Came across a statistic the other day concerning the average rate paid for a babysitter in the Year 2007 in this northern VA zip code: a cool $10.50 an hour for tracking one child.
Such numbers bring back memories of youth, when the most the market could spare was 50 cents an hour for being the temporary guardian of an unlimited number of kinder, hopefully a brood that wouldn't tie you up in a closet and steal your car keys, soon after their parents joyfully roared off to a few hours of freedom.
That is...unless you were raised Irish Catholic. Within family walls, childcare offered no compensation. And in terms of babysitting, it could be downright dangerous.
One Sunday morning, when I was around eight or so, the family conducted the normal holy ritual of attending 9 o'clock Mass, then returned home for the all- important Sunday Breakfast. My mother, Dottie M., gave my brother Kevin, age nine at the time, and I strict marching orders so the repast could be prepared.
"Watch your sister so I can finish making breakfast in peace," she commanded.
Our sister Kathy was about three years old when this story unfolded. We liked Kathy, but we would rather be reading the Sunday funnies than watching a toddler. So Kev and I came up with a plan. We would put Kathy in her crib, give her something to play with, and then we could pass the time catching up on the exploits of Prince Valiant, Mark Trail, Winnie Winkle and the other colorful comic characters in the New York Daily News.
The three of us went upstairs to the room Kathy and I shared. Kev swung the little one over the ribs of her crib. I found the Number 10 mayonnaise jar that had found a second career housing crayons for the creation of great art, and gave it to Kathy to play with. My brother and I then settled on our stomachs on the floor, with the unexplored wilderness of the funny papers expanded before us.
Kathy knew she was being ignored, and began jumping up and down in the crib, trying to get our attention. When this didn't work, she got busy dumping the crayons out of the jar and played with them for a while. Like many three-year-olds, she had the attention span of a gnat, and after about 30 seconds, she was looking for new adventure. If Kev or I had bothered to spend one second glancing in her direction to check on the welfare of our baby sister, we would have quickly ascertained that she had that boo-boo look on her face that always meant trouble.
So Kathy did what any attention-starved child would do. She turned to violence.
She picked up the crayon jar, and holding it like a depth charge over her head, chucked the monster at her unsuspecting siblings on the floor, cracking my brother on the head, knocking him out cold. The jar did not break, thanks to Kevin's head, but bounced on the rug a time or two, and rolled to rest against the room's far wall. Dottie M., despite the noise of sizzling bacon and the cracking of eggs far away in the kitchen, automatically knew something else was cooking.
"What's going on up there?" she called.
I looked at my brother. He had little stars and planets circling above his head. I glanced at my sister, who was laughing and jumping, and who thought this was so much fun that she would like to do it again.
I simply said,
Kevin did come to, just in time to share the parental reprimand. And he still, to this day, has the lump on his head to prove it.