Perhaps one reason parents can get away with so much non-parenting is because kids figure out a way to adapt, albeit at times with a sassy mouth and disregard to rules. For me, adapting to my new life as a pre-fifth grader left little room for anything but survival. In those first two years of life in the city, survival meant becoming a master at picking up any babysitting job to be had, caring for any child in any house. This proved to have pros and cons.
The pros: I got to eat while on the job. Eating became an obsession as a child. Food was scarce, as was clothes, love, and stability. In fact, scarcity became a way of life that would taunt me for years to come. As a child, I focused on the food, perhaps for obvious reasons. But realistically, food not only filled my tummy but “the good stuff” offered an emotional outlet for the pain. My older sister and I both picked up on that lovely attribute. She would go to the degree of hiding food in dresser drawers and under items shoved in the corner of a closet. We both binge ate when given the opportunity. King size bags of Doritos were our favorite!
Besides making money, I used babysitting as a means of accessing food. I remember being calculated about it. How long after they walked out the door was it safe to start assessing the contents of the cabinets and refrigerator? I took steps to distract the children so it wasn’t so obvious what I was doing. I’m not sure why, but I was certain that there was a chance they would report back to their parents. I think it was the naive christian in me that was loaded with guilt, as I considered this a form of stealing. Nonetheless, my need for food overpowered my fear of sin. Obviously the nighttime jobs were the best. Get the kids to bed and gorge. Occasionally I would fail to be hired back. I never knew for sure, but I always wondered if they knew they were paying an hourly wage plus half their pantry.
The Cons: Babysitting for whomever proved to be disgusting and even dangerous. Let’s remember, we moved to the city in June and I turned 10 in September. Doubtful that too many people nowadays would let their kids stay with a barely 10 year old. In my case, living in low income housing, the selection of parents was not too impressive. Some of the homes reeked so badly I would bundle the kids up and go outside for as much of the timeframe as possible. Not fun in the dead of Wisconsin winter! Later in life, when I became a Realtor, I literally could not enter a home if the smell was too strong. Literally. I would offer the buyers the opportunity to go in alone. The slightest whiff of an unkempt house would stir up such strong negative emotion I would immediately feel the need to vomit and cry at the same time.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, I also found myself at the mercy of some very angry children. One such incident went as follows. I arrived on time and the mother left just as quickly. Her son, whom I recall not being much younger than me, began showing signs that he wasn’t too happy with my presence and blurted out that I was doomed because they all had crabs. I’m not even sure I knew what that was but I knew it was bad because I called my mother. She said she’d be right over. In the meantime, the boy grew angrier, grabbed a butcher knife and began flailing it at me as he chased me around the apartment. Is it even necessary to say I was terrified?!! Honestly, I was also in shock. What planet had I landed on and how did I go back? I remember feeling that way. My mom arrived shortly thereafter and I was incredibly grateful to know I was saved. Ha! Not so fast. She dropped a brown paper bag on the floor and told me to sit on the bag and don’t touch anything. She checked on the boy, who had now crawled onto the shelf in his bedroom closet, still holding the knife. My mother informed me that he seemed much calmer now and went back home. I don’t remember him ever getting down from that shelf. Late into the night, his mom stumbled through the door, and I truly mean stumbled. Her jacket was now fully open and I could see that all she had left was panties, a bustier and high heels. Clearly her indecent exposure meant rent was covered! Hey! At least I could say I had very memorable moments in my childhood!
After reading just my first three blog posts, my husband looked at me and said, “Are you ok?” I said, “yes”. He responded, “you’ve come a long way.” I smiled. As I complete todays blog I must admit I am feeling a bit sad. Holding back the tears is a little bit harder. Of course I wish things had been different. When I think of the fear and alone-ness inside that little girl, my heart melts. Not just for me, but all the little girls and boys out there, innocent beyond words, who just want to be safe. It’s horrifying. The despair in their hearts when they acknowledge that they are not worth the love of another, not even their very own parent. Little do they realize, they are actually priceless.