Alice’s Adventures in Babysitting


‘Maybe it’s a good thing I didn’t love this job’

Okay. Enough already with the Holidays. Everyone’s back at work. Even those of us who are, shall we say, ‘underemployed’, are working. See my riff ‘I love the smell of Soft Scrub in the morning’ for what I’m up to when I’m not writing brochures for Botox.

Like practically everyone where and when I grew up, I started working young. We were expected to do ‘chores’. Back in those days, these were sexually segregated. Boys did things like mow the lawn and wash the dog (harder than it sounds). Girls did things like peel potatoes and watch the little kids (much harder than it sounds).

Helping out at a very early age. I don't think I got an allowance then though

Helping out with the laundry. I don’t think I got an allowance then though

Of course boys and girls alike did things like wash and dry the dishes, there being no dishwashers (except children) till I was, oh, a teenager. Actually, I kind of enjoyed the old pre-labor-saving-device method. For one thing, it was companionable, since two of us teamed up, one to wash, and one to dry. (If the ‘dryer’ caught up with the ‘washer’, the dryer got to quit.)

And, unless there were big icky pots to scrub, doing dishes was fun. We’d put on Radio KXOK, the ‘rock’ station out of St. Louis, and dance around the kitchen to the Turtles, say. We even played this silly game with the dish towel, which I’ll get into another time. (It involved making a hair bow, a bow-tie, and a mustache out of the towel and ‘doing’ a silly Snidely Whiplash voice, among others.)

The old dishwasher meets the new dishwasher

The old dishwasher meets the new dishwasher

Oh, we did get an allowance for doing said chores. A whopping 25 cents a week. Which got docked a nickel if you forgot to make your bed. Some weeks, my brothers owed my Mom money.

But back to babysitting. And money. As the oldest of our batch, I had of course been in charge for short periods of daytime care, like if Mom had to go make a Piggly Wiggly run, or if she left for an hour or two of Mom-appropriate recreation, like Magazine Club.

'I'm watching him', I say as I look absolutely thrilled to be in charge of Youngest Bro Doug

‘I’m watchin’ him’, I say as I look absolutely thrilled to be in charge of Youngest Bro Doug

But nighttime was a different story. Then babysitters were hired. (Now, before you get the idea that my parents were out painting my hometown red, let me assure you that their nights out were mainly to other fellow parents’ houses to play cards and/or drink coffee.) Anyway, I considered it a great victory when I convinced my mom to pay me to watch the Littler Kids instead of this older couple who sat on the couch watching TV and smoking cigars (well, just the guy smoked cigars. But still.) while I did all the actual child-bathing and story-reading and tucking-in.

Now I didn’t get paid a lot. But, hey. Money is money. And it feels really good to earn some. I remember when I retired from the whirlwind world of full-time advertising. Someone asked me if I was going to go back to school. I’m like, no way. Going to school means paying someone to do work. I like it where you do work, and someone pays you.

Anyway, once word got around that I was a pretty good babysitter (well, except for the time I got really mad at one brother, and locked him in the pantry. Sorry, Roger!), and available most nights (the cute cheerleaders got most of the dates in my high school), I was in great demand.

There were just two problems. The pay was awful — I’m remembering 50 cents an hour; an improvement over the allowance for sure, but still — and the people in my hometown had huge families and you didn’t get paid more for more kids. That was 50 cents an hour for one — or for 4 or 5. I remember this one family, the Heiligensteins, who had two kids when I started sitting for them, and six when I finally threw in the spit-up-stained towel. In fact, two of the times I sat for them was so that Mr. H could take Mrs. H to the hospital to give birth to numbers 5 and 6.

The other problem was that it was boring. It’s only in the movies that 1) babysitters get stalked by serial killers. And, as the oldest (and very naive) child in my family, I had no one to tell me that  2) babysitters invite their boyfriends over for wild assignations. I didn’t realize this till I saw the movie Halloween. Of course, the girls who did invite their boyfriends over got killed, and in really gory ways. (See 1, above)

The exciting side of babysitting. Which I did not see

The exciting side of babysitting. Which escaped my notice

So my Dad, who knew everyone in town, including the editor of the local weekly, got me a job there. So I traded changing diapers for answering phones and stamping addresses on freshly-pressed newspapers. (Hey, you’ve got to start somewhere.) I went in every day after school plus half a day on Saturday and earned much more money. Why, in the summertime, when I could work full days, I made a whopping $32.75 per week. Which helped pay for college so I could get my J-School degree and my first job in advertising. And they finally did let me do some writing, so there’s that. Good switch, I’d say.

Once in a while, though, even in college, I’d go back to babysitting. I remember a particular job I did as a favor for one of my professors. He had two little boys around 2 and 4 who were cuter than cute and beautifully behaved when I showed up for the gig. But the second the prof and his wife were out of the house, it was like someone threw a switch. They turned into demons.

I had finally gotten them both fed, bathed and into clean jammies (not easy with all the fighting, kicking, and biting going on) when I saw the older one march over to the little one — and pee on him. Well, I couldn’t help myself, people. I grabbed that kid and gave him a well-placed swat on the behind. It was just one swat, and I hated myself immediately, but it was indeed a swat. Which is Babysitter Behavior of the Worst Kind.

But that swat seemed to do the trick. Both of those boys now knew I meant business, so off they went to bed, meek as little lambs. But the Peeing Offender must have had fantastic hearing, since the minute he heard the crunch of car tires on gravel he was up and out of bed.

‘Mommy!’ he wailed. ‘She spanked me!’ Well, Mommy gave me such a how-dare-you-hit-my-child look that I just blurted it out: ‘He peed on his little brother.’

So she spanked him herself right then and there. And not just one little swat, either.

New York City. January 2016



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22 thoughts on “Alice’s Adventures in Babysitting

    • I most definitely will! Flying to the West Coast for a big family reunion at the crack of dawn tomorrow. But I’m thinking a locked-out babysitting story will make fine waiting-at-the-gate-in-the-airport-trying-not-to-get nervous reading. Thank you!

  1. angelanoelauthor

    Oh for heaven’s sake! Peeing on your brother! That’s a class A childhood felony! I’m so glad that mom figured out the real story quick! My last day of babysitting was when the kids locked me outside . . . or was it when I had to call the paramedics when the baby wouldn’t stop crying and no one I knew would answer their phones to help . . . ? Either way, babysitting is some kind of something. 🙂

    • You got locked out of the house by the kids?!? Bwahhhhh! You’ve got me beat, Angela, and then some! And I just love that you said “Oh for heaven’s sake” My childhood was peppered with people who used that phrase (and of course I use it too)

      • angelanoelauthor

        Ha! Wonderful. I don’t even know where I picked that up–but I’m glad I’m not the only one who uses it! 🙂

  2. One other thing – I remember babysitting at age 13 for a little boy, son of some neighbours we didn’t know all that well. I guess they were desperate. The child was no more than 2, I remember that. I was told to wake him up around 11 and take him to the bathroom to pee. That was so he wouldn’t wet the bed. (I guess they were getting him out of diapers early-ish.) I remember carrying the sleepy little soul into the bathroom and sitting him down on the special baby seat which fitted onto the regular toilet seat. The kid was 99% asleep. Suddenly he starts to pee – in a high arc, splashing against the wall opposite! Good thing I wasn’t directly in front of him; maybe subconsciously i knew not to stand there. LOL. Yikes! I then realized I’d have to gently press his little penis down so he’d pee IN THE TOILET. Ooh. First time I ever touched one. (And the last time for years! lol) (I never sat for them again – they came home at 1, two hours later than they had said, reeking of alcohol. My dad came to get me, in a huff.) Thanks for helping me remember all this!!

    • Wow! What a story! I do remember those clamp-on potty seats. I even think we had one. But I don’t recall having the same, um, experience you did! That really takes the cake, I must say. And ick. I would feel the same way about ‘directing’ his little pee-maker. Thanks for sharing your babysitting stories, Ellie!

  3. Sooo funny! Just caught up with this. (Spotted you on Sick Christine’s site!
    Important question re: “It involved making a hair bow, a bow-tie, and a mustache out of the towel and ‘doing’ a silly Snidely Whiplash voice, among others.”
    By any chance, did that involve lines like, “Into de woods!” “Noo! Noo!” “Into de woods!” “Noo noo! Anything but de woods!” etc.? Cuz it’s a riot if done well. I remember! Sigh… 😀

    • Close! Ours was (as dishtowel mustache twirled) “Out in the snow you go with your blind old father!” But, snow…woods, hilarious any way you sliced it. Goid times, those! (oh, and thanks for finding me!)

  4. teresa

    love the babysitting stories, Alice! As usual, you’ve sparked some flashbacks that I must share with you!

    1. Would any parent today leave their kids with a 12-year-old?! That’s when I started babysitting the Schweiger’s brood of 3 hoodlums. I think they had already exhausted the entire supply of Jefferson’s 15, 14 and 13 year old sitters and my name came up. I was always able to fake competence when there was a pay check involved.

    2. One night, the kids really wore me out and I fell asleep on the Schweiger couch. When the parents came home they could NOT wake me up. I remember actually rolling over as they repeatedly shook me and tried to get me up. Believe it or not, they asked me back!

    3. Another “end of the evening” memory..a couple down the street with three lively kids asked me to babysit. They left the house all dolled up, smelling nice, acting all happy and lovey dovey — but by the time they returned he was yelling his fool head off and she was weeping and wailing. Luckily, my dad had his suspicions about this gig and kept his ear to the rail (they lived just a few doors down). Joe Lenz ran out to collect me around about midnight. I remember him rapping on the door and saying something like “What’s all the commotion?” which seemed to sober them up. Needless to say I didn’t babysit there again!

    as always, thanks Alice! and happy new year! xx

    • Ah, Teresa! Those were indeed the days, n’est-ce pas? So glad you too have some ‘interesting’ babysitting memories. I left out the darker ones from my story. But trust me — there were some! Luckily we survived to tell the tale(s)…and to astound the young’uns who (probably) did not toil at any jobs like these (!) Happy New Year xoxoxox

  5. Excellent babysitting stories, Alice. You sound so competent. I do remember 50 cents an hour, no matter how many kids. But the people I sat for went out partying until the wee hours of the morning. Then there was the married Italian guy with two little kids who wanted me to be his mistress (I was 15, yeah/ ready for that gig) and the pastor who sat with me in his car and just wanted to talk for an hour or so. The hazards of the job.

    • Ah, there was indeed a dark side to babysitting. I think any time you get married men in cars with teen girls it can be a combustible situation. I remember thinking ‘why don’t the moms take me home?’ I had a guy who insisted on calling me ‘Diana’ because I reminded him of the goddess of the hunt. Hmmm. I just pretended I didn’t know what he was talking about. (Because I honestly didn’t, not at the time!) Thank you for chiming in; I do love an interested reader! And Happy New Year to you, too, Judy. xoxoxo

      • It is an interesting dynamic, isn’t it, Alice, about the young girl who takes care of the children but is child-like herself? The trust required from everyone! Keep writing, dear Alice, I am waiting in my chair. Warm thoughts gliding over the land to you.

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