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 His wife, a cold and busy therapist, and he, a withdrawn and awkward civil engineer, had decided just a few years prior to adopt a young boy.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.


Blogger Rayne of Terror said...

I'm sucked in, can't wait for more.

2/28/2008 6:34 PM  
Blogger Ortizzle said...

I washed dishes, made dinner, folded cloth diapers, swept, mopped, kept young boys from aiming slingshots at helpless frogs, managed to keep the TV from crashing to the floor, and occasionally got the kids in bed at their expected bed time. And all for 50 cents an hour. Which went up to a whole dollar an hour when I babysat in college.

I am so looking forward to the next installment.

3/01/2008 10:45 AM  

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