When I was twelve or thirteen, my family moved to New Jersey, and I became friends with a group of little girls who were all good at, and experienced at, babysitting. I wanted to earn money, and I wanted to be good at the job too, but I wasn’t. I didn’t have any younger siblings and I didn’t feel comfortable telling younger kids what to do. I had no idea how to take care of them, what to do with them, or how to keep them in line if they refused to eat dinner or go to bed or follow their parents’ rules. I didn’t expect co-operation and was always relieved when I got it, and was devastated when a child stayed up later than his/her bedtime or was rude to me. I didn’t mind taking care of really little children who would sleep the whole time I was there, but I never enjoyed the company of the children I was supervising if they were awake, needing attention, asking questions, wanting me to interact. I just looked forward to their going to bed, so I could eat snacks and watch TV and get paid for it.
My first time babysitting, I felt very awkward. I was just a year or so older than the older of the two kids who lived next door, Steve and Diane. It was slightly embarrassing for me when their mother asked me to “babysit” the two of them one evening, because I knew Steve would resent being looked after by a girl who was almost exactly his age. But I took the job with the anticipation of making some hard cash: the going rate was about 75 cents an hour.
It was an easy evening: I watched TV for most of it, and Steve and Diane disappeared, presumably to bed. When their parents came home about 10 or 11, they handed me some money which I was too shy to count until I was out the door and walking home, a distance of about 100 feet. Then I found three dollars and fifty cents, which I held in my hand inside my pocket, thinking, “This is real money, and it’s mine. This is the first time I’ve ever earned money, and I’m going to do something good with this money.” I don’t recall what I did — that was enough to buy an album, or many 45s. Maybe I bought myself magazines like SEVENTEEN or TIGER BEAT. That family never asked me to babysit again, but others in the neighborhood — young parents desperate for a night out — did. They’d call me when Kim and Bonnie and Christie and the other girls were already booked. I used to accept the jobs, and do them, but I never liked it, and I was never very good at it.
I was glad when I got a little older, and we moved to England, and I could get a job serving tea and scones for 50 pence an hour. It was much harder work, and I had to take a bus a long way both ways to get to the cafe, but I got to interact with interesting adults, instead of children. I felt excited and interested in serving people nice meals, in a way I never had been about minding kids. And maybe that’s part of why I went on to not have children, but become a pretty good cook.
Gillian Kendall is an American-Australian writer who has lived in five countries and eight states. She has been a barmaid, editorial assistant, English professor, tech writer, and parliamentary reporter. She’s called herself a feminist ever since she heard the term at Douglass College, the women’s branch of Rutgers University. The label has gotten her into a few arguments and once landed her a job at "Mademoiselle." She lives in Florida and does all sorts of writing: travel and nonfiction journalism, as well as fiction, essays, and memoirs. gilliankendall.org