As a teen, I accepted any odd job offered. I needed money to buy tickets to the movies where Pat Boone crooned, Sandra Dee charmed, and “Psycho” Tony Perkins destroyed my enjoyment of showers. I also needed to purchase reeds for my clarinet, pounds of malted milk balls, and Ben Hur perfume.
I saved any money left over for college: by the time I entered high school I had $11.15.
When not mucking about with chickens or picking fruit for spending money, I tended children: babies waving their fists, toddlers chewing crayons, 7-year-olds telling inane knock-knock jokes, and sullen pre-teens resenting my presence. I tended them all, calculating my take-home pay as the hours crept by.
My computations didn’t require higher math.
My granddaughters make $4 an hour for babysitting. When I tell them I earned a quarter an hour, they smile indulgently, as though my foggy brain misremembers or my skills weren’t worthy.
I developed my childcare expertise at a boot camp for babysitters tending Barbara, Blaine, and JL. Mom didn’t pay me for my work, but I understood: there wasn’t enough money in the world to reward me for the trauma I endured.
When I babysat my disorderly siblings during the day, I got even: I threw them outside, locked the doors, and ignored their plaintive pleas and puny threats: “Janet, it’s hot out here. JL nearly got stung by a bee, and Blaine has to go to the bathroom — bad. You better let us in, or we’ll tell Mom that you swore at us. Lots.”
Uncle Norley and Aunt Elaine hired me for my first paid job. They lived on a lonesome road out of town with no neighbors in sight, which made me nervous.
When I babysat for them, I slept over on the living room couch. One New Year’s Eve, knowing my aunt and uncle would be late, I took my book and went to bed around 10. I jerked awake a half hour later, heart beating and senses on high alert.
I held my breath and listened to furtive movements along the side of the house. Even when I hid my head under the covers, I could hear slow footsteps approaching the window, where I hadn’t pulled the blinds.
I dropped to the floor, crawling like a frantic crab, to go check on the sleeping children. They sprawled on their beds, undisturbed.
I then realized the only phone sat on the end table by the couch, directly beneath the bare window. I had to go back into the room I’d escaped to call the police.
As I slithered on my stomach toward the phone, something thumped against the window glass.
I froze. And heard breathing.
Swallowing whimpers, I sped up my slither, reached the couch, and grabbed the phone.
The intruder mooed.
Word must have spread about my courageous, speedy carpet-slink. I soon had all the babysitting jobs I could handle.
I enjoyed most of them, especially when departing parents told me to eat anything I wanted. I hit pay dirt at the Millers: Twinkies and Cheetos. I thought about asking if I could move in.
The Bradfords offered no such delicacies, just four boys between 6 and 12 who knocked over houseplants, pulled the dog’s tail, and threw baseballs at each other — before their parents left.
Whenever I addressed the oldest with the simplest request or question — “Could you quit standing on my foot?” or “Where does your mother keep the band-aids?”—he gave the same meaningless answer: “Nayda kuh eyeballs.”
This strange witticism caused his brothers to laugh until they choked on the uncooked hot dogs they stole from the kitchen and gulped behind my back.
After five hours of such fun, I went home with $1.25.
And thought I was rich.
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