The Babysitter

Like many things, the childcare industry has become more complicated since the laissez faire times of the mid-century. There was certainly room for improvement (evidence for which we will discuss shortly), but when everyone who looks after little Sophia and Desmond during those unavoidable gaps in parental supervision needs a certificate from CSIS and a PhD in child psychology (with specialization in self-esteem and a post-doctorate fellowship in autism spectrum), things have gone a little too far.

Back in the day, it was sufficient to have passed your 12th birthday to be able to take charge of anyone younger. I do admit I was conscientious enough to take the official babysitting course, which resulted in St. John’s Ambulance first aid credentials and passable skill at changing a diaper (before Velcro was invented). However, despite my differentiated expertise, I am appalled that anyone actually placed their children in my care. The most coveted babysitting gigs were those that started about half an hour after the kids went to bed. This meant you got to eat chips and watch TV and be paid fifty cents an hour for the privilege and I soon discovered that my favourite part about childcare was not actually having to see the children. Luckily by then I had other pocket money options, like teaching skating.

For extended periods of time, it was understood that more mature supervision was required and some advanced domestic skills, therefore the babysitting pool moved to the other end of the demographic spectrum. Fortunately there was a reasonably robust pool of grandmothers in town that could be called for duty. I should point out for the sake of your mental picture that these women in their 70s bared no resemblance to Jane Fonda, Gloria Steinem or Sophia Loren (who have now spoiled old age for all of us). Regardless, all of them had the implied credentials of having raised at least one child to adulthood. Our designated grandmother when our parents went out of town was Mrs. Wagstaff.

Mrs. Wagstaff was from England and brought with her all of the culinary expertise and preferences of her homeland. I think canned peas figured prominently, as did stew made from dubious cuts of meat that festered on the back of the stove all day. One day when she was feeling particularly adventurous, she made us an ‘apple’ pie from Ritz crackers. I survived on peanut butter and leftover Ritz crackers for the duration of her stay.

Mrs. Wagstaff was a big fan of both soap operas and, inexplicably, of Hockey Night in Canada. When we got home from school, we had to tiptoe around so as not to disturb her viewing of As the World Turns and whatever else came on prior to dinner. Of course, since she had been ‘cooking’ since dawn, she deserved to put her feet up and relax, not that I am faulting her for emulating my own babysitting practices. Mrs. Wagstaff was also very fond of her Export A unfiltered cigarettes. When I wasn’t ‘Hoovering’ for her (since she feigned ignorance of how to use such new fangled devices), I was dispatched on my bicycle to replenish her tobacco supply.

The moral of this story is that despite the less than perfect delivery of services, no one succumbed to scurvy or smoke inhalation. Even more importantly, in the absence of texting or even access to telephones, our parents were blissfully unaware of our Dickensenian existence, which indicates there are rare times when too much information is not too much information.