Thursday, February 28, 2008

Memoirs of a babysitter. Part I

I lost my first tooth in first grade – my teacher pulled it and sent me home with the little white nugget taped to a note. She put the note in an envelope in my backpack and told me to give it to my mom. I thought I was in trouble. Something about her fingers pinching and tugging at my loose baby tooth felt odd, and I was sure she’d been angry about the inconvenience and the blood. Turns out she wasn’t. The note was addressed to the tooth fairy, and relayed to her how well I was doing in school and what a pleasure I was to have in class. My mom smiled and hugged me and she and my brothers and I got on our bicycles after dinner and rode to the neighborhood ice cream store for a treat. I was proud, my mom was proud, my two big brothers were probably proud.

So that’s how you made a kid feel good, I decided at six. You pull their tooth and write nice things about them in a note to the tooth fairy. Simple stuff, really. It should be simple, making a kid happy.

Ten years later, a colleague of my dad’s was going through a divorce. His wife, a cold and busy therapist, and he, a withdrawn and awkward civil engineer, had decided just a few years prior to adopt a young boy. As I recall, the woman was actually a child psychologist, and the young boy they brought home was clearly troubled. A seemingly perfect fit for their quiet, intelligent house. Her training and his awkward compassion could help this kid. We lived down the street from them at the time, and I remember when he was new in the neighborhood. He didn’t play well with the other children, and he was often sent home for being to rough or downright violent. The boy, Jason, was disturbed and angry, even at four.

Three years after he’d been adopted, in the midst of the divorce the man hired me to help care for and tutor Jason after school. I was to pick him up from school, 2nd grade – the same as my little brother, walk him home, fix him a snack, and review his school work with him.

But there was more than that. When the woman left (for another man, I think), she took most of the furniture and housewares. Jason stayed mostly with his dad, so in the last few years I’ve realized that she probably didn’t take his toys, and that perhaps he never really had any to begin with. The house was a cheaply made ranch home, straight out of the early 80s. Orange glass in the door and light fixtures, rust-colored carpet, stain-glass patterned linoleum everywhere. With the majority of the furniture gone, it felt like I was walking through a house in the midst of a move. Living room, empty. Spare room, empty. Beds and side dressers, a cheap dining room table, a washer and dryer – that was about it.

I should say here, I grew up in the generation of young women that really knew how to babysit. We didn’t need CPR classes or babysitting certifications from the YMCA – we had task-minded parents and heavy sibling-care responsibilities. My mom was single with my older brothers and me for many years, and I knew what it meant to her to come home to a clean house and fed children. That’s what women of my age know about babysitting. You cleaned all the dishes, tidied up the kid’s room, read stories, played games, made dinner, cleaned up after yourself. If something looked like it needed to be done, you did it.

At Jason and his lonely dad's house, everything needed to be done. Life needed to be done. I was getting paid six dollars an hour to do it.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Start of My First Book

When we were kids my second-oldest brother was secretly caching information that would someday allow him to rule the world. He read and pondered like a fiend, sitting by himself on his top-bunk, thinking for hours and scheming about the information he had collected. His primary source? The Book of Lists.

A sample:
Famous people who died during sex
Breeds of dogs which bite people the most, and the least
Ten outrageous song titles (including, It's Hard to Say I Love You When You're Sitting on My Face)

Lately I've been having trouble sleeping, and my old stand-by fantasies aren't doing it for me any more (it's hard to imagine yourself preparing for the Olympics when you've got The Gout), so I've been coming up with lists. Here are a few, in order. Ha ha, what order? Just order.

Top Three Girl-Crushes
Marion Jones
Norah Jones
Julie Foudy

Four Things I Would Do More Often if They Weren't Socially Unacceptable/Disgusting/Embarrassing
Go Topless
Pee Wherever
Photograph Funning-looking People

Three Things I'd Like to Eat/Drink Any Time of the Day, Even if I Were Really Full
A tiny foil-wrapped Reeses Peanut Butter Cup
A glass of cranberry juice with lots of ice
A corn chip expertly stacked with a little taco meat, a little cheese, one tiny wedge of tomato and a dollop of sour cream

Two Movies I Could Watch Beginning to End on Repeat all day long
The Black Stallion

Three Things that Bothered Me A Lot This Morning
Dog hair stuck to my bathrobe
Boring letters to the editor in the newspaper
Getting comfortable snuggling with a little naked Pooey and realizing his butt stank

Two Things I Wish Were Done that Aren't Really that Hard to Do but I Just Don't Want to Do Them Right Now
Emptying the dishwasher
Giving Pooey a bath

Three Passive-Aggressive Things I Do that I'm Not Really that Ashamed About
Throwing Jim's shit-pile of clothes in the back of his closet where he can't find them and then pretending I don't know where any of his climbing stuff or jeans could be
Putting dirty wine glasses back in the cupboard that I find next to our bed
Parking my car in front of our house instead of in the driveway so that our neighbor can't park right in front of our house

Four Things People Said to Me in the Past Week that I Know Aren't True
That looks really cute on you
You'll like it - it's full of tomatoes
You're mean
Pooey is always clean

Friday, February 15, 2008

You just don't throw your arms in the air on this roller coaster.

Today the Curious George narrator said, "Winter is like a rollercoaster of Blah." And I said, "Yeah." But then they went on to give George hot chocolate and he made a set of bowling pins from frozen milk jugs of water, as if that wasn't completely impossible and blah at all. Still fucking blah, as far as I'm concerned. The Man with the Yellow Hat was probably inside in front of his light box, going, "At least I got the damn monkey to go outside." That's what I'd be sayin.