Thursday, March 31, 2005


The Resume (A Random Anecdote)

Job #2: Baby-Shitter

I've always had a really good memory, at least as far as it goes on matters of general trivia, lines from movies, key appearances of super-heroes in various comics, and events from my own childhood.

So it's always shocking--in a good way--when my parents visit, because one of them nearly always remembers something I did long ago that I completely forgot (or, more likely, repressed). For example, here I was, all set to tell you about the second job I ever had, which by my reckoning was the summer (the first of three) I spent working for my uncle as a garbage man.

But last night, out of the blue, my mom says, "Remember the one and only time you worked as a baby-sitter? I'll never forget that panicked phone call!" And then she collapsed laughing. My mom's one of those slow-leak laughers, where the air comes out of her in this loud hiss, followed by a whoop as she drags the air back in and starts all over again.

And while she was in the grip of hysterics, the whole event came flooding back:

It late 1980. We had just that summer moved back east after a few years of living in the Midwest. I was 12 or 13, so that would have been, what, 8th grade? Sounds right.

It was one of those murky, drippy fall Saturdays. Too cold and drizzly to go out and do anything, so I was sitting inside reading when the phone rang. It was Janine, a girl whose family we had met when we first got here. I didn't really know her that well, but our parents were friendly. Anyway, she was calling because a family for whom she had once done some baby-sitting needed someone to watch their kids--tonight--but she already had a commitment. Would I be willing to do it? It paid 5 whole dollars.

Well, that was 5 dollars more than I was likely to be paid for sitting around reading books, so I said sure (The parent in me blanches at how quickly this was all arranged. For all Janine knew, I could been a serial killer in training. But never mind.)

"Great," Janine said, sounding a little relieved. "I knew you'd be perfect for it."

Which of course was the wrong thing to say, because it instantly made me suspicious.

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"Oh nothing!" she said immediately. "I just mean you already like living...where you live and this place is kinda like that."

(What Janine meant was, my family had moved into a 200-year-old farmhouse that had something...going on. It's a long story, and a good one, but not one I want to waste in a parenthetical. Suffice it to say, the house we had moved into had a not-undeserved reputation for weird things happening. We were, in short, the unsuspecting, out-of-town family that bought the local haunted house.)

I pressed Janine for an explanation and she finally had to admit that this family (I have completely forgotten their names) lived out in the boonies, at the end of a long dirt road, in what turned out to be a rather elegant, but old and somewhat creepy house, nestled in the thick of an orchard of dying apple trees. "There's nobody around for miles and the phone only works half the time and I babysat for them once but was so scared of being out there alone I said I'd never do it again," she blurted, not meaning, I'm sure, to over-sell it as much as she had.

So basically, she was palming the family off on me. But at least she was finally being honest about it.

Thing is, it really was the perfect way to pitch it to me. I actually liked hanging out in old houses. LOVED it, in fact. In my boy-detective days, my friend Shawn and I had spent many after-school and weekend hours exploring the dozens of abandoned houses on the outskirts of the midwestern town where we lived. And those were some seriously eerie, abandoned places. So once again, I agreed. Janine called the family back, told them about me, gave them my number. Then the mom herself called. We had a quick chat, the main point of which seemed to focus less on my ability to supervise children and more about my willingness to come and stay at their house after dark. My own mother agreed to drive me out to the place where I'd be baby-sitting from 6 to 9 PM. I got some basic directions, then hung up.

"So," said my mom, when I got off the phone. "What are their names?"

"Who?" I asked.

"The children you'll be watching?!?"


My mom delighted in asking questions she knew I had been too stupid to get the answers to. "Did you even ask how many kids they have? How old they are? Anything?"

Well, it WAS my first baby-sitting job. Clearly I had a lot to learn.

I was too embarrassed to call the family back (also, I had neglected to get their, um, phone number). So I called Janine back. She not only gave me the phone number, but also informed me that the family had two kids, a girl of around 4 and a boy who was still a toddler, a little over a year old. I need to name them something, so let's just call them Sally and Pig-Pen.

Now, a tiny splinter of apprehension was working its way deeper into my mind. I turned to my mom and dutifully supplied the answers, but then asked. "Um, so...Pig-Pen's like, a year and something old. Does that mean he's still in diapers?"

My mom smirked. "Probably. Boys take a long time to potty train. And even when they're older, they still have accidents. Why, when you were 4, you had these footed pajamas I made for you--"

"NEVER MIND!" I cried, trying to steer the conversation back. "So, what if I have to change the kid? I don't know how to fix a diaper and wipe him all up and stuff. And what if he pees on me while I do it?"

If crapping in the footed jammies was my embarrassing story, my brother's was the time he whizzed in the doctor's face during a well-baby exam. And the doctor was clear across the room! I had always thought it was a funny story. But now I wasn't laughing. I was hoping my mom would do something helpful, like produce a life-sized baby doll and a pack of diapers and give me an on-the-spot demonstration.

But instead, all she said was, "Worrying about it will only make it happen." Oh great. The one time I need my mom to be supportive and she turns into a human fortune cookie.

Eventually, she did give me a few pointers, but she was forced to admit that the last diaper she had changed was one of mine, and it was a prehistoric cloth-and-safety-pin deal. We knew from watching commercials that diaper technology had advanced considerably in 10 years, so she ended up making me feel that if anything happened, the diaper would practically change itself.

It was getting dark already when we started the 20-minute drive to the house. And in the gathering gloom and mist the place did seem kind of creepy, standing in shadow there amongst the skeleton trees. It was nowhere near as old as the house we lived in. This place was only about a century old, made of brick with wide front windows that let you get a good view of those gnarled and twisted trees.

The family was very nice. I don't mean to suggest they weren't, or to lead the reader into supposing I was walking right into some kind of Addams' Family situation. The couple were completely normal, just going out for your basic night at the movies. Sally and Pig-Pen had just eaten so, yay, no messing around with bibs or spit-up or whatever else a 4-year-old and 14-month-old might do while they ate.

I did have to help with baths, and that was...odd. I don't mean bathing them was odd, I just mean it felt foreign trying to interact with these little beezers. For those of you who missed it the first time around, this was my first baby-sitting job. What's more, I was the youngest in my own family. I did have some cousins who were littler, but I saw them seldom, and when I did, I related to them much the way one relates to a dog. I would talk to them in a high sing-songy voice. I threw toys for them to fetch (only afterwards realizing that sometimes they were not yet capable of independent movement. Except for their bowels, of course) and if I wanted to get their attention, I would slap my thighs and cry, "Hey baby! Here baby! C'mere! Come on! CA-MEEEEEER! Good baby! That's a good boy/girl!" So it was fair to say I did not have an instinctive grasp of how to handle little kids. Or relate to them. But hey, it was 5 bucks. Do you know what 5 bucks could buy in 1980? No, I don't remember either...

I didn't really have to bathe the kids, thank God, because I remember all this food from dinner ended up in the tub (in my mind's eye, I can still see one limp and lonely green bean spiraling down the drain), and that totally grossed me out. My job really started when I lamely helped get them into their evening attire. Of course, it wasn't till after I had stuffed Pig-Pen into his pajamas--yes, they probably WERE footed pajamas, now you mention it--that his mom pointed out that he needed his diaper first.

Uh-oh, I thought.

So I found the diaper (which was sitting on the edge of the sink) and put it on him. I recall that it had some amazingly adhesive tape, which I got stuck first on Pig-Pen's jammies, then on his own meaty thigh, before finally getting the diaper more or less positioned correctly. It was on backwards, actually, but it was in the right place (i.e. covering wind and water) so I called it good and buttoned him up before the mom could inspect my work.

Then it was a breeze. The dad put Sally to bed, the mom put Pig-Pen in his crib. Within 10 minutes, after showing me a few other things, such as the phone and the emergency numbers, they left for their movie. It was 6:30. I was master of the house.

I sat in the living room, a cavernous place with high ceilings and an enormous fireplace. The chimney had been sealed, so the family had put their TV on the stone hearth. I settled in to watch whatever was on and that was that.

For about 15 minutes. Then I started hearing this tapping on the window.

It was full dark outside and so the large front windows were just sheets of blackness. And with the lights blazing inside the living room, there was no way to see what was going on outside. Meanwhile...tap tap tap. All I could think about was that 70s TV version of Salem's Lot, the one with David Soul and, unless I'm mistaken, Lance Kerwin. And there was a scene where some hapless boy is turned into a vampire and he shows up at Lance Kerwin's window one night, scratching with his unholy fingertips and hissing, "Open the window!"


Yep, that's what I thought about.

But before I could psyche myself out, I bravely went to the window and peered out. Nothing. No face. No vampire child. I took a deep breath and shut off the lamp near me.

And instantly, I could see the source of the noise: Nothing more than one of the dead branches of the apple tree nearest the house. Whew. I snapped the light back on and turned around...and yelped when I saw little Sally standing right there.

"Oh! You startled me!" I said, trying not to sound like she had really startled me.

And that's when she sank her fangs into me...

No, I'm kidding. She was a sweet little girl who I have virtually no recollection of. Except what she said next, which filled me with far more horror than the thought of being in a creepy old house in the middle of nowhere. And what she said was:

"Pig-Pen went poo-poo."

Ohhhhh, Gaaaawwwwwwwd...


OK, this is funny shit. More please...
OMG! That movie was on tv a couple weeks ago! The only part I really watched was that particular scene cause it's sooooo creepy. Keep it coming!

I had the honor of being peed on by my brother on the day of his Christening. Very traumatic for a 6 year old.
I used to love going into abandoned houses. Some of them really were a little spooky. (I don't believe in ghosts but that doesn't mean I'm not scared of them anyway.) Mostly we were just afraid of getting caught, I think. You can learn a lot in old abandoned houses though. ("Mom, what does 'prophylactic' mean?")

Oh yeah... you do know the vampires can't come in unless you invite them, right?

Can't wait to hear how you dealt with the poo!
OK what were these parents thinking?
yeah lets leave the preschooler and the baby with a kid with no experience at all.... And um what was your mother thinking? This is good shit! You have to write a book!
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