Babysitting was a major source of income for pre-teens and teens in the 1960s and 70s. It seemed most girls were expected to babysit. The Alone Girl fell into that trap. Mainly, babysitting was about having some disposable income. There were girls who were enthused about babysitting and thought it was wonderful. The Alone Girl did not share that mindset.
To the Alone Girl, it was a necessary evil. Living as a “have not” in a society of “haves,” the money earned from babysitting allowed the Alone Girl a very, very modest way to try to keep up with the “haves.” Back in her day, the girl earned fifty cents per hour for babysitting. She could buy a pair of Levi’s (all the rage then) for under $10 so a handful of nights spent babysitting meant a new pair of pants.
To her relief, the girl never had to babysit any diaper-clad children. Since she was tremendously sensitive to some obnoxious odors (think of poop, vomit), this made the task a little less onerous. Four families utilized the Alone Girl as a babysitter. The Alone Girl was mature for her age. She was dependable, honest, polite, athletic, and no nonsense. The girl followed all rules dictated by parents. Though curious by nature, she was not one to peer into drawers, closets, or cupboards. She happily looked at any photos displayed and read anything stuck on the refrigerator. When left some food and/or soda, the girl ate one serving and drank one soda. She never had visitors over nor did she talk on the phone.
The Alone Girl was always somewhat disappointed she never got to babysit kids like her and her brother. The girl had happy memories of her own babysitters who played games with them inside and out. She enjoyed being active. The Alone Girl’s babysitting charges were kind of odd kids. Odd to her, anyway. The little girls always wanted to play dolls or dress up. The little boys always wanted to participate in what their sisters wanted to do. The Alone Girl read many, many stories to children over the years. This was a pleasant activity as the girl was a voracious reader all on her own. With time and experience, the girl learned to develop an array of voices to match the characters in the stories. The kids always wanted more. But for the day the Alone Girl was implored to read “The Nutcracker” nine times, it was mostly okay.
Babysitting was often done on a Saturday night. There were not many choices for television viewing in those days. Kids went to bed at 7. From 7-8, the most watchable program was “Hee Haw.” The girl learned a great deal about country music from watching that show. On rare occasions, the girl worked on homework, did some reading for English classes, or read a book she’d brought with her. For the most part, the Alone Girl didn’t mind sitting in the quiet for hours though the darkness outside often made her anxious. Two of the families lived far enough from the girl’s house that the father would drive her home. This always made her nervous, she had reason not to be trusting. Small talk with almost-strangers was not her forte.
It wasn’t all a drag. There were humorous moments. Two little boys who lived down the girl’s block were a handful to babysit. Their behavior was unpredictable. There was a weird kind of rush in babysitting these kids because the girl never knew what would happen next. She had to be on her toes. Plus they had a habit of disappearing. One summer afternoon the girl head them squabbling in the backyard. As she headed in that direction, they came charging around to the front of the house. One was aiming a brick at the other. The girl acted fast and said, “give that to me.” Sure enough, the kid threw it at her. Lesson learned: be very specific with instructions. Luckily the Alone Girl was a tomboy and could catch just about anything thrown her way. Injury avoided.
Another day with these two resulted in food preparation experiments. They told the girl they would make individual pizzas for lunch and then peanut butter cookies. Sounded good. The girl thought of the English muffin pizzas her mother sometimes prepared. That’s not what came out on the plate. A piece of white bread, smothered in ketchup, with a slice of American cheese on top had been rushed through the broiler at warp speed. The girl laughed and ate it because she was hungry. It was disgusting but the aroma of peanut butter gave her hope. Several minutes later, a tan hockey puck was delivered to the girl. Hot from the oven, it was as solid as petrified wood but smelled a whole lot better. Inedible, but amusing. This is why the Alone Girl preferred evening babysitting. Kids were sleeping and she had quiet time.
As with most things one doesn’t enjoy doing, the girl learned from her experiences despite herself. It furthered her ability to be responsible and independent. It allowed her not to have to ask her mother for spending money because the girl knew money was tight. It gave her a sense of worth because she knew she did a good job and the parents liked her. Teenaged trials and tribulations were not a waste of time, however unpleasant they seemed in the moment.