Monday, May 17, 2010




: to appropriate (as property entrusted to one's care) fraudulently to one's own use

At age eleven, my mother enrolled me in a course at the community center that taught young girls like myself how to babysit. There were maybe ten or twelve prepubescent girls in the class—some familiar faces, some from the two other elementary schools in my town. This was the summer before seventh grade, before all three school would unite in the horror that is "junior high." The summer before breasts, before boys, and before babysitting.

I don't remember much from this class. I remember sitting in a hot, air-conditioner-less room for six weeks. I think the teacher's name was Nancy, but I could be totally wrong. Let's pretend I'm right. Nancy was always hanging around the community center teaching some or another class about something. She was petite with long dark hair and my memory is constructing her as somewhat resembling Penelope Cruz. I think she may have been engaged to someone else who perpetually hung around teaching classes at the community center as well. Love happens.

The class covered topics like: what to do if a child is choking (an notion that made me panic with the daunting responsibility of saving a life), how to negotiate pay, and how to generally manage unruly children (Keep in mind, Nancy=childless). At the end of the six weeks, we took a multiple choice test and, assuming we passed, each received a certificate saying that we were certified (by whom, I have no idea) to babysit.

Like any trade one enters with only the experience of one hardly practical course, I fell into the world of babysitting intimidated and clueless. Had I the opportunity to give Nancy feedback, I might have instructed her to teach things like: why you shouldn't accept rides home from drunken mothers at 2:30 a.m.; how to deal with children who have irrational fears of fire; and the ethics of looking (or not looking) through other people's shit.

Most babysitting gigs I held began in the early evening and extended long past midnight. Children would often fall off around 10 p.m., leaving much of the night to talking on the phone, watching extended cable, eating whatever I could get my hands on and, of course, dissecting the collections of other people's belongings. I had my limits—never bedrooms, only common areas. But, oh!, the joys of looking through people's stuff—pantries, junk drawers, cabinets, shelves of VHS tapes with collections of porn VHS tapes hidden behind discreet dividers. One family had a bar and I would sniff all the different types of liquor, never trying any for fear they measured amounts. I always made sure to meticulously replace anything I removed back into its exact spot. And I would do all of this searching in complete silence, listening for approaching cars, automatic garage doors, keys turning in a lock. I was never caught.

I felt no guilt for this invasion of privacy, this EMBEZZLING of parents' trust in me as "the babysitter." Nor do I now. Whenever visitors are in my house, I assume if my back is turned they will be scrutinizing my possessions, or at least considering it. I am not bothered in the least by this thought. As long as everything is returned to its home, left unchanged, and, or course, not stolen, why should I be bothered by people looking through my things? I have no dark secrets, at least none that bear any tangible evidence.

Come over, look through my stuff. I'm sure you won't find anything that I haven't already talked about in this blog.


  1. It was Nancy, her bf Smitty (?) and her brother Chip always there. Always!

    I can't stand the thought of looking through peoples stuff! I feel such guilt! My grandmother used to yell at me when I was a kid if I was I over her house and opened the fridge without asking. "how would you like it? That's rude" she'd say. I still to this day have reservations about it. Gotta love that Catholic guilt. I never have any fun!

  2. I'm starting to believe guilt is an exclusively Catholic phenomenon. Either that, or I am closer to proving that I am strangely inhuman.

  3. I would usually babysit for people doing graveyard shifts, and so the kids would always be in bed by the time I got there. The sheer terror of a child waking up to find a stranger has replaced their parent in a matter of moments is not a pretty sight.

    ...and getting a ride home by an intoxicated parent was usually a guarantee.

    So Lynchian! Great revelation!