There’s no phone in the basement and other babysitting woes

The other day an aunt of mine posted a meme on Facebook that read:

You’re sixteen and it’s a Friday night.

What does it mean to you?

Her answer was: “Date Night!”

Apparently I was an ultra nerdy teenager because my immediate response was: “Babysitting.”

Not counting the many times I watched (for free) my ungrateful and obstinate siblings, I became a “professional” when I was just eleven years old. My first gig was for an older couple across the street who had a baby girl. I never knew if she was a late in life baby or a grandchild whose parents, for whatever reason, couldn’t raise her. I wasn’t permitted to ask about such things. Anyway, both of the parents worked at the casinos – one worked nights and the other days, meaning they didn’t need a babysitter most of the time. However sometimes they would both need to work a swing shift – generally during the busy hours of 8 PM to 1 AM, I would arrive after the baby had been put to sleep. All I needed to do was to be there. If the baby woke up and actually needed attention, I phoned my folks … HELP! If they weren’t home, I knew all the neighbors. Still … eleven years old!!! I can’t imagine anyone leaving an infant in the hands of an eleven year old these days. In fact, it’s illegal in most states.

What happens when you hire an older woman to be your babysitter!

Most of my jobs came from my mother. She had no problem pimping me out to anyone desperate for a cheap sitter. Today there are babysitting agencies. Before you hire a babysitter, you can check out her resume, her profile and even read her reviews. Back then it was Mrs. Brown asking Mrs. White for the number of a “girl.” Then Mr. Brown would be send to retrieve the girl while Mrs. Brown prepared the list of do’s and don’ts (no candy before bed, no television until homework’s complete, etc.) most of which would be ignored. After the children were in bed, the “girl” would get on the phone with her friends and eat every potato chip in the house. Woe to the Mrs. Browns of the world who failed to stock up on junk food before a sitter’s visit. Word spread quickly of no snack houses! As did word of lousy tippers, smelly houses or creepy husbands.

Besides babies waking up and needing real care, I only had a few frightening things happen while sitting. Once a hollow-faced man appeared in the window next to the front door. I screamed and he ran away. When I called the parents, they told me it was just Jim, the neighborhood crazy guy, and he was harmless. And then they laughed. Apparently they thought terrorized fourteen year old babysitters were a real riot!

Another time the telephone rang and I answered thinking it might be the parents. A male voice said “I’m in your basement and I’m going to come up and kill you!” I was about to run out of the house with the kids when the ten-year-old said. “There’s no phone in the basement.” Then he laughed and told me what a “stupidhead” I was.

However, for the most part it was boring and so I’ve never understood why so many movies have been made about babysitters. Take Adventures in Babysitting (1987), the sitter and her charges are chased up the side of a high-rise in Chicago by mafia thugs, save a runaway teen from a rat-infested bus terminal, and crash a fraternity party … to name just a few of their adventures. Then they had to race back to the suburbs before the parents arrived home. Of course, the parents were clueless and didn’t suspect a thing.

I imagine if I was a teenage babysitter today my review would read: Panics easily, eats you out of house and home, and bores the children to death.

25 thoughts on “There’s no phone in the basement and other babysitting woes

  1. Thanks, Jan! This post brings back some memories! The worst babysitting experience I ever had was when I was about 12 and my parents recommended me to babysit for the relatives of some close family friends. When my dad dropped me at the house, he mentioned that the husband was a state trooper, but that didn’t mean much to me. The parents gave me the number of the home they’d be at and headed out for the evening. The baby was already in bed, and I played with the two older kids for a bit before putting them to bed too. I was all set to get a snack and watch some TV when I started hearing strange noises upstairs. I checked on the kids and they were sound asleep, but the noises didn’t stop. In retrospect, I think it was probably the heat, but it was creepy, so I called home and told my parents I thought there was a burglar in the house. My dad said he’d come right over to check things out, but before he arrived, I heard an extra loud bang and called the phone number the parents had given me. The trooper got on the phone and I told him I thought there was a burglar in the house. He said he’d be right home. Then, a few minutes later, the house was surrounded by police cars with all their lights flashing. The dude had notified his buddies, of course. The next person to arrive was my poor dad, who got interrogated by the cops. Luckily, the parents arrived home shortly afterward and were very nice and told me I’d done the right thing. But they never asked me to babysit again 🙂

  2. haha – this was a fun post – and you are so right about the question of leaving a baby with an 11 year old – and the first thing I thought of

    You’re sixteen and it’s a Friday night.

    What does it mean to you?

    the first answer that came to my mind was homework – because at 16 I was a little more into school than the previous two years – and If I babysat – it was on a Tuesday night – and JT – the seven dollars I earned from that was sure a huge blessing

      1. oh baby – it sounds like you made way more money than I did – hahahah – and the putt-putt sounds like a fun motorcycle to have at a young age

  3. I remember Adventures in Babysitting. There was a line in it we used to quote: “nobody leaves here without singing the blues.” Seems as applicable today as it did then.

  4. Us boys also got the chance to babysit. I was one and enjoyed the peace while I watched horror movies hoping they wouldn’t wake up the kids I was looking after. I was never offered a lift home, though. I always had to walk home with memories of what I’d just watched in my head.

  5. Some 11-year-olds are more capable than others, I suppose, but wow!

    This brought back memories – I remember my very first gig when I was in my early teens. I can clearly see, to this day, the shiny quarter I received as payment. I was over the moon! Funny, I have no recollection whatsoever of the actual baby upon which I sat!

    1. Until I was about thirteen I only babysat in the neighborhood and so there were adults around. I don’t remember most of the kids I babysat either.

  6. This is a fun post, JT!
    Like you, I started babysitting at around 11. At 9 I even did some one hour stints when my parents went for groceries.
    LOL! Adventures in Babysitting. I worked a few days on that movie. (wardrobe)
    I was so green back then!

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