maybe internet connection? Myspace was it? Just connecting to all those other babysitters now. Time to share our stories.