Adventures in Babysitting

My wife with another woman's child. Like fish or grenades, the best babies are the ones you can throw back.

When we lived in Bolivia, we were pretty poor. Better off than most, but compared to Steve Jobs, the IKEA guy or Mother Teresa: pretty poor. This meant I got no pocket money and as a white kid, opportunities for honest work weren’t plentiful, aside from maybe selling vegetables on the street for 50c a month, or my remaining organs Dad didn’t have dibs on. Once a year, the mission Mum & Dad worked for in Bolivia would have their annual conference, which meant a whole bunch of white people getting together for meetings for a week. White people brought with them babies, and babies required care, which brings us to the bountiful bosom of the Goldmine that is: Babysitting. I’ve already mentioned some my parents’ libelous claims about my babysitting here. Pay them no heed. Babysitting for the yearly missions conference was just about our only way to make any money, so Sam & I would readily agree each year to lay our masculinity by the wayside and nurse babies for 5 days. I understand the term ‘nurse’ means different things to different people,  so I’ll leave it up to each of you to decide in your own mind what I’m talking about. Whatever way you look at it, I was always sore afterwards and felt very under-prepared for that job at hand. But babysitting was a lot of fun, partly because we got paid but mostly because the girls did all the work. If I recall, Crystal & Michelle were both excellent potential mothers, and we certainly didn’t want to mess with their dreams of one day being covered in poo from someone sharing their DNA. There’s enough mess when 30 babies are involved already. Perhaps unaware that farts aren’t supposed to have lumps, one kid used to fill his pants (like TWICE A DAY) and after realizing, attempt to clean himself with a leaf, standing naked and alone in the sandbox, immutably covered in his own excrement, dreaming of one day becoming the CEO of BP. Sadly not from the genus Banana, which only grew in the lowlands, his impotent leaf of choice was never fully up to the task, and only aided in spreading the mess around some more. But it gave Michelle & Co. the chance to shine while we boys puked behind the swings and vowed to never have offspring of our own. Another time, when, yes, I probably should have known better, I was holding a baby by the hips on the floor (rock-hard tile) when he flopped backwards and smacked his head. He was fine! I hear he’s now in the US senate. It looked as though my career in babysitting was coming to a end. Surely it couldn’t get any worse…

Yes, yes it could.

I’ve never asserted brightness; everyone just assumes I’m smart because I look dashingly intelligent. So the story goes that Sam and I were walking the babies in their prams (on the 3rd-world streets alongside the drug dealers) when I landed upon a fantastic notion which in no way could possibly be a bad idea. A baby pram footrace. I was glad the Bolivian legal system was still in it’s infancy and we couldn’t get sued by anyone. They were unable to speak, but the babies showed their excitement and consent via gurgling and drooling a bit, so they were willingly on board from the start. Sam had a child contained in a reasonably new, fancy-looking stealth pram, and I was carrying 2 babies single-file in one of the old-style jalopy ones from 1956. I could say I won’t be using the babies’ names to protect the innocent, but who am I kidding? I wouldn’t have a clue who those poor kids were. Anyway, my pram was basically a giant box on wheels with huge springy suspension, not at all dissimilar to the one my mother let go of once when I was a child myself: abandoned and sailing across the busy freeway. I hold no grudges. We flung ourselves wholeheartedly into the race and careened up the sidewalk. (Sidenote for those attempting this at home, if their home is Bolivia in 1992: Sidewalks in Bolivia aren’t great. The concrete is slippery and someone was always getting smashed. Good conditions for racing.) Things were going swimmingly after about 50 yards and we were neck & neck as I recall, when the larger pram hit a gap in the pavement at about 100 miles an hour and flung itself through the air, tipping upside down. I blame poor engineering, on the part of the designers and the whoever built the sidewalk. It was a conspiracy. The pram crashed onto the concrete, and being so large a box, we had no way of knowing the state of the babies underneath. There was silence for a moment, which was a bad sign. We peeled the wreckage of the pram off and cautiously checked for carnage below. Baby #2, who’d been in the rear, was just sitting there, perfectly fine. He’d flown safely through the atmosphere, cradled in the old bassinet and landed on something soft, protecting him from the Bolivian concrete below. I breathed a sigh of relief. He was perfectly fine. I continued to check for lawsuit-fodder. Unfortunately, the soft thing he’d landed on was baby #1. Oops. That kid didn’t fair so well. He had a split lip and started bawling his eyes out. His fault for sitting up front I reckon. Although, to be fair, neither of them required leafy cleaning afterwards, so kudos to them for toughing it out and enjoying the ride. I don’t remember any kind of retribution from anyone after the event. I certainly didn’t babysit again. It’s entirely plausible the girls blackmailed us for their silence, our penance  being a year’s worth of kissing behind the school toilets. I’m sure we were obliging.

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