I didn’t have a “real job” until I was 15 years old. Until then I fattened my wallet with change I never gave back to my Mom and fragrant folded 20 dollar bills of cash from being a babysitter.
Once I turned 11, every Saturday night was spent on someone else’s couch, in a dim living room, under a substantial bowl of snacks, bathed in the glow of a television better than we had at home.
I had no formal experience or training but I did have a round, polite face, a Mom who was well respected in the neighbourhood, and endless affection for kids and especially their pre-cursors: warm and chunky almond-scented babies. That enamoured me enough to pre-Internet-panic parents who wanted to escape for some curry and conversation over candlelight for a few hours.
It was a sweet gig for a nice stretch. Then, one night everything changed. I was co-babysitting with a friend (aka getting paid to eat tangy chips and fizzy pop after the kid crashed), when something (or someone) loudly tapped the large curtained picture window directly behind where we were sitting.
In that moment, two girls grew up. Or almost threw up. Or both. We did the only reasonable thing and both dove into the next room to hide under the kitchen table and escape from the beasts outside.
We inhaled. Started to exhale, and something (or someone) loudly tapped on the back door’s window, just a few feet away from our trembling socked feet.
This was before Scream, where we poked fun at the “he’s calling from inside the house” movies. This was the worst case scenario. This was the first time I experienced real-life terror. I didn’t know much, but I knew we were dead. The parents would find our Esprit sweatshirt clad-corpses dangling from the baby’s mobile, bodies slit open from throat to vagina.
My head felt so light. My brief life unspooled crazily in my head. I had only experienced one kiss and it was a pinched dry smack, like a glancing liplock off a butthole. This was SO UNFAIR.
We waited. Eyes enormous, mouths sour, every minute slowed to a syrup-soaked crawl. The theme song of Unsolved Mysteries thrummed in my veins as my heartbeat filled my ears with spastic snare drums. If that back door’s handle had jiggled, I would have loosened and emptied my greasy bowels all over that pebbled linoleum.
Time passed. Days? Years? We eventually forced ourselves to army crawl back to the living room and peel the curtains back. Black darkness. Nothing else alive or waiting for us with fangs, brown horned nails and throaty threats. When the parents came home we nodded and smiled and laughed and did a very good job of pretending we were unscathed carefree girls who hadn’t dipped our toes into the pure waters of near-death.
That night of childcare changed me. Looking back, I see that all my fucks were expelled out under that kitchen table. They might still be clinging to the legs of the wooden chairs, dank and low, like if a forest had morning breath.
Without fully grasping the pivoting, I developed an alter ego. A popped collar, gum snapping, cuffed jeans, sweet talking pre-teen sociopath. A cocky, uninhibited and careless monster. This side was carefully hidden by my flashing braces, braids and pristine LA gears. Choosing families with kids too young to tattle, I was hired again and again.
Hand me all your babies, baby. I got this.
The shit I would do once I passed through the threshold of someone else’s home and put those kids to sleep was possible because this was before paranoid parent surveillance equipment existed. There was no glassy-eyed teddy bear with a video camera jammed in its guts tracking my every move. If there was, I would still be grounded. Or in jail. Or a YouTube celebrity, because I did the DUMBEST SHIT.
I up-ended and searched through all the drawers in the parent’s bedrooms. What was I looking for? Well, if Trixie Belden books, Scooby Doo cartoons or the Goonies had taught me anything it was this: mysteries are everywhere. Even in the underwear drawers of staunch Christians who have trusted you with their children, now deep in happy murmur slumber, while I RIFLED like a THUG in my Mom’s shoulder-padded silk shirt.
I took stock of the pantry, refrigerator and cupboards, carefully selected all the best food (aka shit my Mom wouldn’t buy us) and created elaborate meals for myself. I’m sure the parents could smell the microwaved pizza, or cheesy garlic butter infused potatoes in the air when they came in from the garage. I was convinced if I did the dishes, artfully stuffed the trash can and subtly re-arranged the fridge, they would never know I had also polished off 17 Kraft singles and most of the After 8 thin mints.
I stole dumb stuff. I had never been to a Costco, so when I saw a stack of like 56 packets of Extra Sugar Free Bubblegum I stood there, slack-jawed. I sniffed a few packs. Felt their delicate weight in my hands. This kind of fresh breath preparation was a miracle. Surely they would never know if I pocketed 40 packets. I would never have to buy gum again!
I masturbated in their beds. I had just discovered Jackie Collins paperbacks and the ancient truth that if I touched myself in THIS way over and over, I could feel pleasure tingles explode from every pore (I could have left this mortifying detail right out, but if I’m being honest about being a super creep, this had to be included. Let’s just all slowly and quietly back away from it).
Now that I have a kid, when I remember my late night shenanigans that I was being paid for, I am horrified. I feel guilty. I feel remorse. I feel like if I could go back in time I’d slip those parents a note from the maître d’.
“Enjoy your meal. Savour the last few drips of melted chocolate fondue. Stay for the final credits of the movie. Wait for the next cab. Just know you’ll have to burn your sheets when you get home. Oh, and grab some gum. You’re almost out.”