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  • Writer's pictureAtomicRakshasi

The Baby-Sitters Club Is a Relic of the Eighties, And Here’s Why

It’s been about six months since we’ve watched a movie in a theatre. We get dressed in a hurry before the babysitter arrives because we want to make sure we utilize every moment of our free time. We arrive just in time for the opening credits and decide to enjoy the summer blockbuster, regardless of whether we like the movie or not, because we’ve temporarily handed over our parenting responsibilities to someone else.

Nevertheless, I glance at my husband every once in a while to check whether he’s as uncomfortable or worried as I am. All through the movie, I imagine worst-case scenarios, calls from the police: “Ma’am, we’re calling to inform you that your house burned down, it was a gas leak” “Ma’am, we’re calling from the hospital to inform you that your daughter choked on a stray button that she happened to find” and so on. After all, I’ve hired a thirteen-year-old to look after my three-year-old daughter and toddler son.

This here is a bullshit scenario that has never occurred in my life, nor will it ever. I was lucky to be brought up in a conventional middle-class household where my boomer mother, who came from a long line of traditional wives, was available to me for at least ten years before she began to go to work again. This isn’t a flex. Everyone around me grew up in traditional middle-class households and despite our frugal existence, seemed well-adjusted and happy. If a kid’s behaviour was a bit off we discussed it in hushed tones amongst ourselves: his father died, or his father beats him. Such circumstances were considered rare and unusual, and there was a direct connection between the unusual circumstance and the behaviour of our unfortunate classmate.

I grew up in a safe environment so I had a great amount of freedom within a strict routine, and I had a good number of friends to play with too. I was looked after so well that any unforeseen circumstances, especially when it concerned my health and general safety, were avoided. Sounds perfect? It kinda was. But back then we thought the perfect life was way across the pond.

When The Baby Sitter’s Club series arrived along with my American cousins one summer, as far as fate went, it really seemed like we’d got the short end of the stick. We envied the American girls their social lives, their suburban homes, their access to American fashion, but most of all their ability to hold jobs and keep their earnings, which they reinvested into their business and divided the remaining, spending it any which way they liked.

This was proof. We were boring Indian kids with unadventurous lives, and we wanted a taste of American capitalism.

The wildly successful series by author Anne M. Martin was a world where twelve-year-olds, despite their problems, were emotionally intelligent, knew how to look after and entertain children younger than them, bonded over everything, fought and made up, comforted each other and seemed to deal with the problems that arose in the work-life better than most adults. Each one of them had a defined personality: the shy one, the crotchety one, the demure one, the talented one, the socially sophisticated one, etc. Their problems varied from boy trouble to serious ones like divorce, disease and death. For equality’s sake, they added Logan, a boy with some babysitting experience. As the author herself states, she was partly inspired by her own babysitting experiences as a minor, so it was based on real life experience. This was a category of ‘young adult’ that just didn’t exist back then, and we were just so caught up in it we didn’t notice the most important thing…

Kids are a handful and even some adults, with their fully developed brains, screw up child-rearing to a remarkable degree, so sometimes I feel like every adult alive is a survivor of childhood. Post-motherhood, it occurred to me that babies are adorable but a pain to look after. You don’t get to sleep or go to the bathroom peacefully for a minimum of the first five years of their lives. Regardless of how long you nurse them or shovel nutritious, homemade organic food down their throats, they keep falling ill. They also love exploring, and the best way for them to do that is apparently to put random things in their mouths. As they grow, they become more accident-prone. All the baby-proofing in the world can’t replace the constant monitoring necessary to keep them safe. And this is only the physical safety part of the equation. While we were yearning for the perfect American life, we didn’t think about the reality of child care, because we were kids ourselves.

A child is clearly defined now as someone below eighteen years old, and there’s good reason for it. Gone are the good old days of child brides and fourteen-year-old mothers. The remnants of it do remain, but at least it’s been acknowledged as wrong by law. The cultural burden of being the eldest sister too remains: the oldest sibling, if it’s a girl, is going to play mommy to her younger siblings, and is usually deprived of her childhood. So to put it down as a skill set, well---

American capitalism, the kind we all aspire to imitate, tends to disguise its more insidious sexist stereotypes with money. We have our own cultural stereotypes where we're groomed for marriage and motherhood from an early age. My dreams of capitalism had died by sixteen and by then I knew odd jobs paid nothing in India. Besides, it was child labour, and if any middle-class parent in my colony was cheap enough to make their kid work would hear it from other parents. Our drab, boring, simple life was something to look back on and be grateful for. 

Babysitting sounds cute for a bit of pocket money, but the truth is that children are not qualified at any level to look after other children. The dumbest thing you could do, and this is egregious for any parent, is to hire a child to look after your child when no one is around. For rich suburban USA, with its draconian laws about child safety not to ban it, is beyond me. The romanticized version of it, however endearing, has no business being on children’s bookshelves, or television, unless it's sold with a disclaimer.


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