Babysitting, Part I

The coolest babysitter I ever had taught me to draw  in perspective.  She drew one sloping line to represent a hill, and another sloping line intersecting the first, so that it looked like there was a second hill, partially hidden by the first.  She showed me how to draw a creek coming out from between the hills.  It was a narrow ribbon when it was far away, and it got wider and wider as it approached the bottom of the page.  She showed me how to draw rocks and flowers in a meadow, and said you had to make some of them big, to show they were close, and you had to make others small, to show they were far away.

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I thought this was the most amazing discovery ever, and I began to draw lots of landscapes in perspective.  One time I filled up an entire page just with overlapping rocks.

Most of the time I didn’t like my babysitters all that much.  They were semi-strangers whose houses were different than mine, and they made their sandwiches on funny-tasting bread or served weird food we never had at home, like Spaghetti-O’s and grape Kool-Aid.  When my little sister was still a toddler we were babysat for a while by a pair of sisters, who spent most of the time fighting over who would get to watch the cuter, younger kid.  I didn’t mind not being the center of attention, but it was a little awkward, and I spent most of my time in a corner playing with their enormous collection of Cabbage Patch dolls.  Being babysat by a kid only a few years older than myself was also weird, because though I felt instinctively that I wasn’t old enough to be friends with that person, here we were, hanging out together.  I was usually relieved when my parents showed up and I could go back home again.

When I was around 12 or 13 years old, living on a military base in California, I somehow ended up participating in a CPR class.  It was part of a babysitting certification program.  When you completed the program, your name and contact information were added to a list, and people on the base who needed to find a babysitter could contact you and offer you work.  I think one of my best friends at the time was signed up for the class as well, or maybe it was my whole Girl Scout troop.  I was there because of a combination of peer and parent pressure, in short, and while I had no positive aversion to earning extra money, I certainly wasn’t excited about the idea of earning that money by babysitting.

I have a hazy memory of the class being pretty awful, though I think it was taught well.  The practice dummies and their smooth plastic faces all looked ugly to me, and I couldn’t imagine putting my mouth on a mannequin’s mouth, much less doing the same thing to a real person.  I was bored and not paying a lot of attention to the speakers, and when everybody split up into smaller groups around the individual dummies I didn’t know where to go.  I was embarrassed and lost, and when it was my turn to show my CPR skills on the dummy for the final test, I think I started to cry.  The instructors patiently walked me through the skills, however, and somehow, I passed.

After that I forgot about the class, and went back to my normal all-consuming activities of going to school, watching tv, and wandering around the fields behind my house.  Then one day some weeks later my parents’ phone rang, and my mom told me that some woman on base was looking for a babysitter to watch her kids.  If my vocabulary at the time had been what it is today, my immediate thought would have been, “Oh.  Shit.  The babysitter list.”  As it was I only felt a sudden, gut-deep chill, and a dreadful certainty that I was not up to the challenge of watching somebody else’s offspring.  With shaking limbs I went into the kitchen and picked up the phone.

“I’m sorry,” I said to the woman.  “I can’t do it; I’m busy.”  And with a feeling of great relief, I hung up.  Though I was contacted a few more times from people with babysitting job offers, I never actually ended up babysitting anybody.  After a while I either asked my parents to request that my name be taken off the babysitting contact list, or else my inactive status as a sitter became official, and the calls stopped coming.

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