Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Babysitting, part Never

I can't do it. I've composed the remainder of the story in my head many times. I've fictionalized it, I've embellished it, stripped it down, beat it up, cut it into little chunks, stuck it in the freezer, took it out, thawed it, and then beat the shit out of it again. And it's still just too damn depressing. Well, here: the boy was neglected, emotionally and physically, the father was strange and lonely, and after weeks of doing their laundry and washing their toilets and playing an ineffective mother substitute to Jason, I quit. I think it was the day the washing machine exploded all over the garage, my mom came over to help me clean up the mess, saw the depressing and forlorn state of affairs and gave me the okay to quit. So I did. I quit. And now, perhaps because my daughter is approaching Jason's age, and a sad, blond little boy in her school is giving me a daily reminder of Jason, I resurrected him. I want to think positive, dude. Imagine that his mom remembered her responsibilities, perhaps he went to a caring and nurturing afterschool program, maybe his dad remarried. Probably not. He probably never got a nice note home from his teacher, prompting his dad to hug him and take him out for ice cream. Was I just lucky?

Today Quinn was feeling peckish. His cold was getting him down and he didn't want to be shopping for new ski pants with me. I distracted him with a fancy pair of goggles, and he fell asleep in the hot car on the way home. He napped for two hours on the couch in his snow boots and goggles, and didn't even stir when I picked him up to go get Madeleine . I carried him the few blocks to school, and Sonny, the crossing guard, nodded and smiled at me. Quinn and Sonny usually have a little conversation about what they ate for lunch or elk hunting, and Sonny nodded at him quizzically. Misunderstanding his expression, I said, "Yeah, I know. It's strange to see him quiet."
He's hard of hearing, and continued to peek in at Quinn, who was still wearing his new goggles. "It's good for us to see this, you know."
I had no idea what he meant, to be honest. He saw me frown, and said, "Men, you know. We don't understand how hard it is to be a mother, most of the time. Like this here. It's not like you can just up and go wherever you want."
And then another group of kids came, and Sonny walked out into the street with his giant stop sign.

I didn't really mean to infer some sort of condemnation on the mother in the story of Jason, because clearly both parents were responsible for his well-being. I guess, more than anything, Sonny's comment was at least a validation of my own efforts. Perhaps that's the only thing I can take away from Babysitting Jason. I just won't make the same awful mistakes.

So it's not luck, then, is it? There's no Ooops! I raised my kids awful! Ironically, it's a concerted and exhausting effort by one or more parents that makes happy adults think back and say, "Wow, I was a lucky kid."


Blogger Bob said...

but jason's mom does bear some responsibility to jason for running out on him. I'd condemn her for that. whatever the reason for her leaving, she totally bailed on him. But that doesn't absolve jason's father for not stepping up.

other than that, I agree. no luck, no oops, just parents doing their best.

3/05/2008 6:59 PM  
Blogger Mamalujo said...

I don't get it; I think you've got your story right in front of your face. And how can a good, well-written story EVER be depressing? The story I see, that I'd like to read, is the babysitter, as she's quitting in frustration and exhaustion, finds a nice note the kid's teacher wrote about him. Maybe the note's pretty old too, old enough so the kid doesn't even count on it mattering to anybody anymore. But she reads the note and takes the kid out for ice cream as maybe the last thing they do together. And maybe the kid comes out of that shell just a little, or just enough for the babysitter to come away from the whole situation with some kind of fulfillment, because of this small gesture. Maybe she remembers that babysitting gig one day, years later, when she's sitting there watching her own happy-to-the-point-of-spoiled kid smearing ice cream all over his face.
And for God's sake don't be fictionalizing it, embellishing it, stripping it down, beating it up, cutting it into little chunks, sticking it in the freezer, taking it out, thawing it, and then beating the shit out of it again. Just write the damn thing.

3/06/2008 2:07 PM  
Blogger Tink said...

But it's not that easy Mamalujo. Stories are living things. If you don't do them justice, they turn on you...

3/07/2008 5:25 AM  
Blogger Mamalujo said...

I never said above that it would be easy, did I? I should add here that not only is a good, well-written story never depressing, it's also never going to be easy to complete. If there is a point within my comment about Mignon and this story, it's that I saw the soul of a good story here; it just leapt out at me from the two posts she wrote. That was the "easy" part; it's also the part you can never force. I was also trying to say that she shouldn't try worrying that part of the process to death as well. Of course I expect her to struggle with the POV, characters, dialogue-all those things that you have to actually put on the paper. I just think that she's found the spark for this story here, and once she's recognized that it will, in a sense, write itself, if she'll just get out of the way. Then she'll have to go back and do the heavy lifting.
So, Mignon, what do you think?

3/07/2008 6:20 AM  
Blogger Ortizzle said...

I agree that there is a great story here, albeit depressing in its implications. That said, if you have chewed it up and spit it out that many times and can't find a way for it to please you... I'd say "shelve it" for a while. Maybe even a very long while. Right now you are probably sick of looking at it, and that's not going to help you craft anything. Later on, in retrospect, a little light may go on and Bingo! ---you know exactly what to do with it and how. Which doesn't mean finishing it is going to be easy, but it will be inspiring.

3/09/2008 11:12 AM  
Blogger Mignon said...

Bob, you're right, but I also don't know the details of why she left. I guess I didn't want to assume anything.

Mamalujo, I think good, well-written stories can be depressing. Lots are. Kite Runner. Lovely Bones. Bridge to Terebithia. I'm a literal person, and perhaps the depressing elements of the plot overwhelm whatever uplifting thematic elements of the story I'm supposed to recognize. And, as I said in my e-mail, my memories of this babysitting situation are too overwhelmingly sad to fictionalize.

Tink, I've had stories turn on me. What begins as a spark sometimes turns into a packet of wet matches. I'm guessing that's what could happen here, as I try to distance the characters in the story from the ones I knew in real life.

Ortizzle, I'm going to leave it. I thought about creating a story using Madeleine's classmate as the central figure, but I'll wait a couple months then try it. I'd like to be able to salvage and use something from the experience, though.

3/11/2008 11:48 AM  
Anonymous TB said...

I'm reading this late, it's Mother's Day and this post and the one before it were strangely just right for me today. Thank you.

5/11/2008 12:15 PM  

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