I could write any number of funny things after the ellipses. …when you find your first gray eyebrow, when you have a favorite set of orthotics, when you start to think that the Land’s End catalog truly is meant for you.
But today I’d like to focus on one particularly jarring experience: when you run into a kid that you used to babysit, and that kid is somehow an adult. Since I moved away from the area where I grew up, I have to rely on sighting reports from my parents. They will, for example, occasionally buy a sheep from Danny Pregont, a person I best remember as a llittle boy with a highly disturbing “My Buddy” doll in his bedroom closet. Or that the infant who cried for three hours straight after his mom left has not only stopped crying, but somehow secured a spouse. These things can be hard to believe.
If you really want to twist the knife of aging, spend a little time on social media. Those kids who are forever suspended in mental amber from babysitting days, the sources of my $2-per-hour walking around money, are somehow fully formed humans who appear to be capable of spending time home alone. Interesting. When you miss out on the details of how someone who used to routinely pee their pants on the way home from the playground got over that habit, it can be hard to believe that they are now paid to do something called “consulting.”
But if you really want for things to get weird, how about the experience that I had the other day? While waiting outside dance team practice, I was approached (socially distanced, and obscured by a mask) by a woman who claimed to have a connection to me. Our previous week’s Facebook friendship provided her the clues. She inquired after my younger sister, who was her preschool bosom buddy. And then it hit me. Could she be?
Yes, I told her, Louise is my sister, and I remembered their being joined at the hip from age 2 to about 5. In those days, Mom maintained her sanity by taking any non-school-age Biers to the YMCA two mornings a week for “Gym and Swim.” That’s where my sister and my fellow dance mom became friends, I confirmed. Even more shocking, I had to reveal our other connection: that I was actually her and her brother’s babysitter.
Maybe it was just one summer, maybe two, I don’t remember. I do remember being allowed to supervise her and her brother along with assorted neighborhood children in the pool, being given $10 for the Wendy’s as a source of sustenance for the day, an intense fear of anything happening to the brand-new white carpet, and the fact that her mother owned a copy of “Our Bodies, Ourselves.” I believe there was also a rogue hamster at one point, but I could be wrong.
She had no memory of me as her babysitter, which isn’t shocking. I don’t recall the details of my own occasional babysitters. Just that they seemed like some sort of cheap versions of adults, and that we got to eat junk food when they were over. Babysitters weren’t fully-formed humans, just stand-ins, like substitute teachers.
Now, I know what you are wondering. How could you two both be parents of same-age children? Am I an exceptionally old mother, or the vice versa for her? No, dear reader, it’s just that in the 1980’s having 4-5 years’ seniority on someone rendered you capable of being left as their sole caregiver for the majority of the day. In the days before cell phones or Ring doorbells, parents were cool with kids in the double-digits taking charge of things. As long as they left a note with the number of somewhere that they would be at some point.
It seemed logical at the time. After all, I had four younger siblings. I was adept at changing diapers and managing chaos. I was actually quite a popular babysitter. The kids liked me because I played with them, and the parents liked me because I cleaned up the kitchen after raiding the Clearly Canadian and PopTarts.
In retrospect, it seems so weird! When I started babysitting, I was around the same age as daughters for whom we waited outside of the dance rehearsal room–11 or 12. It is laughable, and it really made me feel my 45 years. That and the fact that my Lands’ End separates are so washable with just the right touch of spandex…