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An Epic Adventure in Babysitting

July 30, 2012

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.

105 Comments leave one →
  1. July 30, 2012 6:26 am

    I gotta know. What did Carol say when you arrived at her house? Did someone pay you for your time?

    • August 2, 2012 3:24 pm

      I wonder what the going rate for babysitters was back then? It couldn’t have been more than $1 an hour.

  2. July 30, 2012 6:29 am

    Sorry…I’ve lost track. Is this your entry in Darla’s most-embarrassing-story-from-your-childhood-ever contest? If it isn’t you might want to consider it. There are prizes, including candy and a hat.

    For the record, that was pretty nice of me to suggest that you enter a contest which I’m already in and may now lose to you, since your story is both well written and embarrassing.

    • August 2, 2012 3:27 pm

      Already responded to this comment in my follow-up post. So I’ll instead use this comment to say, “Hey! How are you doing? Hope you’re having a super day!”

  3. July 30, 2012 6:40 am

    Great story. And Dave, perhaps someone should do a “Most Embarrassing Moment While Babysitting Contest.”

    Angie, I think you’re a shoein.

    • August 2, 2012 3:28 pm

      Thanks, Elyse. I have a feeling that if I were to offer a Most Embarrassing Moment While Babysitting contest, I’d be up to my earlobes in poop.

      • August 2, 2012 4:28 pm

        Who are you kidding. You are already there!

        Besides, yesterday Peg got in and I was forced to as well. Yours is still probably the funniest.

      • August 2, 2012 4:34 pm

        I saw it! I promise I’m intending to come visit! I’m a sucker for awful stories.

        I’m taking a two-week bloggy vacation (shhhhh) starting Saturday, and I’ll have more time to catch up on blogs.

  4. July 30, 2012 6:58 am

    Ooh! Elizabeth Shue! Wasn’t she great in Cocktail?

  5. July 30, 2012 7:12 am

    HA! Nice one – I love the haziness of all the details, ha!

    My first time babysitting, at about that same age, I was too scared to cook anything that the parents suggested before they left – their kitchen seemed like a foreign planet. I gave the two kids a cut-up apple and a piece of toast. I never babysat for them again.

    • August 2, 2012 3:29 pm

      I could’ve written this comment. I couldn’t cook anything as a kid and it terrified me when parents asked me to even make a sandwich for their kids.

  6. July 30, 2012 7:39 am

    I hope this story has a part 2!

  7. July 30, 2012 7:45 am

    Fantastic story, Angie! I honestly can’t believe that actually happened to you. Such nostalgia. Love the last picture. It was what was in my head as you were describing the kids and digging crackers out of the couch. That was a great finisher. Really awesome piece, woman.

    • July 30, 2012 7:54 am

      You know, I was thinking that this would make a great story for Darla’s contest. So I checked…it’s there!! I totally voted for you. Thought the “kissing blood mask” story was pretty gruesome, and deserves a runner-up at least, being dropped off at the WRONG house for a babysitting gig takes the cake. Good luck!

    • August 2, 2012 3:31 pm

      You know how something happens to you and you’ve had it locked in your head for years and years to the point where it’s all snuggly-wuggly familiar and you don’t even realize how bizarre it is? Yeah, that was this story for me. I told my husband about it once like I was just telling him that I slipped on a banana peel. Happens every day. I could tell by his reaction that most people don’t have old stories that include them accidentally babysitting a stranger’s kids.

    • August 2, 2012 4:27 pm

      Yeah, and last I checked when I tried to “vote again” (I really wish it would let me!), it showed you clearly in the lead. Of course, they haven’t done the work yet to get all their people coordinated…I’ll be more ready next time. I, the newbie, didn’t have a chance.

      Funny how some seriously buried stories find their way to the frontal cortex. Every time I went to write something embarrassing for Darla’s blog, I realized each of my stories were about poop, or pee, or nakedness. Mm…not gonna do it. The WordPress world surely must have enough of that already!

      Like a venomous snake, I will lie in wait, until it’s time to strike my victim. I will have my day. In the words of Dar-dee-lah, Muahahaha…

  8. July 30, 2012 8:47 am

    I enjoyed the whole story, but my favorite part is your description of hanging out at your parents’ store. I also would love to know what Carol’s reactions was.

    • August 2, 2012 3:35 pm

      Thanks, Amy. My brother has told me that I need to write more about my time “working” (because he would protest my use of the word in this context) at our parent’s hardware store. Lots of blog fodder there.

  9. Tony permalink
    July 30, 2012 9:22 am

    Wow, I never heard this one before! You’re the gift that keeps givin, sis. :D

    • August 2, 2012 3:36 pm

      You never heard this one before? I think you were off at college when this occurred. So many things you missed out on while you were off getting your education.

  10. July 30, 2012 9:44 am

    My god, that was a fantastic story. Horribly traumatizing for you, but really, really fun to read.

    • August 2, 2012 3:38 pm

      It’s a wretched story and if this wasn’t a blog, I could’ve drug it out a few more hundred words. But then I’d lose all my readers of course. If it wasn’t for my husband, I wouldn’t have even realized this story was all that extraordinary. Nothing more unusual than latchkeyism.

  11. July 30, 2012 9:58 am

    The best/most horrible part isn’t that guy leaving those kids alone…it’s you hopping in the pickup truck with some random sweat-stained, possible-psycho whose house you wandered into. I mean, come on – weren’t “stranger danger” public service ads all the rage when you were a kid?

    • August 2, 2012 3:41 pm

      Well, he did bring his 10-year-old with us. What could possibly go wrong there, outside of lengthy conversations about Steve Urkel?

      • August 2, 2012 3:57 pm

        Oh. Missed that part. Sorry.

      • August 2, 2012 3:59 pm

        That’s okay. I missed the part in your story where YOU POOPED ON YOUR LEGS!

      • August 2, 2012 4:04 pm

        I could see how you would miss that since it was only the ENTIRE POINT OF THE STORY!

      • August 2, 2012 4:07 pm

        Oh, I thought it was a story about you waiting tables? I love restaurant stories. Did you get a good tip that night? Bad tip stories — now those are funny.

      • August 2, 2012 4:07 pm

        Yeah, the tip was BUY STOCK IN DEPENDS!

      • August 2, 2012 4:11 pm

        Well played, friend.

  12. July 30, 2012 10:27 am

    Wow. Just wow. So much of this is so disturbing. Quintessential “this could never happen today” story.

    Did you ever babysit again or was that too traumatizing?

    My babysitting experience consists of…oh yeah, nada. Have never once babysat. Ever.

    • August 2, 2012 3:42 pm

      I think I babysat only a handful of times after that. I wasn’t good at it. Not a nurturing bone in my body back then. Who knows how I ever ended up having children at all.

  13. July 30, 2012 12:26 pm

    Worst babysitting: 3 hyper kids with an overprotective dog, parents stayed out till almost 3AM, they left me nothng to snack on, the TV got one snowy channel, and they paid me $2.00. Even in 1967 that was chicken-feed.
    Best babysitting: for 2 years I ran across the street to cover the hour between 10PM and 11PM – dad went to work at 10, mom came home at 11. They had good snacks and a color TV (which we didn’t have). They paid me $1.00 each day, so $5.00 per week, and the kids were in bed by the time I went over. In two years, the kids never once woke up. I can only imagine that they were in there somewhere.

    • August 2, 2012 3:44 pm

      I would agree — best babysitting experience would consist of me watching television with no children in view. My best babysitting experience was taking care of our neighbor’s pet cockatiel while she was out of town.

      • August 3, 2012 7:14 am

        Pet responsibilities scare me. I took care of friends’ tropical fish while they were on vacation. Somehow I killed almost all of the them.

      • August 3, 2012 8:16 pm

        Yikes. I am a huge animal freak, yet I feel nothing toward fish. They’re delicious and I would have trouble being sad if I killed them. I sound like a homicidal maniac.

  14. July 30, 2012 12:30 pm

    Such a great story! You have to tell us what happened. Did you get to the right house?

    • August 2, 2012 3:45 pm

      Thank you, Karen. It’s funny how the first half of the story is more memorable to me than the second half. Oh, that’s right. It’s because the first half was completely whacked-out insane.

  15. July 30, 2012 1:36 pm

    FUN and FUNNY! Thank you for this entertaining post!

  16. July 30, 2012 6:20 pm

    Awesome. Just … awesome. Jeez.

    • August 2, 2012 3:47 pm

      Thanks, Kathy. I’m thrilled that something good — i.e. blog fodder — could come out of this night of awfulness.

  17. July 30, 2012 6:50 pm

    Read this on Maineiac’s post, and laughed so hard!!
    “I was probably using the tags in the pricing gun to craft press-on fingernails…” — did this!

    And Adventures in Babysitting was a favorite as a kid. This post had so many nostalgia references for me.

    • August 2, 2012 3:49 pm

      I also used to use scotch tape for my fingernails — and then I’d cut them in a rounded shape at the ends and color them red with a magic marker. Instant manicure!

      I still love Adventures in Babysitting. I bought it on DVD for my then-17-year-old Little Sister (in the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program) and she loved it too. She had never heard of or seen it before. Hard to imagine a whole generation of kids missing that classic movie!

  18. July 30, 2012 7:42 pm

    Oh Dave – Duh! Obviously!

    • August 2, 2012 3:50 pm

      Exactly what I was thinking.

      • August 2, 2012 3:53 pm

        So we agree! I won’t write anything!

      • August 2, 2012 3:54 pm

        Wait, what was the question? This was in reply to a comment you made yesterday.

      • August 2, 2012 3:58 pm

        I’m about to write something which would be absolutely bizarre anywhere but here:

        “Weren’t we just chatting about dog poo?”

      • August 2, 2012 4:00 pm

        Yes and the bigger question is why? I thought this was a post about babysitting? Oh, how I love tangents.

      • August 2, 2012 4:03 pm

        Weren’t you here for this?! We were going on about Peg’s piece trumping yours due to poop always winning over wrong addresses.

      • August 2, 2012 4:09 pm

        Oh, yes. I forgot. I fell, hit my head and blacked out for a while when “safe sex” came into the equation.

      • August 2, 2012 4:12 pm

        Wow! This blogging crap can gert rough, huh?

      • August 2, 2012 4:04 pm

        it’s extra ironic, because i had to take a break in the middle of our yabbering to change my grandaughter’s diaper.

      • August 2, 2012 4:08 pm

        My kids can both go to the bathroom by themselves now. In a toilet. I feel like Parent of the Year. Have fun.

      • August 2, 2012 4:12 pm

        Luckily my diapering skills are still stellar, despite the gap in years from my youngest child to my youngest grandchild.

      • August 2, 2012 4:14 pm

        I’m impressed! No, I really am.

      • August 2, 2012 4:16 pm

        yeah…the chicks dig me…

      • August 2, 2012 4:07 pm

        USUALLY one can rely on poop to carry the day, but such is Angie’s power that what should be a ho-hum story about babysitting turns out to be riveting. I can’t stand it!

      • August 2, 2012 4:10 pm

        I think I did wet myself when I realized I was in the wrong house. But it went undetected since the couch was already smelling of urine. Does this count for something?

  19. July 30, 2012 7:59 pm

    This is the best post, ever. You win the Internet!

  20. July 30, 2012 8:11 pm

    This. Was. Epic.
    And can we talk about Bradley Whitford;s epic cameo in Adventures in Babysitting, too?
    So. Much. Goodness.

    • August 2, 2012 3:52 pm

      Thanks and thanks! Yes, I totally forgot about his appearance as the jerky boyfriend with the “So Cool” license plate — great memory!

  21. July 30, 2012 8:40 pm

    Angie, Angie, Angie. Just when I think I can’t love you more. I saw this today on Darly-Pants’ blog, and well, I can’t say more for fear of offending the other contestants.

    Did I ever tell you about the time I showed up at the wrong house for my boss’s Christmas Eve party?

    • July 31, 2012 1:34 pm

      Consider yourself offensive.

      • July 31, 2012 1:37 pm

        Oh and Peg, I enjoyed Darla’s contest more than any other contest in the blog world, especially any contests happening right now.

      • August 1, 2012 8:37 am

        Wait a minute, Jules, you missed a spot..right back there, between my shoulder blades, about 2 inches down from my neck there’s just that little, tiny bit of Peg-o-real estate…that DOESN’T have a DAGGER sticking out of it!!!!

    • August 2, 2012 3:54 pm

      Aw, Jules. Your unabashed loyalty fills my heart with happy. And let’s not invite Peg to our slumber party either.

      Story about the Christmas Eve party better be in a blog post somewhere — if not, make sure you put it there.

  22. July 31, 2012 12:30 am

    great story, the father’s face must have been a classic kodak moment :)

    • August 2, 2012 3:56 pm

      I think he was stunned and wondering just how young the Avon ladies are these days.

  23. July 31, 2012 12:42 am

    That’s awesome… it beats any story from my youth… can I steal it and change it and tell my son it happened to me??

    Thanks :D

    • August 2, 2012 3:58 pm

      Sure. I would love to know how you’d change the story. Surely you wouldn’t be babysitting in this scenario? Um, not that guys can’t do that.

      • August 2, 2012 4:56 pm

        I’ve babysat… once. Never again LOL She literally was a baby and she screamed and cried for four hours straight.

      • August 3, 2012 8:17 pm

        I could hardly handle that when my own kids were babies — I can’t imagine enduring that with a baby who wasn’t even mine.

  24. July 31, 2012 1:58 am

    Great story. I can’t believe anyone left their children in our care. We were gangly, embarassed middle schoolers for pete’s sake. Proof that God watches over fools and babes.

    • August 2, 2012 4:14 pm

      Seriously! You’re so right about that, Barb. Why would anyone put a 14-year-old in charge of watching small children? We couldn’t even take care of our complexion.

  25. July 31, 2012 9:49 am

    That’s got to be the best babysitting experience ever!

    • August 2, 2012 4:15 pm

      Thanks, Audrey. By the word “best” here, I assume you mean “worst”.

      • August 2, 2012 4:17 pm

        Oh but of course, a simple slip of the hand. :)

  26. August 1, 2012 9:56 am

    aweseome and traumatizing! and here i thought that adventures in babysitting had all of the worst-things-to-happen-while-babysitting.

    • August 2, 2012 4:16 pm

      Well, I suppose I didn’t get kidnapped by a carjacker. So in that sense, Elizabeth Shue may have had it worse.

  27. August 1, 2012 11:16 am

    I don’t suppose there’s any chance that the man wouldn’t let you leave until you sang the blues?

  28. August 2, 2012 12:27 pm

    Hey at least the kids were pleasant, if incredibly confused by your presence. I can dig it.

    • August 2, 2012 4:01 pm

      Indeed! No sirree, I would not call them brats. Maybe I did. Did I? Okay, they were good kids. I’ll give them that. Although a little too plugged-in maybe. TV is a great tranquilizer.

      • August 2, 2012 6:35 pm

        Yes it is! Which is why I don’t enjoy how my sister lets her kids watch the television all the live long day. I swear I used to play outside more than they do.

  29. Emily permalink
    August 3, 2012 9:59 pm

    Hey Angie, major coincidence here–that movie was just on YTV tonight. I watched it, because I wanted to see what all the fuss was about after your own little “adventure in babysitting,” and I think it’s now one of my new favourite bad 80’s movies.

    • August 5, 2012 8:52 pm

      Wow! I cannot imagine growing up without that movie in my life. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

      • Emily permalink
        August 6, 2012 2:56 pm

        I did enjoy that movie. It was head and shoulders above all the other crap that usually gets played on YTV.

  30. August 13, 2012 3:36 pm

    Best. Babysitting. Story. Ever! True fact: one of the main reasons why I’ve decided not to have children of my own is because I endured too many awful babysitting experiences as an 11-13 year old. Never at the wrong house, mind you, but awful just the same! I see your entry crushed the competition over at Darla’s. Congratulations!

    • August 20, 2012 11:04 am

      Great. So I was supposed to learn something from this experience? Oops. Didn’t happen. I have two kids now and I can’t take them back. If I could’ve learned anything, I should’ve at least learned not to eat Ritz crackers that have been found in another person’s couch. My couch? Yeah, that’s okay.

      Thanks, Dana! I just got my contest goodies from Darla in the mail this weekend! I don’t want to make you jealous but I did score a lobster-shaped lollipop.

  31. August 23, 2012 4:31 pm

    This movie was one of my faves. I worked in daycares and as a nanny before, so I feel like I understand where Ms.Shue was coming from. Sans the whole getting chased by bad guys & running into Thor, thing.

    • August 24, 2012 3:23 pm

      I loved this movie too. I can still watch it every time it comes on — if only I had cable.

  32. September 8, 2012 1:00 pm

    Just thought I’d let you know I tried to nominate you for the 7 things about me award on my blog if you have time. sorry I couldn’t get the links active.


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