Take and Give
The best part of babysitting is eating other people’s food. The process of discovery. Looking through cabinets, refrigerators, drawers. Pushing aside family-size jars of mayonnaise and enormous bottles of juice to discover special foods hidden from children. Treats reserved for desserts or bribes, or those saved for parents for after the kids are in bed. Younger children want what they can see; the older ones know something is hidden. This breeds stealth and determination. The seed of doubt is planted. This works in my favor.
How could the babysitter eat it all? I leave wrappers in the cabinets beneath the kids’ sinks and under piles of their dirty clothes.
Parents often tell babysitters to help themselves to anything. I take them at their word. It’s not as bad as going through bedside drawers. I do that sometimes, too.
“Help yourself to anything.” They can’t get out the door fast enough.
“Have a nice time.” I can’t get them out the door fast enough. Usually, I give the kids dinner. I eat, too. Macaroni and cheese, chicken fingers, tacos. This is normal for babysitters. Sometimes I eat one of their individually wrapped and carefully counted desserts with them. They are less tolerant of this. I’d take them later anyways.
After they go to bed — early — I eat the kids’ snacks. Fruit roll ups, Little Debbie’s Nutty Bars, packages of Oreo cookies, small bags of nacho cheese Doritos, Halloween candy in bowls on tops of refrigerators. I take some home with me in my large tote, muffling the sound of wrappers and bags with a big sweatshirt.
I eat the adults’ treats: Ben & Jerry’s New York Super Fudge Chunk ice cream, bars of expensive dark chocolate, tiny containers of blackberries with whipped cream, cornichons, blue cheese on fancy crackers, leftovers in heavy paper boxes. They never say anything. Good babysitters are hard to find.
Once or twice a month, I sit for my sister and her family. She pays me the regular rate. Her three kids are diagnosed ADHD. Everyone’s kids are diagnosed, but these kids are textbook.
“Help yourself to anything.” She and her husband have OCD. Undiagnosed by a professional but identified easily by me and everyone else who knows them. She means help yourself to anything I’ve placed neatly on a small plate next to the sink and please place the remains of your tidy snack carefully in the garbage can when you’ve finished. I don’t eat the flax seed cookies or organic raspberry applesauce. I share my stash with her hyper, sugar-starved kids and sneak the wrappers out in the same big sweatshirt.
I get to see my nieces and nephew only because my sister is desperate for a babysitter. She does not trust anyone, especially me. Her husband and I get along fine. Her children love me. I love them, too. Maybe even more because I know it makes her crazy, seeing them waiting in the front yard for me on babysitting nights, running to me, shouting, “Aunt Kimmie, Aunt Kimmie’s here.” They jump on me, still small, ages 5, 6, and 8, and I feel her bitterness hovering on the edges of that love, but it’s no match. She’ll get to them when they’re older, especially the girls. She will tell them of my betrayals. She will make everything bigger than it was and me worse than I was, and they will grow up and get married and be bitter, watchful mothers just like her.
People call me Kimberly now. The only ones who call me Kimmie are my family. I try to see my sister’s face when her kids say my childhood name, the one she won’t say. She says “your aunt” or “my sister” or, when addressing me directly, “you.” If I don’t answer, she either tries to position herself in my eye line or gives up. I’ve heard her mutter to her husband, “you ask her.”
Like eating other people’s food, there’s something satisfying about making my sister say things she doesn’t want to say.
“Did you give them baths?” she asks when they get home. I rummage in my tote, pulling out my wallet to collect my pay.
“Baths? They had baths?” she asks again impatiently.
I look for my keys.
She brushes by her husband, muttering, “For Christ’s sake. I’m not dealing with this. Pay her and find out if they had their goddamn baths.”
Before she leaves the kitchen, she returns my unopened snacks to their proper receptacles in the pantry.
“So, how were the little monsters?” Her husband, though profoundly tidy, is an easygoing, kind man.
“Monstrous. And adorable. They were fine. And they are clean.” We smile. He hands me three $20s.
Tonight we had Hot Tamales, courtesy of the Harveys, which made the kids scream that their mouths were on fire while they begged for more. We also had miniature Snickers bars from the Daltons. The littlest had a Kit Kat instead, also from the Daltons, due to her peanut allergy.
I don’t take anything from my sister’s house. They never have anything good. I leave a double pack of Hostess cupcakes, chocolate with hard white squiggles iced on top. Her favorite when we were little. She never shared. They will end up in the trash or her husband will eat them. Or she will hide them in the pantry and sneak eat them while her husband is out with the kids. She will curse me, regardless, not knowing it is the only way I can think of for her to see me.
Lauren Becker is editor of Corium Magazine. Her work has appeared in Juked, Wigleaf, Tin House (online), Cheap Pop, and elsewhere. Her collection of short fiction, If I Would Leave Myself Behind, was published in 2014.
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