The problem with being an unemployed college graduate is that my name gets passed around in the babysitting department more than a joint at a crowded hipster party. My parents’ friends see me as a sweet girl that can do no wrong—it’s not my fault that I don’t have a job, it’s the economy’s. Before I can even get a word in, people tell me, “I know how hard you are trying.” I withhold from these people that I deliberately took the entire summer off. As a result, people like to think they are helping me get by by finding me temporary jobs, especially in the babysitting department.
What’s not to love about babysitting? You can do whatever you want most of the time, eat the people’s food and hello, there’s no tax. I could easily babysit and file for unemployment. Plus, at other people’s houses I enjoy technological advances that my family has not caught on to: high speed Internet, Netflix and frozen dinners. As long as you manage to walk the line between staying on the kids’ good side and not telling their parents about what you let go on under their roof, you’re golden.
So when I got a call from an unknown number asking me to watch two kids for a weekend, I agreed on the spot. But after doing so, the woman on the phone asked me to come over so I could meet them the weekend before.
Did I sound that terrible on the phone? I found this bizarre, but ask her what time she’d like me to come over anyway.
“Well, what time do you wake up?”
“Um, around 7:30.”
“On a weekend? Who are you, Superwoman?”
Man, this voice is forward. Yet the skeptically impressed voice fails to recognize I’m full of crap. I sleep until 2:30 in the afternoon with ease. But I wanted to come off as Supernanny, not Superbad.
“Well, my kids are lazy, they wake up at 11, so come then.” She sounds pissed off at her kids.
“Well, they’re young,” I say, trying to go all “you know kids these days” on her. “See you tomorrow!”
She gave me her address, two phone numbers and directions to her house. But after storing the numbers, I realized she didn’t give me her name. So I stored her as Sit Lady.
I get to Sit Lady’s house, dressed halfway decent and on time. I ring the doorbell. No answer. I knock. No answer. Stand. Wait. The two dogs see me but don’t bark. I try and dance around to provoke them to bark so that someone would know I am here. Maybe I should call. Maybe I didn’t get the job after all. Wait, am I being rejected?
Sit Lady answers the door in her bathrobe after about 5 minutes of knocking and waiting. She gets right down to business, telling me about her rules for the kids: curfew, sleepovers, and where they are allowed to ride their bikes—in the neighborhood but not across the big street.
“Oh, okay”. I said, pretending to take mental notes. “How old are your kids?”
“Fifteen and eighteen,” she said.
And that was when I realized I was dealing with more than just any old sit lady.
I should have known when Sit Lady answered the door in her bathrobe. I should have known when I saw a security camera on their driveway. I should have known when she still hadn’t introduced herself to me after an hour. It wasn’t until I asked who Diane and Tom were on the contact sheet that I realized that in fact she was Diane and her husband, Tom.
Now I looked like the jerk.
She talked away, as she incoherently scribbled down names of her kids’ friends, their cell phone numbers, their friends’ parents’ cell phone numbers and their home phone numbers on a piece of loose leaf.
The 20 minute meet and greet that I had scheduled into my day lasted an hour and a half. It times like this I wish I was busier. She went over the security system, the dogs, the cat, the cat litter, the vacuum, and “the list.”
It was for her 15-year-old son. Halfway through the list was a bold line gone over several times in pencil. The line divided his approved friends and unapproved friends as dictated by Sit Lady. She told me she didn’t want him hanging out with these kids who ride their bikes all around the other side of town on the big(ger) roads. Not druggies, not the drinkers, but the kids who ride their bikes across the 35 mph speed limit street.
The weekend itself was fine. Aside from the fact that I put handwashing soap in the dishwasher causing it overflow all over the kitchen floor. Aside from the fact that there was nothing to eat beside pasta and cereal. She told me to make dinner for them, but with what? There was literally nothing to eat there besides cereal and pasta noodles. I made pretty disgusting tacos made with the ground turkey I found in the freezer. I am pretty sure the kids thought I was disgusting, but hey, it was their mom, not me.
I left their house before she and her husband got back, so she told me to come back the next day to pick up my check.
Even with the host of numbers I was armed with, I never called their friends’ parents to make sure the kids weren’t lying to me about where they were. I let an unapproved kid sleepover and even told Sit Lady about it. I didn’t care. She left me foodless for an entire weekend. She asked me to assemble patio furniture that she had just bought on sale. She even asked me to plant bulbs in their backyard. I didn’t. I never was a rebellious teenager, so defying a parent for once in my life gave me a strange thrill. Nevertheless, she was pleased that her kids hadn’t called her 15 times complaining about me (apparently that’s what happened with the last girl) that she still paid me when I come back the next day.
When I walked in, she was watching a YouTube video called Raising Teenagers: Parenting 101 Success. She abruptly shuts the laptop, saying “You don’t want to hear any of that.”
Perplexed, I just smile and nod, trying to prevent myself from blurting out what I am really thinking. But she was, in fact, correct–I didn’t want to hear any of that.
She tries to make conversation with me about the weekend, how the kids were, how dumb her kids are, and then, the inevitable: applying to jobs.
In the most confusedly distressed tone, she asks, me “So, I mean, what are you going to do now?” I am beginning to think she actually cares about me despite the miserable weekend she had just given me.
“Um, apply to jobs.”
“But, like, where?” She seemed genuinely confounded and distressed for me at the same time.
I talk about my previous internships, which, to say the least impress her, particularly National Geographic, since she is a photographer. But that does not stop her from offering me another “opportunity” (her word not mine).
It turns out that she was so pleased with how I cleaned up her kitchen (it was pretty disgusting) that she wanted me to come back and help her organize her linen closet. Being a terrible liar on the spot, I can only come up with the cheerleading practice I (voluntarily) have at 3:00 when she asks me if I am busy tomorrow. Again, she asks me what time I wake up. Again, I lie and tell her 7:00 a.m.
“Hmm,” she wonders out loud. “I won’t be showered by then…can you come at 9?”
“Of course,” I said, managing to fake a smile at the idea of having to spend more time with this woman.
At least this time, I am out of there with my check in a speedy half hour. I leave feeling vindicated and proud. My mom considers me the biggest slob on earth, and often wonders where she went wrong with me, beginning with “I never dared maintain my room as you do yours when I was your age.” She then pauses and overrides her previous insult, “Wait a minute, I was married and long out of my house at your age!” Double fail.
Sit Lady still isn’t dressed when I arrive at 9:02. This time I get an unusal semi-enthusiastic “Hi Amanda!” She seems strangely happy to see me. The first time, she just looked at me confused as if I was some solicitor knocking on her door.
She opens up the linen closet and begins dumping its entire contents onto her bed, in her room down the hallway. It has everything: tablecloths, towels, Swiffers, blankets and napkins. We get right down to business.
Actually, I got right to business. You see, she had asked me if I could help her yesterday. But actually, Sit Lady just emptied out an entire closet, set me to work, and walked upstairs.
I looked at the massive pile, then at Sit Lady and back at the pile. I attacked it pretty quickly, except for the multitude of mattress covers. Have you ever tried to organize mattress covers into a nice pile? They just don’t fold. So I shoved them into the closet behind all the towels that I folded. Nevertheless, everything was perfect in Sit Lady’s eyes. She would pop over and talk to me a bit and kindly offered me some scarves that her step-mom gave her. She cannot wear because she hates her step mom.
No wonder this lady is psycho, she had an evil stepmother even crazier than her.
I began to walk upstairs to do another closet she had mentioned. Alone. But she cornered me first and dumped the entire contents of her dresser onto the floor right in front of me and asked me to organize it all: bras, old bras, underwear, see through underwear, white socks, Christmas toe socks, old shirts. I thought at first that maybe she was going to do that herself while I did another linen closet or something, but I was wrong.
Too embarrassed to point out that there is something fundamentally wrong with asking a stranger to fold and organize their undergarments, I turn and start nonchalantly, as if this is what I always do as a babysitter. I start going through a list of people I would let even touch my underwear—my best friend (No), my roommate (No), my sister, (preferably not). That left only one person only because it was out of my control—my mom.
Whenever Sit Lady would walk in to check on me, I would make sure I wasn’t folding her underwear. It was just too weird to fold their underwear while holding a regular conversation with them.
But then I found the most intriguing item in the entire house—a onesie neon green and pink nylon workout jump suit. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I couldn’t believe something so embarrassing was just out in the open. I would have rather found a raunchy french maid outfit.
I devised escape plans as I organized the articles of clothing types on the bed so I could see everything, including the onesie. But then she walked in.
“Anything I should throw out like mismatched socks or anything?”
Being very nonconfrontational, I just nod in the direction of the bed, telling her to see for herself. By her not acting on any of the items, she either mentally okayed the onesie neon workout jumpsuit or totally missed it, which is next to impossible. I am pretty much done, so start to pack up. But then,
“Do you do bathrooms?” she asked me.
Now, I have a problem saying “No” to just about anything. I am so centered with pleasing other people and gaining their approval that when they ask me to go for ice cream I say yes, even when I was a trying to be vegan. Wanna go to a country concert? Of course I’d love to go, even though I hate even hearing even the word y’all and even though I think there is nothing more poser-y than a country concert in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. When someone says Dixie here they are referring to a cup. But I’ll go without a fight. So if you ever ask me to jump off a cliff and I can guarantee you I’d at least consider it if you ask nicely.
Which is why when Sit Lady asked about my bathroom abilities, I couldn’t help but say yes. At this point I realized that I am not swift enough to come up with an escape plan. She dug up some Comet that had clearly never been used, one half-used roll of paper towels and some orange scented spray claiming to be all-purpose.
But it wasn’t long before I knew that all-purpose does not apply when a bathroom hasn’t been cleaned in years.
Toilet seat. Toilet bowl. Shower. Sink. Cabinet. Repeat. I did it all.
“Man, do you do bathrooms or what!” Sit Lady exclaimed to me. You are great!” She tried to justify her turning me into an indentured servant by telling me, “Someday you are going to be famous, and I am going to say, ‘She cleaned my bathroom!”
Being told I am great at anything always flatters me. Being told I am going to be famous gets me even higher. But being told I am a great bathroom cleaner put me on cloud 9. But I never show it. Like any other 22-year old girl, I dumb myself down a bit. I open up to sit lady about the time I cleaned my entire bathroom just as I had done hers now right before a family party. Ten minutes later my mom, armed with the most superior line of cleaning products, re-cleaned everything.
Her words to me were, “Frankly, Amanda, you don’t know how to clean.” I ran to my room in tears.
I locked my bedroom door and cried. It would have been better if she had followed film tradition and just said that she doesn’t give a damn. But being told I don’t know how to clean was the biggest blow she could send my way. So I guess you could say this was my reasoning on agreeing to conquer Sit Lady’s second bathroom. I’ll show you, Mom.
While I began to attack part 2, I couldn’t help but replay all the events that got me here. I could be working at my dad’s office right now and be making significantly more than what she was paying me. But Sit Lady is so happy. Her words to her old Labrador Retreiver were, “Someone is finally helping me, Duchess.” Then a joyful tune whistled from her mouth.
See, I told myself, I am doing a good deed. She clearly has few friends or social skills, and I am making her happy. Then I reminded myself that I was getting paid. Then I reminded myself that anyone living in this neighborhood is financially able to have professional cleaning lady. After all, there was a lake in their 1.5 acre backyard. But I tried to swing a deal with God anyway.
Despite telling her two dogs how great I am, her closest companion is the cat, whose litter box is in the master bathroom. Not an extra bathroom that no one uses, but a master bathroom. And right next to the sink was its food bowl and a trail of Kibblers on the vanity counter. How does one ever feel clean when coming out of a shower and then stepping in kitty crap all over the tile floor?
I kept trying to tell myself what I was doing was normal, that lots of people keep their animals litter boxes in their bathrooms, that lots of people don’t fold their own underwear, that lots of of people ask their babysitters to clean their houses. In order to not feel violated and stupid, my mind raced in search of justification.
Exactly six hours later (how long do the Merry Maids work at a house? It must be less than six hours in order for them to remain merry), I finally had to go and coach cheerleading practice. She asks me if she can pay me in half cash and half check. I told her it didn’t bother me, but asked why.
“I can’t tell Tom I had you come over here. It will look less suspicious this way.”
“Oh, that’s fine, then.”
What? Why not? So Tom is just going to think that you one day decided to organize your drawers, clean two bathrooms, clean out your linen closet, move the outdoor furniture and sweep the deck off just out of the blue? This is not happening.
I went with my mom to see The Help later that week, and it wasn’t until then that I realized I was pretty much Minnie—the maid that did everything while the wife took credit for it. I was living in civil-rights era America.
I thanked her, took my money, shut the door, ran to my car and sped home as fast as I could. I’d never been so happy to be home. And after all that, I realized I had forgotten her expensive scarves she said I could have. I stopped in the middle of the road, thought about turning back, and kept driving.