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Babysitters

November 14, 2009
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Ever since I could remember, I hated when babysitters came. Actually, it got to the point where we only had one babysitter, because my parents went out so infrequently because it caused madness in the house when they did. And retrospectively, that amuses me, because my brother and I were always such easy kids that to remember me throwing fits makes me smile. But I’m getting ahead of myself. My earliest babysitting memories were probably from when I was about 5, so my brother was around two, and what I remember most are two things: one is screaming and crying and trying to chase my parents out the door as they left to go and enjoy a romantic dinner. And the other thing that I remember is that feeling of a pit in my stomach, of doom lurking, of knowing something bad was going to happen.

Ever since I can remember, I was 100% sure that if my parents went out, and we were left with a babysitter, something bad would happen. Why? Who knows–there is no rational reason. None of this was, or is, rational. But I just knew. So for a few years, the younger years, before I stopped sharing my feelings and thoughts, I’d cry and scream and try to make my parents cancel the babysitter. But after a while of that, and feeling stupid, I decided that I was dumb and the whole thing was stupid and how dare I a) possibly scare my brother and b) make the babysitter feel like I don’t like her and c) ruin my parents’ evening? (Yes, at age 7 or 8 I was responsible for everyone’s feelings in the world.) So I turned to more “subtle” techniques. I’d pretend I didn’t feel well that day, which I hoped would make them want to stay home. But they caught onto that, so I started faking sick days before I knew a babysitter was coming. And finally I just sucked it up and decided that I would control whether or not something bad happened or not.

Now, let me explain, not once did something bad happen when a babysitter was there. Everything always went smoothly and my parents were always there the next morning when I woke up. There was no bad guy breaking in, no fire, no anything. But it didn’t matter–rational reassurance didn’t work. I was terrified something would happen, and the fear….the fear just took me over. At a young age I realized (though unconsciously, because it wasn’t like at age 5 or 6 or 8 or 9 I realized “Hey, if I do useless irrational rituals, it’ll make me feel better!”) that if I felt like I had control over the situation, it would be better. So until I got old enough to babysit my brother on our own, when a babysitter came, I had a very specific ritual. I would sit on the couch in our living room, in the exact middle of it, with the book I had been reading. I would not move from the couch (because if I did, bad things would happen) until it was time for our evening snack, and then I would get into bed. I would not talk with my babysitter, though I really liked her, except to say “No, I don’t want to play with you two” or “Okay, I’ll get into bed”. I would not let her in my room, because that was part of the routine.  I always felt guilty about this because I essentially ignored her and my brother the whole evening. But I didn’t see what other choice I had. I had to make sure nothing bad happened.

Then, a few years later, I realized that I had mastered the routine of making sure nothing bad happened to us in the house. But I never thought to make sure I controlled whether or not my parents got home safely. How could I have been so stupid, and selfish to only worry about myself, and my brother, and not my parents? So I stopped sleeping until my parents got home. Luckily, they don’t stay out super late, and at age 10 or 11 it was easy for me to pretend I couldn’t sleep and stay up with my babysitter until 10:30 or 11 until they got home, when I knew all was well, and then I could go to bed too.

And yes, I realize how irrational all of this is. But just imagine, you are a terrified little 5 year old, and the world doesn’t seem like a safe place. It isn’t rainbows and sparkles like it should be, it’s dark and rainy and with danger lurking around every corner. I did what I thought I needed to do to protect myself from all of that darkness. I was 5 years old. I didn’t know that it was irrational. And then years later, why would I stop doing what had made me feel better? I just wanted to feel safe.

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