So there I am, sitting at the kitchen counter in my parents’ house, when my eye rests on the cover of the local newspaper and a name jumps out at me.
When I was a teenager, a friend of mine and I were hired to babysit some kids over the summer. The friend did one month and I did the other.
It was the lady who hired us whose name I had just spotted in the paper as the head of some festival organizing group.
For some reason it is always a surprise when someone we met a long time ago is discovered to still exist. That’s how I felt seeing my old employer’s name, and the memories came rushing back.
You know how, as a teenager, things seem unbearably awful, but looking back on it you think “Pfft. That wasn’t so bad. What was the big deal?”
Yeah, well that is NOT how I feel looking back on baby sitting this woman’s children.
She was thin and blonde and stylish – you know the type – and she and her husband made a decent amount of money, so her kids had everything. Which made them terrible little brats.
The two girls were 3 and 7. I would be paid 100 bucks a week to watch them from 7 am until 5 pm Monday through Friday, and fix their lunch, for four weeks. My friend received the same deal for the other four weeks.
“The seven year old is old enough to report back to us now,” the mother cautioned us, “and she knows to come and tell me if anything goes wrong while you are taking care of her.”
Translate that as: Don’t hit my kids, and my daughter has been told to tattle on you if you make her unhappy.
My friend and I were not given any kind of power. We weren’t given any household rules, or any method of disciplining the kids. As far as I was able to gather from the children, they were spanked regularly. However, the parents made it clear that spanking from a babysitter was unacceptable, and no other alternative was offered.As a 17 year old, I didn’t know about time-outs. The parents didn’t seem to, either.
We weren’t even allowed to eat their food or help ourselves to a drink. We prepared lunch for the kids, but brought our own lunches from home.
Every morning I arrived at 7 to be greeted by two small kids still in their pyjamas eating chocolate pop tarts and sipping at cans of soda pop. Their greeting consisted of them looking briefly away from Elmo’s World, and then returning to stare fixedly at the screen again. Over the course of the day they would expect to watch Zaboomafoo, Barney the Purple Dinosaur, more Elmo’s World, and occasionally Teletubbies.
The rest of the time, they did whatever the hell they wanted.
The oldest one, the 7 year old, was the worst. She was bossy, spoiled, and lived to defy everyone. She had the power, and she knew it, because SHE was charged with watching me and reporting on me to her parents. If I tried to thwart her in any way, she responded by dragging her little sister into their parents’ bedroom on the lower floor (for some reason I was strictly forbidden to go upstairs with the kids, but playing in Mom and Dad’s room was fine) and lock me out.
Do you know what was in that room? Well, an en suite bathroom, complete with soaker tub, and an exercise machine which they liked to climb all over as if it were a jungle gym. Every time they locked me out I felt a mixture of relief that I no longer had to deal with them, and terror that the 3 year old would drown in the bathtub and the 7 year old would give herself a concussion on the exercise machine.
My friend and I both reported this behaviour to the parents and we were crisply told that they were allowed to play in there, and that nothing could be done about the kids locking the door if they “needed some space”.
There was a massive snack cupboard in the kitchen filled with chips and cookies, and the kids were apparently allowed to help themselves whenever (I was not).
Thus it was not unusual for the kids to reject the lunch I had prepared for them and try to help themselves to a “snack” instead. I behaved very unreasonably, insisting that they could not have a snack in the middle of lunch and once spent half an hour baracading the cupboard with my body against two screaming little girls who bruised me in their fury.
Mind you, their lunches weren’t very healthy either. The mother wanted me to prepare lunch but apparently didn’t trust me to choose the menu, so she would decree each day what I would be preparing at noon. The menus were bizarre, and odd mix of healthy and unhealthy in strange combinations.
One day, for example, I might be instructed to provide french fries and carrot sticks (because root vegetables and more root vegetables make for a balanced meal, right?) and another day I might be instructed to cook an “omelette”, the only ingredient of which was eggs, and which looked more like scrambled eggs when I was done anyway, because I didn’t frigging know how to cook an omelette.
Anyway, it didn’t matter since the kids rarely ate much of lunch at all, despite my insistance that one should not interrupt lunch for a snack of cookies.
Every now and then the mother would come home early and find me cleaning up the house, which was always strewn with play clothes, dolls, and craft items. Then she would lecture me about how I should be making the kids clean up after themselves.
I would respond that I had tried this tack and it had been unsuccessful. How, I wanted to know, could I MAKE them clean up after themselves? I told them to, and they wouldn’t. I had thus exhausted my power over them.
The mother assured me that I just needed to ORDER them to do it.
The next day I ORDERED them to do it, only to have them lock themselves in their parents bedroom in protest. The mother was very displeased with the state of the house and gave me another lecture about tidiness.
I went back to cleaning up after them myself.
“They should go outside more,” the mother told me another day. “I’ve told you before that you should take them to their grand mother’s house some nice day. They love visiting their grandmother.”
Odd, because every time I suggested it I received a firm “No. We want to stay inside.”
One day I managed to wrestle them out of the air conditioning and into the hot summer world. I lathered them in sunscreen and told them to play outside. The older brat ran around the side of the house, went in the side door, and locked me outside with three year old. For an hour.
I reported THAT when the mother came home, and I was reprimanded for letting the child into the house alone.
I have never disliked a pair of children more. My friend and I were aware that they were the product of their parents, and we referred to the mother in particular with scorn. Her name even became a label for us, for that TYPE.
I knew at the time that giving a three year old Sprite for breakfast was a bad idea. I knew then that french fries and carrots were a weird lunch combination. I knew that the kids were evil brats, and that their parents made them this way.
But only looking back on it now do I realize how VERY messed it all was.
I feel like finding that woman and giving her a piece of my mind.