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Sarah Bassett


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Practice Parenting

I knew I’d be broke after college. With a major in music, it wasn’t an arguable fact. It was going to be ok though, because I had a standing arrangement with a few friends of mine. In exchange for a place to sleep—in their basements . . . or yards—I would care for their children. Whenever they had them.

I can’t remember why I first wanted to be a babysitter. Maybe I wanted more candy than my small allowance from my parents would buy. I would come up with truly ridiculous schemes to get my neighbors to pay me. I held impromptu garage sales in the driveway and would try to sell my toys to anyone who would walk towards me on the sidewalk.

In 5th grade, I convinced my parents to enroll me in a Red Cross babysitting course through our park district. I was giddy with the prospect of becoming responsible. Armed with a card proving I had passed the class, I made fliers announcing that I was a trained babysitter ready to take appointments. I proceeded to deliver the fliers to everyone in the neighborhood, whether they had children or not. My 10-year-old determination would not be crushed.

~ ~ ~

My first clients had four children. They wanted me to come over after school two days a week and watch the kids until dinnertime. The dad would be working upstairs in his office in case anything terrible happened. Perfect.

When I walked into their house for the first time, the soles of my shoes stuck to the floor. Everything was sticky. It was as though someone who was eating a lollipop had licked every inch of the floor with their sugary spit. I refused to take my shoes off. I found cheese stuck to the walls in three rooms and Play-Doh ground into every carpet in the house. I once tried to clean up a spilled drink when Natalie corrected me, “You don’t have to do that, Sarah. We just leave it. Let’s play.”

~ ~ ~

I was 15 when a new family moved into the neighborhood. They also had four children and an adorable dog named Charlie. Charlie was a mellow mutt in a constant quiet search for affection. The kids loved him, would dress him up, pull his ears, and ride him. Every time I came into the house, Charlie hid behind me.

“I’m getting mehweed,” Bridget announced to me one afternoon.

“Married? To who, Bridge?” I asked her.

“Chawee,” a grin stretched across her face as she threw her arms around the dog.

“I’m a proud father,” her dad called from the kitchen.

Meaghan, the youngest, liked to ask questions. Once you answered the first one, she wouldn’t stop. Every time I came over, I was greeted with a similar barrage:

“Whut yo mom nayme?” 

“Whut yo dad nayme?”

“Whut yo brudder nayme?”

“Whut yo sissa nayme?”

“Whut yo pop pop nayme?

“What yo nayme, Waycha?” She giggled. She knew my name wasn’t Rachel.

“Why yo feet in da hawse?”

During dinner at their house, everyone screamed all at once, trying to get my attention to tell me their stories. The four of them seemed used to talking over each other and vying for attention. I felt a nuzzle on my arm. Charlie looked up at me as if to say, “Run away and take me with you!” Meaghan pulled me away from the table to show me something on the TV. 

“Whut he doeen?” she asked, pointing to the talking boy on the screen. I think she just wanted someone to listen to her.

Everyone else abandoned their dinners and followed us, which resulted in a fight for the remote. Dinner was apparently over. When I returned to the table to clean up, I found five empty plates.

I looked at Charlie in the kitchen, hiding behind the garbage can. Oh shit… there were bones in that chicken! I panicked. I have to get him to throw up! Patrick, the oldest, caught me searching frantically through the cabinets for salt.

“Keep your brother and sister busy for me, ok? Charlie doesn’t feel well,” I lied, taking the dog out to the backyard and closing the sliding door behind me.

“Guys, come here! Sarah’s torturing Charlie!” I heard inside the house as I held the dog between my legs and pried open his jaw.

“Sorry buddy,” I whispered to the dog as I poured the salt down his throat. He recoiled, shaking his head from side to side. He licked his lips nonstop and proceeded to cough and gag. I turned back to the house and saw all four kids pressed up against the sliding glass door. Great.

“Patrick!”  I shouted at him, “What did I tell you?”

“Sick! What’s he doing?” Brendan’s voice was muffled from inside the house. He pointed to Charlie. The dog was licking up his own vomit.

~ ~ ~

White top …  white top … white top … .

I scanned the room, clutching the folder with my 20-year-old hands. I didn’t see her, so I sat down. She’d have to find me.

Minutes later, a woman wearing a Louis Vuitton bag and a white top charged into the coffee shop. Her hair—long and blonde and probably mostly extensions—whipped around as she looked with her falsie-adorned lashes at the people inside the Caribou Coffee. She flitted around the cafe until she spotted me.

“Sarah!?!” Several people turned to look at her.

“Hi … you must be … .”

“Jennifer!  Nice to meet you! This is just too weird, meeting like this. People will think we’re online dating!” She belly-laughed at herself and saw people staring. “Don’t worry, she’s just going to be my babysitter!”

She finally sat down. I had her fill out my form: contact information, emergency contact information … .

[To be continued]

~ ~ ~

Although my foray into babysitting might have been accidental, it has remained a constant part of my life nonetheless. If there were a degree in diaper changing, I would have it. If there were a medal for sibling fight refereeing, I would win it. And if babysitting were a career ladder, I should be nearing the top.

Caring for kids is definitely not for everyone. I mean, I’m a champion babysitter and there are disturbing images of poop that will haunt even me for a long time. There are complete gems of moments too: like dancing in the living room to Barney just to get a 2-year-old struggling with some attachment issues to smile, reading bedtime stories to a little boy so he forgets he’s afraid of the dark, and trying not to look like an idiot when the kids’ parents come home to find you playing tag in a tutu. There are moments like those when I catch myself becoming a mother.

I’m not sure when I’ll be the one having kids, especially because whenever I call my parents to tell them about my latest babysitting disaster, they always tell me that we were worse. My brother once dropped a rock on our other brother’s head from two stories up and cracked his head open. My sister and I cut each other’s hair and then denied it, scissors in hand.

But for now, I’m ok with just taking that next babysitting gig. I’ll wait patiently for the day when my friends call me, their kid screaming into the receiver, begging me to help and, of course, to move in with them.