"If writers possess a common temperament, it's that they tend to be shy egomaniacs; publicity is the spotlight they suffer for the recognition they crave." Gail Caldwell, from her book "Let's Take The Long Way Around"

"To look life in the face, always to look life in the face and to know it for what it is. At last to know it, to love it for what it is, and then, to put it away. . .always the years. Always the love. Always the hours." From the movie "The Hours", based on the book of the same name by Michael Cunningham

"Do not read beauty magazines. They will only make you feel ugly." Baz Luhrman, "Everybody's Free (to wear sunscreen)"

"A writer can do nothing for men more necessary, satisfying, than just simply to reveal to them the infinite possibility of their own souls." Walt Whitman

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant or talented?’ Actually, who are you not to be?” Marianne Williamson

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Babysitters Club, Part One

In 1977, I was in 2nd grade, my brother was in kindergarten (both of us at La Crescenta Elementary) and my sister was just 2.  The babysitters or daycare givers, rather, were the worst part about my parents being separated and later divorced.

First, we went to a woman named Bobbie.  She had 2 kids and babysat a couple of others around Matt and Julie’s ages.  Her oldest son Kevin was my age.  Bobbie was a nice woman except that everyday in the afternoon she made all of us older kids go outside in her backyard so that the babies, including my sister, could nap.  I hated it. The backyard was all dirt and it was hot.  I was a girly girl, and I was the only girl.  There were hornets and wasps, a crappy picnic bench and DIRT.  All I wanted  to do was to stay inside and read, but she wouldn’t let me because she didn’t want to make exceptions to the rule.  She made us sandwiches with Miracle Whip, the miracle spread of the 70’s.  I ate everything on the sandwich except the bread with Miracle Whip.  I was repulsed by Miracle Whip (still am), but she made me sit at the table while I refused to eat.  Finally, she spread some peanut butter over it to hide the taste and I begrudgingly ate it, as she assured me it would be just fine.  So I ate it.  I have never gotten that, making children eat things they find repulsive, as long as they are in general receiving proper nutrition.  But that was how people thought back then – the adult children of the 50s.

Her son Kevin was obsessed with naked women.  He was always asking me to strip for him.  He had a clubhouse in the backyard, but wouldn't let me or Matthew in unless we agreed to draw pictures of naked women.  In the clubhouse he stashed whatever porn he could get his hands on.  I was always a little surprised that his parents never went in there or maybe they just didn't care.

The worst thing about Bobbie’s was that whenever Julie would cry and wouldn’t stop, Bobbie would spank her.  I immediately cried every time, wanting to protect Julie from being even slightly abused or at the very least any sort of meanness.  I was very protective of her.  It wasn’t Julie’s fault she was crying.  She was just a baby and she probably just wanted her mommy or daddy.  Bobbie and her kids used to try to tell me that the spanking didn’t really hurt.  It just sounded loud because of the plastic pants or disposable diapers.  Then what was the point in spanking her?  I've never understood that either.  If a child is crying, why would you inflict pain on them to get them to stop.  I get discipline, but there are other ways. In general, I think parenting has improved these days although I know there are some who still subscribe to the spanking theory and worse.  My heart breaks for abused children and children who are made to feel unloved.

I don't know why we eventually left Bobbie's but after her we got a babysitter from the church named Amy.  She was a young married woman, probably in her early 20's, with no kids and she was obesely overweight.  She was nicer, I guess, but boring.  She wasn't very nice to my brother, probably because he was a boy and her own neurosis.  She stressed my sister out completely because by now Julie was being potty trained and every time she wet her pants, Amy got mad.  Julie would cry and say "I goofed" and most of the times was afraid to tell anyone.  I can still hear her coming to me, "Shelley, I goofed."  I loved my sister and it broke my heart to see her cry and be so tormented.  She needed protecting and someone to take care of her and I was the only one there for her.  I didn't particularly like people picking on my brother either but it was so easy myself to quarrel with him.  He was mischievous and a boy with no friends to play with, not outlet.  He took the quiet road, kept his feelings inside and never talked about them with me or Julie.

On the other hand, he wasn't afraid to blurt things out.  When we used to visit my uncle and cousins with my dad, we used to pass this gigantic American flag, and Matthew called it "the flag fatter than Amy."  It was our joke.  I felt bad for her because she was clearly distressed by being "heavy" as she called it, but it was still funny.  One afternoon, Matthew was lying on the couch looking at a plastic fish in water in a plastic ball.  He held it up so that he got the view from the bottom which made it look really large, and next thing he's saying not 5 feet away from her, "it's the fish fatter than Amy."  She glared at him something awful but didn't say anything.  I looked at him and tried to shush him.  He didn't care, or was only 6 and didn't know any better.

She was another one who forced us to eat disgusting food.  Liverwurst sandwiches.  Who feeds a child under 10 that?  Bologna, too, which I didn't like.  I wasn't really a typical kid.  Even peanut butter and jelly grossed me out a little.  But by then even I was probably a little ball of anxiety.  I got good at hiding those uneaten or partially eaten sandwiches in my napkin.

Amy finally had her own baby, Jenny, and really it just felt like her whole attention was on her baby.  I also felt like we were subjected to a certain amount of judgementalism because my parents were divorcing and we didn't go to church anymore.  She and her family were what I call hardcore Mormons.

When Amy quit, I think she might have been pregnant again, not that one would notice, as fat as she was.  She cried on her last day.  I don't know why because she never seemed to like us.

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