Epic Fails in Child-Minding History

After yesterday’s post, I thought of so many other stories from the Fresh Air Fund trip. But SOLSC is almost over, so I’m going to tell the big, dramatic one that comes with a sweet little one embedded in the middle.

First let me be clear that I have always been a terrible babysitter. My very first job as a babysitter when I was a kid, I fell asleep on the couch … so deeply asleep, that I didn’t hear the parents knocking on the door or ringing the bell to be let into the house at the end of the night (no, I have no idea why these adults didn’t have keys to their own home). They had to go to the back of the house and rouse one of their children by banging on his window so he could let them in. I didn’t wake up until they came into the living room and gave me a little shake. (They hired me a few times after that, another unexplainable thing about them.) I was a babysitter all through high school, and trust me when I say that I never got much better at it.

After college, when I was living in Connecticut, I was a chaperone for a church youth group trip to see the tree at Rockefeller Center in Manhattan. I had six teen girls I was supposed to keep and eye on. I lost four of them. I’m not kidding. Yes, it’s true that the four friends made the decision to not stay close to the group, which led to them losing us in the crowd, but it was my job to notice them disappearing, and I didn’t. They were fine — as soon as they realized they’d lost us, they went back to Grand Central and took the train back to Stamford. In those no-such-thing-as-a-cell-phone days, that was a super smart thing for them to do … but it made for some scary time for me and the other chaperone. We imagined all kinds of awfulness befalling them, cut short the outing for the kids we hadn’t lost, enlisted the search-party help of Radio City security guards and several police officers, and finally gave up searching and dragged ourselves back to Connecticut … only to get off the train and find one of the “missing” girl’s dads waiting to a) let us know all the girls were safe and sound and b) chew us out for being such crappy chaperones.

I say all that to make it as clear as possible why I should never be entrusted with the care of anyone’s child. I mean, no child has ever been harmed in my care, but that’s surely more about divine intervention than about my skill as a caretaker.

And then I decided to fly off to Grand Cayman with ten kids and two other adults. Because I don’t learn from my own mistakes. Or I just really believe in the reliability of divine intervention.

The kids were all going to be staying with host families, and the chaperones were all going to be staying at a fancy beachfront hotel. The kids wouldn’t meet their families until dinner the first night. The plan was for us to check into the hotel, for each chaperone to take three or four kids to our rooms and change into swim gear and go hang out in the pool or on the beach for a bit and then go back to our rooms and get everyone ready for the swanky dinner at which they would meet their host families.

The three boys on the trip immediately voted for being assigned to me. “We already know we like you best,” was the explanation given by Bradley, an 11-year-old who’d get to celebrate his 12th birthday on the trip. As I said in yesterday’s post, children can spot me a mile away. While it may have been true that the boys liked me, it’s more likely that all four boys sussed that I was (am) a total pushover and chose me for that specific reason.

In my room, they proceeded to lose their minds — dancing on the bed, emptying the contents of their suitcases all over the floor, trying to lock each other out on the balcony, trying to guess the combination of the room safe and succeeding in making sure it would stay locked by guessing wrong combinations in rapid-fire succession, unpacking the mini-fridge. All in the few minutes it took for me to change into my swim gear in the bathroom.

They all opted for the pool over the beach, as did the other kids and chaperones. I checked in with the other women and we agreed that I’d take a short walk on the beach and then come back to the pool. Gorgeous beach, gorgeous afternoon, way too many people, but really lovely place.

Back at the pool, there were all sorts of shenanigans and everyone was having a great time. And then it was time to gather the kids and go get ready for dinner. I got the boys together — Joshua (of SpongeBob fame), Bradley, and Rafael, the youngest of the kids on the trip) — and we headed back into the hotel.

And then I lost Joshua and Bradley.

From one moment of walking and talking with all three kids to the next minute of only talking to Rafael, Bradley and Joshua vanished. And then it was my turn to lose my mind. And to lose my mind while trying not to freak Rafael out. We retraced our steps, we looked down every path that branched off the path we’d taken, we wandered the whole of the first floor of the hotel.

I went to the front desk to report the boys missing and get some help searching. (And here is the sweet story I promised at the beginning). As we waited to speak to someone, a man beside us at the desk was changing money. Quite a lot of money. He was counting through a stack of beautiful Caymanian money, and Rafael pointed and laughed.

“Look at all that play money,” he said.

“Oh, no, sweetie, that real money. It’s the money they use in this country.”

He looked at me, open-mouthed, his eyes big. “Other countries have other money? Wait til I tell the guys.”

I love that, even though Rafael knew the other boys were lost, he wasn’t freaked out and could still find something to be amused by. I love that the concept of money other than the dollars he was familiar with was so mind blowing. And that it would be a cool thing to tell Joshua and Bradley. And that he was so sure that we would absolutely find Joshua and Bradley. I wasn’t sure of that. I was pretty certain I had really and truly lost my charges that time, but they were little kids instead of teenagers and couldn’t just go to Grand Central take the train home.

We did, of course, find Joshua and Bradley. After getting the hotel staff searching, the concierge suggested I take Rafael upstairs so we could get changed and then come back down. I took my brave-faced-but-terrified self upstairs and, as Rafael and I walked toward the room, Joshua and Bradley jumped out from the hiding place they’d been waiting for us in and scared the crap out of us both.

Because yes, as we’d left the pool, Bradley had had the idea of running ahead and hiding so they could scare us. How did I not notice them running ahead of us? How did no one see these two boys hiding in the hallway and bring them downstairs? Why did they stay there for so long? Joshua said they were sure Rafael and I would come up at any moment, so they kept hiding … but they did wonder what was taking us so long.

I don’t think I’ve ever been as terrified as I was when I thought I’d lost those boys. How could I go back to New York and tell their parents they’d never see their beautiful babies again? Ugh. Such a complete nightmare. And yes, I was furious with both boys … and I was also so happy to see them, so happy they weren’t in the hands of some terrible, kidnapping adult, that my anger dissolved.

The boys turned my hotel room inside out during the shower and dress for dinner portion of the day. Such a disaster that I left and obscene tip for the housekeeping staff and a note of apology with the promise that the rest of my stay would not include such messes. We went to dinner and handed the kids off to their host families, and our trip got under way in earnest.

And aside from that heart-attack-inducing start, things ran pretty smoothly for the rest of the week. Even after it was revealed that neither of the other chaperones could swim or had any intention of getting in the water … on a trip for which most of the planned activities involved getting in the water. This weirdness meant I was the only chaperone when we went snorkeling, and snorkeling, and snorkeling, and snorkeling (SO MUCH SNORKELING!), and playing with stingrays, and … Seriously.

I have had any number of entirely successful child-minding experiences, but losing Joshua and Bradley is pretty glaring, and easily aged me ten years. Don’t ask me to take care of your kids, people! I am not to be trusted.

It’s the 14th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
and see what the rest of this year’s slicers are up to!

Original Slicer - GirlGriot

Don’t burst that bubble.

I was watching something on Paramount+ earlier today and saw commercial for some new SpongeBob show. I’ve never watched SpongeBob, but seeing that ad made me smile because it reminded me of a great moment.

Years ago, I had the opportunity to chaperone a trip for the Fresh Air Fund. They were sending a group of ten kids to Grand Cayman for a week. The kids would stay with host families so they could be part of “regular” Caymanian life in the evenings and during the day there would be all kinds of activities and adventures planned for them. One of my coworkers and I were invited to chaperone along with one of their staffers. We were invited because of the partnership between the Fund and my then job. We three adults would be on-call for all the activities and adventures. I love kids, love the Caribbean. Of course I said I’d be a chaperone, right? It sounded like so much fun.

It was fun. It was also unbelievable stressful and beyond exhausting. I had a wonderful time and wouldn’t trade the experience. And … I have to wonder what I was thinking to have said yes to that trip. Manage ten 7- to 12-year-olds? And on the days when the host family children joined us, that meant managing 13 kids. Me, a woman who has not the first clue how to manage even one child, a woman who children can spot a mile away as having no idea how to exercise authority with little ones. And their parents were going to be in another country, unable to step in and lay down the law? Yeah, not the best idea ever. I’m still glad I went.

One afternoon, we were in our mini-bus on the way to a submarine ride. A cute little glass-sided submarine that would take us on a short cruise to see what we could see under the sea. The submarine trip was named after SpongeBob Squarepants. (I’ll just have to assume they had permission to do that, and that I’m not setting them up for some intellectual property/copyright infringement trouble by calling them out here!) When we reached the place, SpongeBob himself was waiting to greet us before ushering us out to the dock and onto the boat. The kids were pretty excited to see him. Pictures were taken and everyone was super giggly.

On the boat, we went downstairs — below decks? — to get seats in the glass-sided section. Joshua, an adorable, quiet and mischievous 9-year-old, sat next to me. He had a crinkle-browed expression on, and I thought he was having some iffy feelings about the submarine (I certainly was). I asked him what was up.

“So, back there, inside,” he said, pointing in the direction of the building we’d just passed through to get the to dock. “That was SpongeBob. But do you think that was the real SpongeBob?”

And here is another thing about me and children. I am fascinated by them and also completely unprepared for them. I mean, this was a question I wouldn’t ever have imagined anyone coming to me with … because it would never have occurred to me that anyone thought there was a real SpongeBob. Anywhere.

But when you get that question, you don’t want to laugh and say that SpongeBob is a cartoon and isn’t real except on your TV. That would be cruel. Instead, you need an answer that allows for the possibility of a real SpongeBob, but also for the likelihood that this wasn’t the man (man?) himself. So I said that SpongeBob probably had a lot of people to help him out, especially for tours like the one we were on, since it was so far away from where he lived.

And I kind of held my breath, waiting to see how that would work. It worked just fine. Joshua nodded and said the SpongeBob we’d seen must have been a helper wearing a costume. The crinkle in his forehead smoothed out, and he settled in to see whatever there was for us to see under the sea. And I released a huge sigh of relief. I hadn’t made any glaring missteps and had left SpongeBob with his potential realness in tact!

It’s the 14th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
and see what the rest of this year’s slicers are up to!

Original Slicer - GirlGriot

Psychokiller, qu’est-ce que c’est …

(Before I dive in — all vax shot side effects seem to have passed! I feel like myself again.)

Forever ago, I worked nights as a video transcriber for Inside Edition. This was back when the show was first on the air, when David Frost was the front man and Bill O’Reilly was an anchor (did they call them anchors?). It was my second year living in the City. I shared an apartment with my sister and spent my days working as a word processor (is that even a job anymore?). My sister worked at Barnard College, maybe in Student Services or something like that. Whatever her job, it gave her access to the jobs that were posted for the Barnard girls, and in at least two instances, I applied for and got those jobs. The Inside Edition gig was the first of them. (Should I feel guilty about “taking” a job from an undergrad at Barnard? I don’t. My sister and I had next to no money. We needed every penny we could earn. And, too, both jobs were awful. I think I actually did the Barnard girls a favor by sparing them.)

All of the other video transcribers were guys. We worked in tiny rooms, just enough space for a TV, VCR and a typewriter (yes). It was a miserable job for which I didn’t receive an hourly wage but was paid by the number of tapes I could get through. And I’d leave the Upper East Side studio around midnight and have to make my way to Washington Heights. Because I was a woman, and the only woman on the transcription team, my supervisor gave me permission to add an extra video to my tally each night to cover the cost of a cab home. But since I had that job during the time my sister and I referred to ourselves as “The Poverty Twins,” I absolutely added the extra tape to my tally … and absolutely kept taking the bus uptown after work. Sometimes the trip was unnerving — the long wait for the bus transfer at a super-isolated stop on Riverside Drive — but groceries and rent seemed more vital, I guess.

Most of the interviews I transcribed were painfully stupid — the police chief who was angry because the teenager at his local sandwich shop had put too much salt on his roast beef in what was surely an act of anti-police violence.

Then one night I got a bin of tapes, and it was an interview with Diane Downs. I transcribed for hours. Hours alone in that tiny room just listening to this disturbed and disturbing woman. And I’m thinking about this now because — for reasons only the algorithms know — FB put a link to the Inside Edition episode in my newsfeed this morning. This isn’t the first time I’ve thought about Diane Downs. I think about her far more often than I’d like. Because of Farrah Fawcett’s excellent portrayal in the TV movie, Small Sacrifices — the “Hungry Like a Wolf” courtroom scene in particular — and because that always reminds me of transcribing the interview.

My instructions for transcribing videos were to write down everything that was said, with timestamps, and to include camera movements (close-ups, wide shots, etc.), and flag any interesting responses or facial expressions or bombshell moments that the reporter might particularly want to take a look at to consider including in the final piece.

Clicking through the FB link this morning was the first time I ever saw the piece as it ran on Inside Edition. They should have included more of Downs.

Transcribing the interview that night, watching Diane Downs, was both fascinating and terrifying. I’m being silly with the title of this post (and now have that song as an earworm), but Downs was absolutely a psychopath. I watched her and had no doubt she was capable of anything, no doubt that she was guilty. At one point, she tried seducing the reporter. I mean, “seducing” isn’t quite the right word. Not exactly. But definitely trying to win him, to get him to be interested in her and to like her — so that he’d believe her, I imagine. And her actions with him seemed automatic, as if she didn’t plan it or have to think about it. That kind of seduction was her go-to way of dealing with men. And when it became clear that she wasn’t going to win him to her side, she changed. Nothing dramatic. It was like the really good eye acting some people can do (Gary Oldman comes first to mind). They don’t move a muscle, but something in their eyes shifts and everything is suddenly different. I could watch the moment when she stopped seeing him as useful, when she stopped caring that he existed. He must have seen it and I’d guess that it felt a little unnerving. I don’t ever want to have someone look at me like that.

She scared the crap out of me.

She scared me because she was scary but also because she was so … anybody. She was such a regular person, someone I could imagine knowing, being in class with, working with. And something about the ordinariness of her masking the absolute horror of her upended me, blew my sense of equilibrium. The idea that anyone could be so regular and be a ruthless killer isn’t new, of course. Perfectly normal-seeming people do all kinds of vile and violent things. But something about Diane Downs was different for me. What I saw when I watched her interview tapes settled in me and freaked me out. I left my dark little cubby, dropped off my videos, transcriptions, and tally sheet, left the nearly-empty studio and headed up to 79th Street for the crosstown bus. Every person I saw on the street made me nervous. I could feel fear rise in my throat. I got to 79th Street … and hailed a cab.

It’s the 14th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
and see what the rest of this year’s slicers are up to!

Original Slicer - GirlGriot

Watching the Clock

Sooooo … I’m at 52 hours now. And counting. I was really banking on that 24 to 48 hours of side effects idea. And I know these things aren’t exact, and four hours past “deadline” isn’t really all that much, but it feels like a lot. My fever has broken so I no longer feel high, which is entirely a good thing. But the body aches have returned, making even this little bit of typing really annoying.

BUT — I finished the last big part of my giant work project! Monday, we’ll wrap it up and tie it in a pretty bow, but it is done for all intents and purposes. It’s the first project of this kind that I’ve worked on in my no-longer-new job, and I let the stress of that get to me. Thanks to the rock stars I work with, however, it has all come together. And, after Monday, I can start picking up on all the things I’ve left sitting by the wayside as I worked on this.

First I need to get past this vax reaction, though. Here’s hoping that one more night of sleep will do the trick.

It’s the 14th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
and see what the rest of this year’s slicers are up to!

Original Slicer - GirlGriot

8 Miles High

After work yesterday, I went out to George Wingate High School and got my second Moderna shot. It was quick and easy and well organized and I was on my way home (in a driving rain) in no time. I had a little dinner. I posted a slice. I went to bed. I thought, “Great! Give me a couple of weeks, and my whole life is going to change!” I had the #VaccinatedAttitude Marc Rebillet made me laugh about. (You can find the video on YouTube, but be forewarned: it’s a little … um … blue. Definitely NSFW!)

That all seemed about right. Then I woke up this morning. I woke up this morning and realized that I can’t even think about two weeks from now. How am I going to get through the next 24 to 36 hours? I woke up feeling like I’d been run over by a tank. And then the aches started to subside, and I got all happy … until the fever kicked in.

Woo! This fever, friends. I feel so drugged. I feel sluggish and loopy … so much so that I sent a really uncool email to the team that seemed to be calling out my boss for making problems for the project we’re working on. And, of course, my boss was on the email! Of course. Sigh. My boss, happily, isn’t an ogre, and seems fine, but I do feel crappy about it.

I tried to work all afternoon, which was a ridiculous thing to do. I needed to log off and put myself to bed. I spent the afternoon staring at different screens on my computer, not really figuring out how to approach the work, figuring out how to write a single word.

I still feel high. My fever hasn’t quite gone away. As soon as I post this, I’m going to bed. And I’m hoping I’ll wake up in the morning and feel like myself again.

And yeah, in two weeks I’ll be able to think about making plans to visit my family for the first time in a year. And that will feel so beautiful. But first I have to get through the next day.

It’s the 14th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
and see what the rest of this year’s slicers are up to!

Original Slicer - GirlGriot