Thursday, March 29, 2012

In which I go to the beach as a babysitter and get bad cramps

You know that we lived in the Panama Canal Zone when I was in high school. All except for my senior year - we moved the summer before senior year and I got to be one of two new students in a class of 648, most of whom had known each other since kindergarten. Which stank.

However, the first part of my high school career wasn't awful, even though we were all convinced that if we were in THE STATES that our lives would look like the commercial where there were all these gorgeous people at the beach drinking something and the Beach Boys were singing Good Vibrations. What was that product?

Sunkist! That's it. That's what I suspected and the google confirmed it.

The irony of it is that our lives were far more like that commercial in the Canal Zone, where we wore shorts and flip flops to school and could go to the beach whenever we wanted because it was a mile away, than they would have been had we been back in THE STATES. We discovered when we returned to THE STATES that soda was really expensive and that you couldn't get Purple Passion or Tahitian Treat and they didn't sell empanadas in the school cafeteria. The beach was a few hours away. We couldn't wear shorts to school. Welcome to school dress codes.

One of the really good things about living in the zone and on base was that my friends and I had a lock on the babysitting business. There were lots of young families around and we had as much work as we wanted. With my babysitting money - I think I was charging $1 an hour by then, I saved enough to buy a bicycle, a 35 mm camera, and most of my clothes. That camera cost over $300.

I babysat a lot.

A new family asked me to sit. When I got to their house, I discovered they were Jewish.

I had never met anyone Jewish before. At least, not knowing they were Jewish.

Don't laugh. It's not like there are a ton of Jews in the air force. Yes, the base chapel was used as a synagogue when required, but I usually saw it as a Catholic chapel (they put the crucifix behind the altar) or a Protestant one (crucifix was replaced with a cross).

When we lived off base in Lubbock, we may have had some Jewish neighbors, but if we did, I didn't know they were Jewish. I just googled: there is one synagogue in Lubbock. The entire county has about 278,000 persons. The big religious accommodation that the schools made for religion was that there were no school activities on Wednesday night. Wednesday night is the night that the Baptists and some of the other serious Protestants have extra church. As Catholics, my family went to church once a week plus Sunday school and that was quite enough for me, thank you very much. But there were no Friday night/Shabbot accommodations, which made me think the Jews didn't have much power there.

Interestingly, Memphis has about the same number of Jews as it does Catholics. Memphis actually has the largest eruv west of New York City, or so I think I read once. Memphis has Catholic churches and synagogues and Catholic schools and Jewish schools. Once you get out of the city, though, and into the country, you find only Protestant churches - and not very many of them are Episcopalian. Memphis is not a southern city - it is a river city and river cities develop in very different ways from cities in the interior.

In Memphis, the Catholics have just surrendered and they have Wednesday night church stuff, too. I don't know about the Jews. The more conservative Jews were in their own schools, so maybe it just wasn't an issue.

Back to the family. They were from New York. I hadn't met any New Yorkers before. I loved their accents, but it took me a little while to understand. They kept kosher. Mrs S showed me the two sets of dishes and explained all the rules to me. I was terrified of doing something wrong, so theirs was the one house where I never ate. Usually, I plowed through the good stuff - the Captain Crunch, the Cheese Nips, and anything else my mom never bought because she said it was overpriced crap - when I was babysitting, but not at the S's house. I didn't touch a thing in the kitchen.

Mrs S was gorgeous. She was round and voluptuous with thick, glossy, curly dark brown hair. Mr S, who was a JAG, which is a military lawyer, was not so cute. I thought she outranked him in the looks department, but he was nice, which is what really matters over time.

They had two gorgeous plump dark-haired little girls. Bethany, who was four, and Sarah, who was one. I had never heard the name Bethany before and I thought it was so exotic. I still think it's a beautiful name, but now it's been tainted by that Real Housewives of New York who said in a national magazine that she and her husband had not had sex in six months and there were cobwebs on his penis, which made me think, "Wow. And I thought I might reveal too much personal information on my blog that a few hundred people read. I can't hold a candle to this lady." Then I thought, "She must not be interested in repairing her marriage because she just completely dissed her husband in public and that probably won't go over well."

Yes I am embarrassed that I even know about this. I have never seen the show, but I have stood in many a line at the grocery store and waited to get my hair cut, so I do read those magazines. Please don't hate me.

I became their babysitter. I liked the girls and Mr and Mrs S were nice to me. What wasn't to like?

One day, my mom said, "Mrs S called me. She wants to know if it would be OK to ask you to go to the beach with them next weekend as their babysitter. They would pay you [whatever - I don't remember] and they would want you to watch the girls at night while they went out and help them during the day."

It sounded like a great deal to me. A free trip to the beach!

I agreed to go. The first night was fine. I watched the girls while Mr and Mrs S went out to dinner with their friends. We were staying at a resort. I think we were at Santa Clara on the Panamanian Pacific coast. Once you get away from the canal and water isn't being churned up by all the ships going through, the beaches are nice.

The next day, on the beach, with Mr and Mrs S, I forgot that I was the babysitter.

Parents - take heed. Even when I was a lifeguard and being paid to watch your kids, I couldn't watch all of them at once. Don't think you can drop your kid off at a pool full of children and just leave. It only takes a second for a kid to go under and sometimes, nobody, not even the lifeguard notices. If your child is not a super strong swimmer, then do not abandon him to the pool. Do not trust that the lifeguard will be watching only your child. Because she won't. She is praying that nobody drowns on her shift and she is watching as closely as she can, but when there are dozens of kids, there is only so much one person can do.

Not to mention sometimes - just sometimes - I was distracted by a cute guy (rare, because the cute guys didn't hang out at the Converse city pool) or (more likely) thoughts of the Frito Pie I was going to buy from the snack stand for my lunch.

If you have never had Frito Pie, I feel sad for you.

What is this mysterious Frito Pie of which you speak? you are asking. You are especially asking this if you knew what a taxi medallion was before you took Econ 102 in college. I don't think I had ever ridden in a taxi before college. I may have, when we first moved to Spain when I was six, but I don't remember. I had always lived in places where people drove their own cars. Taxis were not part of my world. When the econ textbook used taxi medallions as an example of restricted supply, I had NO IDEA what they meant.

I was also too timid to ask the prof, so in the end, my ignorance was my own darn fault.

Still, textbook writers - not everyone who reads your book lives in New York. That's all I'm saying.

If you live in Texas, you might not know what a taxi medallion is, but you will know what Frito Pie is.

It is Fritos covered with chili, cheese, and raw onion. The best way to have it is in the bag. That is, you cut open the bag of Fritos, then pour the chili, cheese, and onion on top of it. Mix it all up and eat it out of the bag.

It is divine.

I bought myself Fritos for Thanksgiving this year. Primo spent Thanksgiving with Sly and Doris, but his Christmas present to me for the past three years has been that he will visit them without me. I didn't like not having him for Thanksgiving, but then, I am not the one threatening suicide (I am not making this up) if he is not present.

Just a wee bit manipulative, don't you think? I wish he'd call her bluff. Honestly. What kind of mother does that? I guess the same kind of mother who says two weeks before the wedding that she's not coming.

Back to the story about Bethany and Sarah and beach. I forgot I was in charge. Bethany was in the water. I looked away for a while. A wave knocked her down. Mr S ran to get her and yelled at me. I can understand that - he was terrified that his child might have drowned. I didn't like being yelled at, though, but now, as an adult, I understand. I understand that he probably also felt guilty because he had entrusted the life of his child to a 14 year old girl.

The main point of this story, though, is I got sick that afternoon and Mr and Mrs S were really worried.

They didn't have to be.

I got cramps.

Which always happened to me. I got really bad cramps every time I got my period. The doctor had suggested that I go on the pill, an idea that horrified me. Perhaps if he had explained it a little better, I would have been willing, but all I knew was that anyone I knew who was on the pill was a Bad Girl.

Crazy crazy crazy.

I don't think I even knew of a single girl who was on the pill. There may have been some. Maybe other girls had problems with cramps, too.

For years, I was miserable every month. Painful cramps, sometimes vomiting. I took prescription painkillers that were apparently so strong that when I got my individual health insurance when I quit my job to go to grad school, the policy excluded any diseases of the reproductive organs.

I finally surrendered and went on the pill when I was in grad school and I thought, Where have you been all my life?

No cramps.


Over ten years of cramps and now they were gone and they could have been gone the entire time but I was too ignorant and dumb. Dumb me.

But I had cramps and I was miserable and this was before I started taking the motrin, which was available only by prescription at that time, or at least it was only by RX in the dosages I was taking.

I had an upset stomach and I was in pain and I was sweating.

Mr and Mrs S were very concerned. They thought I might have food poisoning. Or sunstroke. They didn't know what.

And I wouldn't tell them because I was too embarrassed.

Here's another hint for parents: if you hire a teenage girl to accompany you on a vacation as the au pair and she gets sick, keep in mind that she would rather D-I-E die than tell a man she is having her period.

I might have told Mrs S if she had asked me on her own, but she and Mr S were hovering over me together. They asked if they should call my mother. They were so worried.

I could have alleviated their concern with one simple sentence, but I was fourteen! Nobody talks about that stuff when she is 14!

After two hours, I was fine. They went out again. Bethany, Sarah, and I hung out in the condo. We had a lovely time.

But they never asked me to go out of town with them again. And I never told them what had been wrong.