*Written in response to The Green Study’s “Worst Job I Ever Had” contest. If you’d like to enter, just follow the link to her post. Thanks for reading!*
I was eleven years old. I’ll give you a minute to picture an eleven-year old.
At 11, you are just a kid. So much to learn. So many mistakes to make. You still need someone to look after you.
But we needed the money.
So I placed an ad in the newspaper:
Summer Babysitter/Mother’s Helper: Responsible 11-year-old girl available to care for your child(ren). CPR-certified. 3 years experience. References. Light housekeeping/cooking if needed.
I received a number of calls. I’m not sure that all of the men who called actually had children. But that’s another story!
Anyway, I had been babysitting for my younger sister for years and had branched out to babysitting for friends, neighbors, friends of friends/neighbors since turning 8. Think about that for a minute. I have eight-year-olds. Two of them, in fact. And I cannot picture leaving them alone for 20 minutes. I cannot picture them cooking. Or cleaning. Or caring for other people’s children!
But I did all of these things at the tender age of 8. So, by 11, I was an old pro.
Of all the calls I received, the most appealing came from a woman who said she’d need me Saturdays and most weekdays and that I could start that Saturday.
Why was it the most appealing?
1.) I could walk to the house. We did not have a car, so proximity was important.
2.) She had a two-month-old son — and I loved babies.
So I said yes. And I walked there on Saturday morning, arriving early because I was a very responsible eleven-year-old.
But I was not prepared for what I would find or for what this job would be.
I had passed the house many times on the school bus. It was a weathered old white house in poor repair. The lawn was littered with bits and pieces from at least a few vehicles. And there, in the long gravel driveway, was a run-down old truck with a skull and crossbones bumper sticker on the back window and a pair of panties hanging on the rear-view mirror.
But I was not one to judge. I grew up quite poor. Owning an old white house and a run-down old pick-up truck (with or without the panties) would have been a dream come true for us.
When I knocked on the front door that first day, a tall, hairy guy motioned me inside. He looked me up and down and gave me a smile and a wink I had seen before. Then his wife swooped in, red lipstick-stained cigarette dangling from her mouth. She handed her infant to me with as much care as you’d expect from a football player tossing a football. ”Here are the other two,” she said, pointing to Jimmy, age 7, and Cassie, age 4.
And with that, the man and woman left, promising to be back “later.”
In the months that ensued, “later” meant anywhere from 2 to 10 hours. I never knew. Sometimes the couple would leave and go to an unnamed place. Sometimes their bandmates would come and they would all go out to the old barn in the back to play while I looked after the kids all day. And sometimes it meant that the mother would leave me home with the children and the hairy man. And on those days, he often wore only a pair of boxers and said he enjoyed watching me bathe the kids. Yes, hairy guy was a weirdo!
And the kids, oh, the poor kids. I fell in love with 4-year-old Cassie and 8-week-old Joe. They were sweet and cuddly and needed to be nurtured.
And, to my dismay, 7-year-old Jimmy fell in love with me. I learned this when he took me back to the old weeping willow he called his treehouse and attempted to kiss and handcuff me to a tattered backseat his dad had dragged in there from his old car. Of course a discussion about boundaries ensued.
And yet I returned. All summer long. And on the days when their parents came home drunk and/or stoned, I stayed late without pay and walked home in the dark. Those kids needed me.
And I will never forget them — or the worst job I ever had.