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Babysitting Woes MAG
The phone rings on a school night in the middle of dinner. My mother lets out an almost inaudible groan. I rise to answer it, but she stops me. “Sarah Courtney, it’s dinner time. If it’s important, they’ll leave a message.”
“Ma, I just wanna see who it is. I’ll be right back,” I reply. The name on the caller ID makes me roll my eyes. Memories of a nine-year-old lunging at me, knocking me to the floor and sitting on my stomach send shivers up my spine. I pick up the phone, despite my annoyance.
“Hello, this is the Millers,” I croon in my I-have-to-sound-cute-yet-very-responsible voice, which is much higher than my normal one. It is the voice I use when I want something from my parents, speak to someone I don’t like, address old ladies at church, or talk to a child.
“Hello. Is Sarah available?”
“Speaking,” I say, my voice still smooth, sweet and sticky.
“Oh, hi. This is Shannon.”
“Hey! How are you?” The words coming from my mouth make me stick out my tongue at myself in the mirror. What a fake you are! Get real!
“Oh, I’m doing fine! I have a question for you, sweetheart. Are you busy tomorrow evening? I know this is last minute, but I need a babysitter for Alex and Mattie. Could you do it?” The words sound desperate, with the sounds of children in the background; I can almost hear her annoyance with her children. She needs out, poor woman!
“Oh, hold on just a moment, let me check my calendar.” I have absolutely no intention of checking any calendar; I know I am free. I’m always free on school nights, pathetic socialite that I am. I look into the mirror again and make a face of disgust. I hold the phone away from my ear, and rustle a few papers. Thoughts of being hugged until I can barely breathe and tickled until I practically scream at Alex to stop run through my mind and try to tap sense into my brain. But I need the money. Wait a minute, what did I get last time? Ten dollars for four hours? Oh well, I need it anyway. But this is the last time.
“That would be fine. I’m open,” I commit myself, feeling like I’m signing my life away. Losing four hours of my young life to spend time with those two monsters someone decided to classify as little girls.
“Oh! Wonderful!” Her voice is filled with genuine relief. “I’ll have Todd pick you up around 4:45.”
“Great. See you tomorrow.” As soon as I hang up, I smack my forehead. I actually dread this more than waxing my eyebrows, I dread it more than cleaning up after my puppy. I scuff back to the table.
“Who was that?” my brother demands.
“Shannon. I’m babysitting for them tomorrow night.” My voice is back to normal, a few notes deeper and a little edgier.
“You don’t always have to say yes,” my mother reminds me, in that all-knowing voice mothers have. “They would understand if you said no.” She says this every time, after this horrible phone call that always comes at dinnertime, always a day before I’m needed. Still, somehow I roped myself into a commitment I didn’t want to keep, again.
“I know. But I feel bad for them.” I let out a large, rather dramatic sigh.
By the next evening, I am exhausted from school. I brace myself for the next few hours of hell as I run a brush through my hair, splash water on my face and brush a light coat of mascara on my lashes. I gather the essentials: my book, my cell phone and a video to quiet the kids. I even toss a package of ramen noodles into my purse to eat after I tuck the monsters into bed.
The doorbell startles me. I paste on a huge smile and clear my throat in preparation for a few hours of my “pretty” voice. My voice teacher always tells me that I speak incorrectly anyway.
“Hi, how are you?” I greet Todd. My voice is almost unreal, I sound so fluid and perky. I wonder if people know I am being fake.
“Oh, I’m just fine today. How are you, Sarah?”
“Good!” I get into the passenger’s seat, relieved that he hasn’t brought one or both little devils with him. Although now, with no distractions, I have to make conversation for the next 10 minutes with a man who is the epitome of a computer nerd. He has glasses that magnify his eyes, an absurdly pale complexion, is prematurely balding and, to top it off, his nose is much too large for his face.
“How’s school going?”
“Oh! Just wonderful!” This is my answer to anyone who asks. I mean, do people really care when they ask? Do they want to hear that I’m unmotivated and failing algebra? Do they want to hear about the periodic table? So, I smile too widely and tell him how glorious Punnett squares are, and how fantastic it is to learn about the beheading of Marie Antoinette.
The conversation floats awkwardly for half the ride, and soon silence is upon us. Besides, what do we have in common? He, probably in his mid-30s, is married, has two insanely misbehaved daughters, and works all day only to come home to a dinner of lukewarm Spaghetti-O’s and knock-off brand applesauce. Poor guy.
When we finally arrive, I walk up the cracked walk to the too-small house, annoyance bouncing around in my head and a phony smile on my face.
My preparations do nothing for me. I am still hugged until breathless. I am still required to play Simon Says eight times. I read Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day at least twice, and the children still go to bed kicking, screaming and crying. They each try to convince me that their parents don’t want them to brush their teeth, and that they are allowed to eat a bag of M&M’s before bed. The occasional “Shut up, Mattie!” is heard, followed by “Miss Sarah! She said $lsquo;Shut up,”’ followed by, “Alex, that’s not nice. Say you’re sorry” and so on. A 15-minute back rub is mandatory for Alex to stay in bed, otherwise she’ll rip the sheets off her bed and run downstairs.
Later, I’m dropped off and walk into my house with $15 (14 ones and four quarters) in my pocket; I slip off my shoes and begin complaining to my mother.
Wednesday evening, the phone rings again. I check the caller ID and roll my eyes. Not again. Five minutes later, my mother says, “You don’t always have to say yes, you know.” But I did. Again.