Babysitting and Surviving Parenthood

metal swings sized

I made my way across our backyard and walked over the imaginary line separating our house and the neighbor’s. We didn’t have fences or hedges between our houses, just flowerbeds and grass. I headed through their yard, past the metal swing set all the neighborhood kids clamored for a turn on and down the slight ditch to the next house over. The east coast summer sun glinted through the trees. It wouldn’t be dark for a few more hours.

I knocked timidly on the back door, my heart beating hard. This was my very first night as a babysitter and my first real job, as in being paid to do a task outside of my own house. I’d earned a few dollars here and there helping my dad garden or doing extra chores around the house for my mom, but this was me on my own earning “real” money.

Mrs. Futterman answered the door. We’d lived cattycorner from them for a few years now but I’d never seen her so glammed up. Makeup, curled hair, some sort of swingy skirt and a rhinestone choker I immediately coveted. The boys, five and seven, came running, both of them talking at once, vying for my attention and who got to do what first. They bounced around me, the little one tugging at my arm. At 11 ½, I wasn’t much older than the big one and not at all sure I could handle their energy and demands. Their mom smiled at me and shrugged in an indulgent “What can I do?” kind of way as she and Mr. Futterman made their way to the front door.

“No fighting boys,” said their dad. “Bedtime is 8 o’clock,” said their mom. The door closed behind them and I was left with two overly excited boys and the faint scent of Chanel No. 5 lingering in the hallway. Bedtime was two and a half hours away. I’d never been in charge of anyone but my five years younger sister and then only for an hour at a time. We played endless rounds of tag. I let them have almost an entire bag of Chips Ahoy cookies and then we watched half of The Love Boat. Basically, I had no idea what I was doing.

One could argue that it was completely reckless of the neighbors to leave me with their two rowdy boys, especially in 1980 with no such thing as a cell phone. As a parent now, some thirty plus years later, I understand how desperation can convince you that yes, this tallish tween girl is perfectly capable of taking care of these two rowdy boys for six hours while we go out for drinks, dinner and maybe even disco dancing. Reminding yourself that you are an entire human being apart from your kids is necessary if you’re going to survive this parenting gig. When weighing your own sanity against the relative well being of your kids, there are times when self-preservation wins, even though it’s risky.

That first night I babysat, the boys wouldn’t go to sleep on their own and we all ended up in their parents’ bed. I thought I’d just lie with them for a bit, but found myself being gently woken up by the mom at around midnight: all three of us were sound asleep. Mortified and sleepy-eyed, I apologized over and over again as the mom walked me to the door assuring me it was no problem. I trudged through the neighbor’s darkened backyard, past the swing set and stepped over the white begonias into our yard, sure I’d never babysit the Futterman boys again.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. Friday night at the Futtermans became a regular thing for me. I grew into a more confident, take charge sitter, waving the two of them out the door once a week to gather up their whole selves, sit across from each other with a glass of wine or party hard on the dance floor. Leaving me in charge became way less risky, although thinking about it now, I’m not sure my ability to babysit crossed their minds. I was a warm body willing to keep their kids safe and sound if not in bed on time and that’s really all they needed.

This has been a Finish the Sentence Friday post and the sentence is “My first job…” This week’s hosts are Kristi from Finding Ninee, Kerri, our sentence thinker upper at (Un)Diagnosed but Okay, Kelly Just Typikel and Deborah.

14 thoughts on “Babysitting and Surviving Parenthood

  1. I envy your babysitting experience, Lisa. I had a kid who pooped behind the living room curtains, and parents who stayed out much later than promised. If only I had the Futtermans! Love the way you told this story – I can picture 11 year old you 🙂

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  2. This was a great story. It reminded me of my first babysitting jobs and how I didn’t know what I was doing either.

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  3. So I totally missed out on the babysitting thing! I had friends who babysat, but it just wasn’t for me. I can understand the Futtermans, though. I now tell babysitters, “look if there’s no blood and no cops when we come home, then that’s a win!” *grin*

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    1. Love that mantra Anna! I’m that way as well. My oldest is now 13 and can hold down the fort with the younger two long enough for us to see a movie and grab a drink. It’s awesome.

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  4. Gorgeous writing, Lisa, and I, too, babysat when I was just 11. At the time, I felt old enough, but now? 11 seems so young. I also remember the feeling of being woken up by parents and feeling so embarrassed by it but at the same time, it was usually around midnight or later so what’s to be embarrassed by? Thanks so much for linking up this week!!

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    1. So glad I pushed and made it for this week’s link up! Summer is hard or rather, writing in the summer seems hard for some reason. Or maybe it’s just me. Now that we have kids, I think 11 does feel too young, but hey, it was the 80s, right? Trial by fire. Plus, I discovered David Bowie and Queen while babysitting the Futtermans. Totally commandeered the stereo once I figured out how to put the kids to bed without falling asleep myself!

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  5. “… gather up their whole selves …” Yes. That’s it. I’d bet the farm that that is what went through their minds at the time. The fact that the three of you were in their bed was but a mere hiccup. The kids were asleep! You did well. My two charges rolled down the stairs the first time I babysat them. Ouch. I was only asked back two more times. Your Friday night gig was a coup. A positive coup.

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    1. Omg Kelly! How funny that they rolled down the stairs — well, probably terrifying at the time, but still! I was so embarrassed about falling asleep on the job, but clearly that was a minor issue.

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