Call the Red Cross. Because you can’t get there on the Web.


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My oldest is taking the Red Cross Babysitting Course today — we signed up for it online, to save ten whole dollars, which believe me, we earned, since the Red Cross web site is a natural disaster in itself: unbelievably torturous to navigate. It’s as if they deliberately hide information in an online labyrinth, sending users click after click in a nearly endless search for the one small piece of information they seek.

Armed, even, with the course number of the babysitting course, once we stumbled on the “Take A Class” section, the course refused to manifest itself for registering.

My daughter and I, stymied, at last puzzled out that we could excavate the registration page by searching for the course by NOT using the course number as a parameter – or using ANY search parameters at all.

(Smart girl, that babysitter-to-be.)

The services they offer, of course, are as good as their web site is bad, so I have far higher hopes for the class itself. It’s a full-day gig, and my eldest, usually a late-morning weekend sleeper, was up and ready for it. She’s got an ulterior motive: a babysitter certified by the Red Cross is WAY more likely to be rolling in jobs and cash than your average 12-year-old.

Add to that a mom with a graphic design background, and a neighborhood to post flyers in, and my little entrepreneur has dollar signs in her eyes.

To her credit, though, she also sallied forth with a notebook, pen, and a willing spirit to soak up everything the class has to offer: particularly, I warned her, the part in the course description that says “How to Communicate with Parents.”

This, I told her, is one of the key breakdown points in a babysitter’s career.

As an enterprising 12-year-old myself, I recalled one disastrous episode where I managed to keep a panicky hold on three human toddlers for about eight solid hours, even managing to get them all to sleep. Their humanity was questionable, although they were unquestionably primates; their ability to hang from the ceiling and from any small outcropping on the wall or high dresser proved that.

The kids trashed the already-messy house, but remained somehow alive and relatively clean themselves by the end of the grueling day. When the mother — tall, blonde, and blithe — finally arrived home to relieve me — tiny, disheveled, and exhausted — she was insanely furious that I had not, somehow, also cleaned her house, as well as feeding, cleaning, and caring for her maniacal tots.

She refused to pay me my one dollar an hour fee.

This was before I developed my full-blown nerve, and while I was still under the constraints my parents had deeply instilled in me never to shout profanity at, or smack the bejesus out of, grownups. I was a polite, respectful kid. I felt hot tears in the back of my near-sighted eyes, and a large, even hotter lump in the back of my throat.

I simply fled.

Lucky for me, my mother was the same sort of mad grizzly bear that I am now. Furthermore, my mother had been counting on robbing me of my babysitting money, which augmented her fury. She marched over, breathed dragon fire on the blonde welcher, and returned triumphantly with my cash, which at least I got to look at before it ended up in my mother’s purse.

Thus I illustrated to my own daughter: make it clear up front that cleaning the children, not the house, is what you are being hired to do.

I am certain the Red Cross will have the perfect words for that concept.

Not only that, the Red Cross class includes infant care – something I myself learned on the job, way back when. It’s startling, really, how desperate some people are to get out of the house, that they’ll leave the very youngest infants with the very youngest pre-teens, including clueless ones such as myself. How could they be sure that I was as nervously watchful as I was? It took ages to figure out which end of the diaper went where.

I remember calling my mother, who was absolutely no help at all with those odd plastic tape things, since I, apparently, was a cloth diaper baby – oh, she just dropped them in a box and someone brought clean ones to the house. And – funny story, she used to stick me with pins… Okay, Mom, thanks anyway, gotta go, there’s weird green stuff coming out of this baby now…

The worst thing I ever did was eat my employers out of house and home once the kids were asleep. (Once, bored out of my mind, I ate an entire box of Wheat Thins out of someone’s pantry. Kindly, the woman told me next time to please simply tell her what I’d like to have around and she’d stock it for me. I wanted to sink through the floor.)

So I will be supremely thankful to the Red Cross for giving my daughter the kinds of heads-up on infant care that a mother simply can’t.

Although my daughter and I DID have a talk the other night that was both reassuring and profoundly disturbing at the same time.

“There are a lot of girls at my school who are trying to get their boyfriends to get them pregnant,” my (only) 12-year-old said.

Me: (putting on my stone face, in an only half-successful attempt to disguise my inner “OMG!” and resorting to “Old Faithful”) How do you feel about that?

Her: I think they’re idiots.

Me: (at last able to exhale.) Why’s that?

Her: Because they don’t realize that once they actually HAVE a baby, they’ve got to take care of it. Like getting up at 1 o’clock to feed it, you know?

Me: (unable to resist driving the point home) Like getting up at 1 o’clock to feed it. And then again at 2 o’clock, maybe. And then at 3, waking up to change the nastiest diaper you ever saw or smelled. Then, just as you fall back asleep at 3:45, the baby wakes up again hungry. Then at 6, it’s feeding time again. Every two hours, around the clock – for months, until you’re desperate for sleep, and you can’t believe you’re being tortured like this, and the baby hasn’t even smiled yet.

Her: (looking at me, and blinking impassively.) Yeah, that’s sort of what I meant.

Me: (catching my breath) I’m not really a baby person.

Her: I get that. Don’t worry, Mom. I’m in no rush.

Me: Okay, good. Okay, then.

Her: My friend says she’s not going to have sex until she gets married.

Me: (unable to exhale again.) Yeah?

Her: My friend is an idiot.

Me: (exhaling tentatively.) Well, you know you can always talk to me. You don’t want to get pregnant before you’re ready, and you certainly don’t want to die. So talk to me, okay?

Her: (grinning.) I will. You’re fun to watch.

This is definitely a kid who can be trusted. After all, I ruthlessly use her to watch our youngest all the time, and when she’s on the job, I never worry for a second. That’s saying a lot. 

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