My friend Jackie still has not forgiven me for this. She brings it up every time I see her, which sadly, has not been for the past few years. We seem to have lost touch, despite my calling and writing. My automatic assumption is that I did something to make her mad and not want to be my friend any more, but the last time we talked, things were fine. I would rather have her be mad at me than be dead or in a coma, though.
When I was in high school, my main source of income was babysitting. There weren't many options for the teenagers on base in Panama. Teenage jobs, such as bagging groceries or teaching swimming, went to Panamanian nationals, which only makes sense: these people had families to support, we just wanted to buy clothes and makeup. Well, some girls wanted to buy makeup. I might have, had I a clue of how to use it, but I didn't get that gene. My sister did, so she does a makeover on me every time I see her and darn if I don't look better after she is through. But I am way too lazy to do what she does, so I usually remain unadorned.
I made 75 cents an hour, which you will note was less than minimum wage at the time. I think it was about $2.25 then. (This was the late '70s.)
Babysitters in my neighborhood today make about $10 an hour. Much higher than minimum wage. Why should babysitters make more than minimum wage here? Maybe the parents have to compete with McDonald's to get babysitters. Or maybe I live in a higher-income area than I did when I was in high school and these girls aren't going to leave their houses for less than $10 an hour. Whatever it is, I have considered babysitting as my second career. Ten dollars an hour, cash, tax free is not too shabby. (My friend's daughter gets $20 an hour in San Francisco.)
One day, I got a call from a family a few miles away. I usually babysat within walking distance of my house and did not know this family. I don't remember who referred them to me. I wish I did so I could call that person and let them know what's what. I should have been suspicious that they were calling someone so far from their own neighborhood.
But I wasn't.
They offered me $10 to babysit for a whole day so they could go fishing.
It seemed like a fortune.
I wish I remembered their names so I could call and demand more money.
They picked me up at 6:00 a.m. and dropped me off at their house before speeding away, wheels spinning in the gravel. The concrete. The roads were paved, even in enlisted housing.
I walked into the kitchen.
Horrible mess. Not a "we didn't finish the dishes last night after supper" but "we have not washed dishes in a week plus we do not understand the concepts of 1. wiping off the table and the counter after preparing a meal and eating and 2. occasionally sweeping the crap off the floor."
Granted, they had four children, but I know other families with four kids and they do not live in pigsties.
For other families, I would wash the dishes after the kids went to bed because I was usually pretty bored once I had found the Playboy magazines and eaten cold cereal of the kinds my mom never bought, like Cap'n Crunch. (An addiction that haunts me to this day, such that I avoid the cereal aisle altogether lest I find myself buying the 2 for $5 regular and peanut butter Cap'n Crunch, eating half the box before I get home, then hiding the rest in the basement from myself and from Primo so he won't give me a hard time about eating such junk, even though he is the one who hides the Dill Pickle Pringles from himself in the basement and has a lifetime supply of ramen noodles). Washing dishes also sometimes generated a little extra cash at the end of the evening. I knew who paid for it and who didn't.
But this house - let's call this family "the McCalls" - was of a different order of magnitude. I did not want to spend an hour cleaning that kitchen. Then the kids woke up - all four of them - and demanded breakfast.
I pulled out the cold cereal and discovered there were no clean bowls and no clean spoons to be found.
I had to wash the dishes. I had to wash the frying pans with the burned-on food (hello Mrs McCall! have you never heard of scraping the extra in the pan into the trash and then soaking the pan?) and the greasy kettles and the silverware that was thrown on top of them just to clear the sink.
Then I had to wash the plates and glasses on the counter so I could find the bowls.
It took forever. Is there anything more gross than sticking your hands in someone else's nasty dishes?
Well yes there is.
When the kids came down for breakfast, I discovered that two of them were still in diapers.
Remember a long time ago when people used cloth diapers? Do you remember how cloth diapers worked? Poopy diapers rinsed in the toilet, then thrown into the diaper pail with the other pee diapers until there was a full load for the washing machine.
Do you remember how the diaper pail would smell after a day or two?
Oh yes that poopy ammonia smell. The smell that would make you gag.
Why am I writing about this, you ask?
Because there were
1. two kids in diapers and
2. not a clean diaper in the house
Yes, the McCalls were getting their money's worth. But really, how could they have anticipated that I would need clean diapers? No parent can see that far in advance.
I had to wash, dry and fold a load of diapers before I could change diapers.
Then. The kids were holy terrors. I discovered them climbing out of the upstairs window, getting ready to jump to the ground. They didn't shut up but screamed like banshees all day. If they had ever been disciplined, there was no evidence of such.
Mr and Mrs McCall got home at 7:00 p.m. After I had changed about a dozen diapers, prepared three meals for their kids and cleaned the kitchen after, because that's how I roll.
I did not have the guts to demand more money. They did not offer any.
They got the bargain of a lifetime.
Two weeks later, they called to ask me to babysit again.
I turned them down.
And gave them Jackie's phone number.
I don't know what I was thinking. I wasn't thinking. I deserve for Jackie still to be mad at me today. Because although I would wish the McCalls on my worst enemy, I would never wish them on a friend.