Note to readers born since the turn of the century: Back in the olden days, before email, before texting, before Facebook and Twitter, Moms looking for a Saturday night babysitter had to set aside a good chunk of time early in the week to conduct the search by telephone — aka land line. Also, just so you know, back in the twentieth century, there used to be this quaint custom whereby teenage boys would call up teenage girls and ask them for a date.
By Barbara Falconer Newhall, The Oakland Tribune, June 21, 1987
Jon won’t do it.
He will make our bed. He will set the breakfast table. He will empty the cat litter box. No problem.
But, no, he will not call a babysitter for Saturday night. Jon argues that it would not look right for a man on the fast track toward middle age to be making telephone calls to dewy 14-year-old females.
But I know different.
It is not a refined sensibility that keeps Jon from sitting down at the telephone on a Monday evening to make call after call to the teenage girls of our acquaintance.
Pure, raw fear – of rejection.
I was a teenage girl once. I remember well the agony of the telephone that does not ring.
But I never knew what it was to be a teenage boy until six years ago, a few weeks after baby Peter arrived in our household.
That was the day I made my first telephone call to a teenage girl requesting her time and attention for a Friday evening – and got rejected.
The Babysitter Says No . . .
Since then I have been on the receiving end of a variety of interesting excuses.
“I’m sorry, I have a flute lesson that day.”
“I’m sorry, that’s the day I see my geometry tutor.”
“I’m sorry, that’s the third weekend of the month and I’ll be staying with my dad in Orinda.”
“I’m sorry, the ski team is going up to Tahoe that weekend.”
“I’m sorry, that’s the day I help with the turtles at the Lawrence Hall of Science.”
Like that of the rejected teenage suitor, my self-esteem plummets with each unsuccessful phone call.
But unlike the teenage boy, I do not give up after one or two calls and hope for better luck next weekend.
I have to keep calling. The reservations are made for 8 p.m. at the Equinox in Montclair. My hard-working husband is counting on a night out.
My sanity is counting on a night out.
Three, five, seven phone calls later I have to wonder why no one is saying yes.
Is it really a previous commitment to the geometry tutor, the snowy slopes of Lake Tahoe, the turtles at the Lawrence Hall of Science?
. . . But Why?
Or is there something wrong with me and mine?
Would the babysitter have a better time at our house if Christina would not collapse at the door in tears when Mommy walks out?
Would we be more popular if Peter could refrain from greeting his lovely, gentle caretaker with a fistful of good guy and bad guy M.A.S.K. toys dress to kill?
Would it help if the babysitter did not have to get down on the floor with Peter and his toys and engage in a bloody struggle between good and evil right before dinner?
Would she like us better if Peter would at least let her play the good guy once in a while?’
Or is it something other than the kids?
Is our VCR too complicated? The MTV reception too fuzzy? Is she allergic to cats?
Maybe it’s the tortilla chips. We could switch to potato. Buy her a six-pack of Diet Coke or Cherry 7-Up.
Or is it our homemade apple juice popsicles that offend? Should we invest in a pint of Häagen-Dazs the next time she comes over?
Are we staying out too late? Coming home too early?
Sexy Reading Material?
Maybe it’s the reading material. Do teenage girls still read Seventeen magazine? Or would they prefer an evening with Cosmo?
Should I leave a few Sweet Valley High romances lying on the coffee table? A sex manual?
(When I was a teenager in the Midwest, a sex education was acquired, not in the school and not in the home – but in a neighbor’s library, between the time the children went to bed and the parents came home.)
At any given time, we do have one or two babysitters we can [sometimes] count on to say yes when we call.
Right now, there is Lorah and Jennifer. A few years ago it was Stacy and Dana. And before that, Julie and Jody.
A good babysitter lasts about three years, it seems, from seventh grade to ninth.
After that – no matter how much she adores sweet Christina and fearsome Peter. No matter how much we pay her. No matter how many bags of chips and leftover Easter candy we leave lying around, we inevitably lose our favorite babysitter.
She turns 15. She grows up. Her attention strays from the turtles and the flute lessons.
When I call her on a Monday night, she has inevitably said yes to someone else for Saturday night.
One of those teenage boys.
© The Oakland Tribune. Reprinted by permission.
If you enjoyed this story, you might like “Feng Shui Tips for the Writing Room and the Bedroom — Your Mother’s Not Allowed, and Neither Are the Kids.” Also, “For China’s Young Fashionistas, the Cultural Revolution Is So Over.”