Around ages 12-14, I started my own business up again as a sort of general helper. I paid my dad for Xerox copies of a flyer I made up, and put them in the mail slots of all the houses in the neighborhood. (As an odd side note, it was then I noticed that people had a lot of dogs, and those dogs HATED people putting things in the mail slot. I wonder how they got mail without it being ripped up? But I digress...) I said that I would clean garages, babysit, walk dogs, and do odd jobs. The phone didn't exactly ring off the hook, and I became discouraged rather quickly. The only jobs I got from the outset was to clean a garage (which halfway through the husband came home, demanded to know what the hell I was doing, and a fight ensued between him and his wife and I didn't get paid), pull some carpeting (which was damaged and stuck to the floor by a slow leak in a basement over several years), and walked a dog that bit me the second I took the leash (I got paid anyway). I was about to give up when I got some babysitting jobs start to filter in.
Now, this was before the Red Cross Certification program. I knew some First Aid from Cub Scouts, but being an only child meant I had zero previous experience sitting small kids. Couldn't be so hard, right?
Well, not as wrong as you might first think. It quickly became apparent that the ONLY reason people wanted a male babysitter was for three distinct reasons:
1. They were desperate. They had exhausted all other sitters because their kids
were so horrible.
2. The wife had suspicions or previous bad experience with her husband and female teens.
3. The family came from an ethnic background where women were considered too weak to raise male children.
I must have sat about a dozen kids, and a few times I became a regular. Most of those kids were 99% well-behaved and forgettable. I feel bad saying that, but since nothing happened with those kids, I will gloss over them for the purposes of this essay. A few stick out in my mind, however.
One was Caroline. She must have been about 6 or 7, and lived in a house where her parents must have been trained as minimalist decorators. Every room had the minimal of furniture, no pictures or sculptures, and while they weren't poor by any means, their house was very, very, dull. They would dress Caroline in very fancy clothes to be babysat in, usually a velvet dress, silk stockings, and shiny patent leather shoes. She would address me as "sir" in a soft voice that you swear should have had an English accent. Sitting her was very dull, because all she did was read a book while holding her teddy bear. Her parents tipped well, though, and I usually made good money for just a few hours of work, sitting in a comfy chair, reading a book alongside Caroline.
I once had to take care of a handicapped child with severe cerebral palsy. I was unaware that I had to do bathroom detail on him until I got there... I didn't feel right with the whole thing, and refused future jobs, even though the kid (who wasn't retarded or anything, just had CP, and was a great conversationalist) really liked me. I have always felt guilty about that.
The worst, and the pair that ended my career, were Joel and Elliott. And this, my friends, is what I consider hellish children [play thunder sound fx here].
Joel and Elliott (not their real names) were the kids of a fairly wealthy Jewish family down the street. It was one of those families that have generations of money going way back. The parents were nice, formal people, and if I had met them in any other circumstance, I would have had high regard for them. They needed a sitter one Friday a month when they took "grandmama" out to a nice dinner. Grandmama was an aging parent who lived with the family, and I suspect had a fairly active role in controlling their lives. All three of them treated me nice and with respect, but their kids were a different matter.
They lived in a split-level house, and it was split. The upper floor belonged to the adults, and the living room was bedecked with antiques, and it seemed every square inch of wallspace was covered with framed portraits of various sizes. The downstairs belonged to the kids. The decor was very modern kids for the early 1980s, with primary colored furniture and art, along with dozens of trophies and gifts that these kids had received. Each had their own bedroom and bathroom, and two massive playrooms, one with a huge console color TV.
Joel was the eldest, about 8. He was a thin, short, hyperactive youth with black hair and freckles. Most of the trophies on the shelves were his from various soccer, baseball, hockey, and other sports. He was also in a private school for the gifted, and his parents boasted he read at a high-school level already. He played clarinet and violin. He was intelligent and passionate as an eight year old could be, with one tight twist: he was psycho. I mean, sporadically, passionately violent with bursts of murderous rage when he didn't get his way. I am not kidding, as we shall see in a moment.
Elliott was his younger brother. He was a bit plump for a normal 5-year old, but his parents tried to compensate by making his hair tall. He almost had a pompadour, it was so tall. But it stayed in place because his hair was so curly, it was almost an afro. Elliott was the baby of the family, and always got his way with screaming and throwing violent fits and tantrums. Elliot had a special gift: he could scream like a human adult being murdered. It wasn't the scream of a child or even a woman, but a deep, bloodcurdling scream of despair and woe by someone who surely must be getting sucked in and crushed in a chipper shredder. When he screams in public during tantrums, his mother told me with a nervous laugh, it often draws the police.
Joel HATED Elliott. I mean, not like sibling rivalry, he HATED Elliott and I think would have killed him if given half a chance. My job was to not give him this chance. One day when I sat them, Elliott had a huge black eye where Joel had apparently tried to gouge his eyes out. Elliott had constant bruises and marks on his body from Joel's physical torture.
Both of them were very abusive towards me, mostly verbal, but Joel would try and hit me with his plastic ruler if I turned my back towards him. After a few days with these hellions, I knew why I had been called: no one else could stand them. Joel talked (and probably exaggerated) about the previous sitters. He claimed he poured rubber cement in one girl's hair, and broke the glasses of another. Twice they had been left to their own devices when sitters fled, and the parents later confirmed these stories to some degree, although the details of why they suddenly left were never given.
I sat them about half a dozen times. They had some fairly regular patterns. Joel always had homework to do, which he did in front of the TV. Elliott wanted to watch cartoons, and when they weren't on (they didn't have cable), he would quickly become bored, and want to watch me play video games. Elliott never played video games, he wanted people to play them FOR him. I am not sure if he was blunt stupid or had a hidden death wish, but he'd start bugging Joel when I wasn't looking, which would make Joel go mental, and physically attack Elliott. He'd throw chairs at him, strangle him, beat him, and I'd have to split them up. But that was hard because if I held onto Joel, Elliott would laugh victory, and attack Joel while I was holding him, and vice versa. It got to the point I'd have to sit on one while holding the other.
I only babysat them more than once because I really needed the money for school supplies around this time (I was starting high school).
The last night, something bad must have happened before I got there, because Joel was in an ugly mood from the very start. Elliott was harassing him, non-stop, and calling him funny names having to do with various smells a typical five-year old would think as funny. I tried to direct the abuse towards me, which was something both of them usually enjoyed together, but Joel was unusually dark and quiet. Halfway into the evening, Elliott did something that I can't recall anymore, and while I was punishing him, Joel vanished. I looked for him, called for him, and realized in horror that he went upstairs.
See, I was told by the mother that the kids are NEVER allowed upstairs. For ANY reason. There even had a gate in front of the stairs that led up there, and I saw it was open. I called for Joel, and started up the stairs.
Joel came around the corner with a small boning knife and attacked me.
I am not sure what got ahold of Joel, but he wanted to stab at my face, and used to being beat up so much as a kid, my instinct was to cover my face, and I got stabbed in the arm where he struck bone. He pulled the knife free, and stabbed me again. This time, the knife stuck hard, and had become slippery with blood, so he lost his grip, and in a bad judgement call that was reflex more than though, I slugged him hard in the face. If I had any strength, I might have caused some real damage, but I am a wimp, and all it did was knock him down.
That seemed to snap him out of it, and when he saw what he did, he freaked out, and started to wail an apology, and told me not to call his mom (I couldn't if I wanted to, they never left me a number). I told him he was as good as dead and some choice words about the police, electric chairs, and anything else my shocked and angered mind could come up with. I went up to the kitchen and pulled the knife out of my arm. Since the blade was small, the wounds weren't very big, but they were DEEP. I applied pressure to the wounds, and wrapped a dishtowel around my arm, which stopped the blood flow pretty quickly.
I went back downstairs, and Joel was watching TV, and Elliott saw me, the blood spot on the towel, and he started crying that he didn't want his brother to go to jail or be executed, and it took me screaming at him several times to get him to shut up. Joel said nothing, he just looked at the TV, his face red with worry and shock. His parents came home, and I explained what happened, and they were oddly calm about it. They paid me double, I went home, and that was the end of my babysitting career.
I still have the scars. Both on my arm and in my mind. You have no idea what it's like to be attacked that way until you live it.
Many of you may wonder why I didn't call an ambulance or what my parents had to say about it. I never called an ambulance because I was so used to taking care of myself by this point, I figured if I wasn't dead, and my arm still worked (it did, but OOOOWWWW for weeks), what could they do at the hospital? Besides, my parents would have just gotten mad anyway. They never asked about the bandage, and I now had enough money to buy my own gauze at the drug store to properly dress the wounds (thank you, Cub Scout training), so they blissfully didn't have to deal with it. But as an adult, I often ask myself those questions. "Why the hell did I put up with this?"
For YEARS, I was scared of children. Especially black-haired, freckled ones. I think I consciously avoided most children until I had my own.