The Confessions of a Babysitter by Trevor Plumbly
The day started normally enough: a quick flick through the news, in the forlorn hope of finding something cheerful, radio tuned to the concert programme, crossword in hand, tea at the elbow, God’s in his heaven and all that stuff. But then the phone rings. ‘We’d like to go for a bike ride, are you OK with the kids for a couple of hours?’ ‘Of course!’ I reply and twenty minutes later Mozart has descended into redundancy and the crossword rendered unsolvable.
Whether it’s because of familial closeness or a display of conquering spirit, they tend to enter our place en masse, but in a strange orderly file; Dad is usually first, with a list of unhealthy and undesirable recreational activities that should be avoided, mainly anything electronic. It astonishes me what parents expect of their parents when it comes to babysitting: I am quite beyond operating a fitness centre and modern technology has long bypassed any teaching skills I might have had; in fact, I’m convinced that people should have grandchildren when they’re 30-odd and have still got the energy to cope with them. Mum is next, ever practical, reciting a list of food and drinks that aren’t healthy, bearing sunblock and a gym bag full of all sorts of mystical stuff that mothers seem to feel their offspring can’t survive without for a couple of hours.
Mon Repos (Yeah Right!)
Next up is the dog. ‘Looie’ is a pedigree German short-haired pointer which suggests some sort of canine nobility and heightened senses, but he’s basically stupid, loveable, great with the kids, and absolutely not destined for police work or airport security; when he’s not lamenting people leaving the room he tends to sleep a lot which suits me and Mozart. Then come the kids: the elder is of the ‘Method’ school, somewhat scholarly and tends to rely on gestures to indicate his pleasure or frustration, while the younger leans toward the urban terrorist approach using a combination of guile and confrontation to get his message across; he has a sort of machine gun vocabulary with every sentence starting with ‘Can I’. Once both sides have pushed the pleasantries and novelty aside, the power struggle begins. On the telly grandkids are rosy cheeked little cherubs, loving and quietly obedient to their elders. Either mine don’t take the telly seriously enough or I reckon I’ve got some sort of case for misrepresentation.
When you’re babysitting you do need rules: personally I find their rules much easier to enforce than mine, so the negotiation process is quite simple. Their demands range from computer and television access to an endless supply of jam sandwiches; mine are equally basic: as much peace and quiet as they can possibly spare, no fighting or breakages. I have given some thought to studying babysitting in order to improve my performance; I considered using Google as a reference base but, as with most things in life, I find that imagination and personal experience are much more entertaining and fruitful than dollops of data. Historically, references to babysitting are a bit vague. In biblical times, despite all the begetting, it doesn’t appear to have been important enough to warrant a mention. Jumping a few centuries, Dickens seemed to prefer orphanages to babysitters, so it seems that it’s a relatively modern concept intended to provide a few bob for the professionals and a bit of quality time for the rest of us. My quality time is currently being shared by ‘Scooby Doo’ in one room and what sounds like electronic mass slaughter in the other. With 10 minutes to go before the return of the parents, we switch off all devices and wander up for an ice cream thus fulfilling the request that we ‘get out in the fresh air’. Full of gratitude, illicit Cola, ice cream and jam sandwiches, they depart and the place is silent except for a sigh of relief that might have come from me or…Mozart.