Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Birds, bees and babysitting

Babysitting is great birth control. I had this epiphany the other day while watching 16 and Pregnant and wondering how to prevent Sass from ending up on Season 18 of the show. I was planning on showing her one of the home birth videos lurking around the internet as well as pictures of my feet when I was nine months pregnant, but I was afraid that wouldn't be enough. Then it came to me. All I need to do is hook her up with a regular baby-sitting gig when she's 13 or so, and the contraceptive effects should take her through to university at least.

It could be risky. What if she falls in love with the little darlings and decides she wants one of her own? I'll need to find a family like the Nelsons, my main source of income in my early teens. Five blonde moppets under nine years old, an immaculate doll collection sitting quietly in the church pew in soft pink dresses and little black ties. When Mrs. Nelson asked my mother if I wanted to baby-sit Friday nights, I was thrilled. This would be the easiest money I'd ever made.

The first Friday night I came prepared with pencil crayons and a half-finished map due for my geography class that Monday, as well as my current book, Anne of Windy Poplars. I figured I'd have three or four hours of spare time once the kids were in bed and I didn't want to get bored. Mr. and Mrs. Nelson were running late and raced through a list of emergency phone numbers and ten-month-old Sarah's feeding schedule before hurrying out the door.

A few minutes later I was spooning pureed peaches into Sarah's mouth. So far, so good. I glanced into the sunken living room beneath the kitchen and saw Michael, Rebecca and David absorbed in a puzzle. But where was their leader, nine-year-old Mary? I wiped off Sarah's mouth and told her to hold tight for a moment. She gurgled at me happily and I headed toward the upstairs staircase to look for Mary.

A rush of air whistled past my ear an instant before something thudded into my stomach, hurling me onto my back and my head into the floor. "Argh," I groaned, trying to focus through tears on the smiling face floating above me. "I'm a jungle cat," yelled Mary. "Rawr! Did you see me? I jumped all the way from the top of the stairs!" Staggering to my feet, I peeled the little blonde cherub off me and marched her down to the living room, just in time to find David inserting a puzzle piece into one nostril.

The night went downhill from there. When I tried to convince a red-faced and wailing Sarah to lie down in her crib and go to sleep, her cries were overshadowed by piercing shrieks and a tremendous clanging from the kitchen below. I rushed downstairs into a strobe-lit room to find Michael standing on a chair flipping the light switch on and off, casting eerie shadows over Mary and David, who were capering around the kitchen table, howling and banging knives and forks against a large soup pot. Muffled screaming and sobbing came from one of the cupboards beside the sink. It was like stumbling into a reenactment of Lord of the Flies.

"What are you doing?" I shouted, forgetting my usual rules about not screaming at children I was being paid to watch. "We're playing Hell!" chirped Michael merrily. "Rebecca's a poor sinner." "She most certainly is not," I snapped. "Get down off that chair and give me those knives." After releasing a tearful Rebecca from her cupboard dungeon, I managed to corral her siblings in the living room. "DO NOT move," I ordered and ran upstairs to check on Sarah, who had mercifully collapsed into an exhausted slumber.

Two hours, a toothpaste fingerpainting party and one black eye (mine) later, all five Nelson offspring were finally in their beds, if not asleep. As car headlights swept across the front door, I stood dazed in the hallway, the silence ringing in my ears. I wasn't sure what had just happened, but it hadn't been good. Mrs. Nelson was clearly familiar with the stunned look on my face and quickly pressed $60 into my hand as she ushered me out of the house. "See you next Friday," she sang brightly. I did return, seduced by the thought of how many Vuarnet and Body Glove shirts I could buy at $60 a week. But I had learned a valuable lesson: I was never, ever having kids of my own.

It took eighteen years for my babysitting birth control to wear off and any time I was tempted to throw caution to the wind, I just pictured that flashing Nelson kitchen. So in 2022, in addition to showing Sass unedited vaginal birth videos and my stretch marks, I'll start trolling the grocery stores, looking for a frazzled mother with at least three small children. "Excuse me," I'll shout over the toddler tirades. "Are you looking for a babysitter? Because my daughter loves kids!"

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