Deb: My friend and mentor, Laura, believed everyone should experience life through the eyes of a character. One of her first jobs was the Reese’s Cup at Hershey Park. After visiting Hershey Park in The Dark recently, I recalled our conversations and some of her hilarious stories. My trip down memory lane went further down the path to my own first job as a babysitter. Like Laura’s experience as a giant candy confection, my experience as a stand-in caregiver provided several lessons I carry with me today.
I remember fondly the first $1.50 I made. It was glorious! A dollar bill and two shiny quarters were my hard-earned rewards for three hours of babysitting a 4-year-old in my neighborhood. I was 8 years old, and I thought I was living large!
I had cared for my baby brother often (he was born when I was 7), but I had never been paid for my services! This was the big time! I couldn’t wait to walk down to Mr. P’s variety store for some penny candy and a package of Fun-Dip. I had earned it! Even then it was all about the sweets!
Babysitting became a regular source of income for me. My rates grew from 50 cents to $3 per hour by the end of my career. (I think I earned $5 per hour once in college. BIG BUCKS!) At one point, I even created receipts to provide my clients “for their records.”
My services were in demand and my clientele grew year after year. Even when I finally got “formal” after-school and summer jobs, I managed to work a handful of babysitting gigs into my schedule. In retrospect, my babysitting experiences provided many valuable life lessons. While there are several, here are my top five.
Expect the unexpected.
I proudly assembled my “Babysitter’s Toolbox” with crafts, music, games, books, etc. to take to each of my jobs. (A great tip learned from the Red Cross babysitting course!) Though it came in handy on multiple occasions, there were some things I could not prepare myself for:
I once watched a 5-year-old that lay on the ground kicking and screaming when her parents left. She was inconsolable – until her parents’ vehicle was out of sight. Then she calmly got up off the floor said, “well, that didn’t work,” and suggested we play in the sandbox.
My personal favorite is the time I heard a boy scream for help after bedtime. I raced to his room, where I found his head stuck between the vertical slats of the headboard. I tried butter and Crisco to release his head, to no avail. I called his parents, and his father suggested I use the hacksaw in the garage to cut the bed to remove his son’s head. Sure. No problem.
Sometimes you have to get creative.
I often babysat for a family with two sisters who bickered constantly. I was tired of it, and I knew the parents were, too.
With parental permission, I taped the sisters’ legs together like you would for a three-legged race (I did the same to their arms!) and let them spend a Saturday this way. While they resisted and complained at first, the two of them were forced to communicate and work together. It didn’t permanently solve the sibling disputes, but it did serve as a reminder of what they were capable of (and a threat as to what I was capable of). Sometimes you just have to think out of the box and push the envelope a bit.
Bad day? Who cares?
The kiddos in my care didn’t give regard to the fact that I didn’t get an A on a project, or that my parents wouldn’t let me stay out past curfew. When you’re on the clock, you have to be “on.” I admit that’s sometimes hard for me.
I’m a heart-on-my-sleeve kind of gal, but children and animals have a sixth sense. Sometimes, you just have to fake it and be present – ready to tell stories, be silly and play dress-up – whether or not you feel like it.
The extra mile.
Even after the kids went to bed, I found ways to serve my clients in some small way: making sure the toys were picked up, putting away the dishes from the day before, tidying the kitchen, folding the laundry in the dryer.
Customer service is key. Sure, after the kids went to bed I did homework, called my friends and the like, but I always left the house in better condition than I found it. Except maybe the bed I sawed through. But I did clean up the sawdust!
Do it right – the first time.
Seriously. No shortcuts. Sure, you can change a diaper half-heartedly, but I assure you that is exactly the moment the prune juice will kick in. I promise.
Babysitting taught me a lot about life – about the kind of grown-up I wanted to be. I didn’t give it much thought at the time, but I learned concepts like “responsibility” and “accountability,” woven right in there with “service” and “commitment.”
And it certainly prepared me for wrangling these zany Canners – especially Peyton! (In his defense, he warned me how difficult that might be before I took the job.)