Babysitting, Character Building and Watching Television

Not at all ready for bed

I baby sat last week for the first time in about 35 years.  In fact, I think ‘Young H’, the last child to enjoy the privilege, is probably well into his 40s now.

Is this the normal life cycle of the casual baby sitter?  To be asked to do it when still at school, and then again, only when many years have elapsed.

If not, I did wonder about the long intervening period.  Basically, no-one asked me, and I don’t ever recall volunteering.  I can understand why my contemporaries, as fresh, young parents, wouldn’t ask me to look after their shiny new babies when we were all in our twenties, as my response to their offspring was generally along the lines of ‘yes, I can see it’s a baby.  Now can we talk about something more interesting?’

Maybe I’ve mellowed a little bit since; lots of babies have been and gone (as in ‘grown up’, rather than anything more sinister, before you start wondering), but I suspect it’s more to do with older parents with more children having more sympathy now with my unsentimental attitude and general blindness to cuteness.

So to last week and my evening with Young S; S and I have known each other since she was very small, and I had spent the day with the whole family, and, I’ll have to confess now, I had poked her a couple of times during the afternoon when she showed the early signs of being about to doze off.  She has a bit of a reputation for not going to bed at the time designated as ‘bed time’ by her parents, so everyone was anticipating a battle of wills along the lines of an irresistible force meeting an immovable object, once everyone else had departed for the theatre, and I was left in charge.

I’ve spent many hours with the children and around the house of my friends, but it’s a very different feeling to be in sole charge of the youngest as well as the home itself.  It was only on parting and the ‘phone if anything goes wrong’ instruction was issued, that it even occurred to me that anything might go wrong.

I had my orders: the nightie, the nappy, the stories, the milk; and a child apparently entirely unconcerned about being left on her own with me.  I must admit I soon grew bored of dancing round the living room to the Greatest Hits of the 1980s compilation CD; five tracks is definitely enough; any more was above and beyond, in my view.

And thence to bed, where I was astonished that although she didn’t pay a blind bit of attention to the reading of the stories (which I read to the end primarily so that I knew what happened), she did lie down when I left the room.  So surprised in fact that I kept creeping back to check she was still in bed and not wandering around the flat up the mischief; and then later again, just to check she was still breathing.

It seemed I wouldn’t be needing any of the techniques I had seen ‘Super Nanny’ dish out on the television.  Either S had sensed that I wouldn’t put up with any messing about, or she stayed in bed to avoid having to do any more disco dancing.

The result was that I had an evening of television ahead of me.  It’s different being on your own in someone else’s house, even one at which you’ve been a frequent guest.  I’ve seen a lot of CBBC and Doctor Who DVDs on their TV, but I had never had free choice of channel selection before, and even had to receive special instruction on the use of the remote controls.  I’ve lounged on the sofas, drunk many cups of tea and glasses of wine there, but never on my own.

There is something qualitatively quite different about being in charge; something slightly less relaxing; even though I was required to do absolutely nothing, I might have been.  And I suppose that’s the point, but I can’t think I even considered any of this when I was sitting for Young H all those years ago.

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