An Epic Adventure in Babysitting
In 1987 I saw the movie Adventures in Babysitting in my hometown theater. The babysitter, played by Elizabeth Shue, was badass. She clobbered carjackers, walked on high rafters, sang in seedy nightclubs and could dropkick brats to the ground.
I was the youngest kid in my family, never changed a diaper and could barely care for my pet hamster.
But I was in 8th grade, and it was now The Thing to babysit.
To be asked to babysit showed you were, like, mature or something — and if you were, like, mature, then that meant you were probably, like, really good at french kissing too or something.
Except that I never got asked to babysit. I was 14 and looked 10. People assumed I needed a babysitter. And I probably did.
But finally, a woman in desperate need of a babysitter called me. I don’t know who referred her. She didn’t know me from Adam Ant. And I didn’t know her. But my parents owned the town’s Ace Hardware– so everyone thought they sort of knew me.
She likely saw me in our store lying face-down on the hood of a riding lawn mower. I was probably using the tags in the pricing gun to craft press-on fingernails for myself while chewing an entire pack of Juicy Fruit gum before my dad could spot me with the wrappers. She must’ve thought I seemed responsible.
Would I babysit for her kids? Lots of details were left out of our phone conversation. Boys or girls? Were there two, ten? She didn’t tell me, and I didn’t ask. Of course, my adult-conversing skills at that time were Rain Man at best.
I wrote down the woman’s name, the date, the time – but I failed to ask how I’d get there. I recalled friends saying their parents dropped them off at all their babysitting gigs. So when Saturday night rolled around, I pulled out the local phone book, looked up the address, and my mom and I hopped in the car.
I knocked on the door and an older girl of maybe 10 answered — my mom peeled out of the driveway, apparently satisfied with merely spotting a dark figure in the doorway. The girl flung the door open, and I walked in unannounced. Three other dirty-faced kids spanning the ages of 3 to 7 sat around the television set playing Nintendo, looking away from the game for only a moment to smile shyly at me.
I sat on the couch and tried my best to relate to them, asking if I could watch them play video games. Because of course everyone loves to watch other kids play video games. Watching other kids play video games was the highlight of my future high school dating career.
I’m Elizabeth Shue. I’m the coolest babysitter on the planet. I juggled legos, quoted lines from a new Disney movie, pointed out Super Mario’s secret warp zones, and soon I had them eating out of my hand — Ritz cracker crumbs I’d found in the couch cushions.
Twenty minutes passed, maybe more, and I began to feel uncomfortable by the length of time it was taking for the parents to get on their way. I could hear things going on down the hallway but no one came out to greet me. There were sounds of heaving, grunting and pounding wood – the kind that is actually pounding wood and not the kind that would qualify for the worst babysitting story of all time – and an electric saw buzzed off and on.
Finally a messy-haired man with sweat stains on his shirt emerged from the hallway and strode through the living room on his way toward the kitchen.
His head whiplashed backwards when he saw me on the couch.
“Hi there! We’re playing Nintendo.” I plastered on my best Eddie Haskell smile, upbeat and pleased as punch with how well I’d integrated myself into the man’s family. I was a natural. The kids loved me.
“What’s going on? What are you doing?” His face lacked all traces of recognition. There was a dead pause, and my stomach shot upward toward my mouth. I coughed on a chunk of Ritz cracker, one of the bigger crumbs I’d kept for myself.
“Um, Carol? She, um, Carol said she needed me to sit for your kids tonight?” I could feel my face was scalding red-hot by then, horrified that I’d obviously had the date wrong. I flipped through my mental calendar of appointments for the week to see where I went wrong.
Watch Cosby Show on Thursday, shower on Friday, sleep until noon on Saturday . . .
“Who’s Carol? What?” His face flashed from confused to angry.
“Um, Carol Brady?” Not her actual name but I don’t remember her actual name and I thought you’d appreciate the nostalgia nod.
“Carol Brady? Oh.” His face relaxed. “The Bradys don’t live here.”
For several seconds I couldn’t process what he was telling me. Why did Carol want me to babysit for another family’s kids? Why didn’t she tell him? Was she his mistress? What’s a mistress? Is it the opposite of a mister? Why was I here? Why were any of us here?
He continued. “The Bradys moved out last summer. We’ve been living here since September.”
And that’s when it finally hit me — my mom had left me at the wrong house. Oh, Holy Misunderstandings. I WAS AT THE WRONG HOUSE.
At that phase in life, I didn’t have the adult verbiage to effectively express myself in this type of situation — because back then I only watched kid shows like Miami Vice and Falcon Crest. But here I’m pretty sure I would’ve said,
Had I used words like that.
Here’s the best part of the whole thing. Better than the babysitting for unaware strangers at the wrong house for half an hour and not even getting paid for it thing. Better than the most wretchedly embarrassing moment of my entire life thing.
So after the man looked up Carol Brady in the phone book, called her house and got no answer, we figured out she had probably gone to pick me up at my house where my mom hadn’t been waiting since my mom was off dropping me off at the wrong house. So then the nice, sweaty man offered to drive me over to Carol’s house across town to wait for her return.
So we jumped into his pick-up truck with the 10-year-old and headed to Carol’s house. Leaving the three younger kids at home. Alone.
And I couldn’t help but think as we pulled out of the driveway, waving goodbye to the bewildered young faces smashed against the front window – they probably could’ve used a babysitter.