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Category: Sleeping with Ward Cleaver


 I’m recycling a piece I wrote a few years ago. The sentiment still holds ;-)

 My 12-year old daughter has become the object of lust. Grown women are clamoring for her; I’m starting to get a little edgy about it. You see, my daughter is now officially of babysitting age, and moms in my neighborhood are trying to sink their claws into her early and often and it’s making me feel quite proprietary.

I can still taste the babysitter lust I developed when my children were little. Finding a good sitter was akin to finding the secret to longevity. Once I got hold of one, there was no way to wrench the secret from my lips. To find an energetic, clever, creative, helpful, intelligent, and responsible girl to help tend to your brood so that you could get needed respite from the demands of mommydom was crucial. But tell me, how many kids out there actually fulfill the terms of those qualifications? Believe me, not many.

At one point we were so desperate for sitters we went to the local Catholic Church to cherry pick from their teen youth group. We figured good Catholic girls (as opposed to priests) would make ideal sitters. One of the girls we landed from that attempt was Patti. Tall, sweet, kind, very involved with her church. Even traveled all the way to the big Pope-a-thon when Pope John Paul held a youth powwow in Colorado. We were impressed, even though she did say, “Wow, cool, dude” a bit much.

She was nice to our kids, she rinsed the dishes after they ate. Had the kids to bed on time. No disasters, no broken bones on her watch, nothing. And then she showed up one night for a babysitting job reeking of pot. And I don’t mean the kind you plant seeds in. Rather, the kind that comes with seeds.

Boy was I bummed. We’d had fun plans to meet friends for dinner; I hadn’t been out, kid-free, in ages. I assured myself that I was imagining things. After all, how could our goody-two-shoes Pope-visiting youth-group-attending babysitter be anything but on the up and up? But then my husband came downstairs from getting dressed and walked over to me asking, “What’s with the reefer smell in here?” This from same person whose sense of smell is so bad he’d probably not notice a rotting cadaver at his feet if he had to rely solely upon his olfactory system. Well, that was the end of Patti the Pothead. We showed her the door and stayed home that night.

Our next great sitter was Amanda. Cute as a button, senior in high school. Older, responsible. She’d be a great keeper of my kids on occasion, I reasoned.

She came one day to watch the kids so that I could run errands in peace. When I returned home I chatted a bit with her as she helped me unload my groceries. Turned out her dad was a Fed. FBI. Hated by the right wing militia movement for his perceived involvement in the Ruby Ridge showdown. Amanda and her siblings were actually under an FBI watch, I learned, as they’d had death threats made against them. That would the same Amanda with whom my childrens’ lives were entrusted. In my house with all the big windows so that psychopaths who wanted to kill her could take good aim. I couldn’t get rid of her fast enough that afternoon. And later that night at dinner, our kids told us that she’d had a few male friends visit that afternoon and made the kids sit alone in their bedrooms. Yikes. And she seemed so nice!

One sitter my kids adored was Eliza. She was so young she played with the kids as if their peer. At nine years of age, I guess one would expect that. But she was an ideal little mother’s helper who played with the kids while I cleaned the house and such. And then I found out one day that Eliza’s drug-addicted 18-year old stepbrother had a court order against him and was forbidden from going with 100 feet of Eliza or her family. Well, I was none too comforted with that bit of bad news, and couldn’t see risking my kids’ welfare with her after that.

Another sitter we hired only once was the sister of my son’s friend. We figured she was a sure-thing. Till we came home and found out she’d hit my son, just as she would have hit her brother if he’d made her mad.

Then there was Maura. A fourth-string referral I found when desperately dialing for sitters one day in the hopes of going out to dinner to celebrate my birthday. I’d called someone who gave me the name of the most wanted sitter in the neighborhood. When I called her number, her mom, tired of fielding sitter calls, gave me the number of another sitter. Her mom gave me the number of another sitter, whose mom gave me the number of Maura. You’d think I would have wondered why she was still available when every other sitter had been scooped up.

Nevertheless, Maura seemed pretty nice. We came home after dinner to a clean house. The kids were safely tucked in bed. But as my eyes adjusted to the dimmed lights in the house I noticed something. My house wasn’t just clean. It was immaculate. Eerily so. Even the dog bowl had been scrubbed clean of that slimy dog-saliva build-up that most dog bowls get. Wow, I thought. She sure is a clean thing. Lucky me: sitter and maid all wrapped into one.

As my husband drove her home, I came across the note. Now, taken at face value, it was just a sweet note. But something about it was a bit stalker-ish to me. It read something to the affect of “Dear Jenny, I hope you had the best birthday dinner ever. You are the nicest person in the world, and I love your kids and your dog, and your family, and your house. I would love to babysit for you all of the time. Please call me ANYTIME and I’ll be sure to come whenever you need me. EVER.”

Well, that was right around the time that movie “The Hand That Rocks The Cradle” was playing in theaters, and psycho-babysitters were a scary concept to me. Suffice it to say, we said “sayonara” to Maura.

I won’t bore you with the details of the lovely sitter who we subsequently found out was on several anti-psychotic drugs.

We eventually settled on a few sitters who were golden.  Dream teens who played with our kids, read them stories, fixed them snacks and cleaned up after their meals. Picked up the toys when the kids had gone to bed. Essentially done more than I would have had I been home with the kids myself.

And you know what? I wouldn’t have disclosed their names to anyone unless my life depended on it. They were my hard-fought find, and I was damned if I would allow another mom access to my perfect sitter.

So now I sit, with an energetic, clever, creative, helpful, intelligent, and responsible (if I may be so humble) daughter. And I understand the desperation in the voices of these moms calling at all hours to track her down. Willing to fudge the truth about their little darlings, claiming they’re sweet and cooperative when in truth they’re wild banshees willing to put my daughter in a pot of boiling oil if the spirit moves them.

Claiming they’ll be available all night while they’re out if there’s a problem, all the while leaving their cell phones securely nestled in the glove compartment of their cars, turned off. Promising they only need my child for a short while, yet not arriving home till hours after the 10:30 p.m. stipulation I’d placed on the babysitting deal. Or promising a “mother’s helper” job watching six kids for two hours, which actually was watching 14 kids for three hours. With no extra pay.

So now that I’m on the other side of the fence, my babysitter lust has turned to babysitter police. I’m out to protect my daughter from the vagaries of desperate moms, because now I realize that there are a lot of moms who will do practically anything to get hold of a good sitter. ©2004 Jenny Gardiner


Welcome Guest Author Carolyn Jewel

This is the last GCC author visit till May–finishing up with a highly-acclaimed historical romance, Scandal, by Carolyn Jewel. Love the cover–where is that guy when you need him?

Welcome, Carolyn! Tell me a little about your book.

CJ: Scandal is the story of two people with a mutual past they might not be able to overcome. It’s Regency era England and Lord Banallt is determined to marry the now widowed Sophie Evans. He has a few things yet to learn about himself and the woman he loves, and there’s a very real possibility he might not win her heart.

JG:  What got you writing in the genre in which you write.

CJ:  Romance is a genre in which anything is possible. Terrible, heartbreaking, side-splittingly funny or horrifying events might happen in the course of a romance. In the end, a couple finds a happy ending with each other. I started writing romance because love is a powerful emotion and provides a vast, nearly limitless framework within which to explore what makes humans human.

JG:  Favorite thing about being a writer?

CJ:  Writing.

JG:  Least favorite thing about being a writer?

CJ:  Writing.

JG:  What is the most interesting thing that’s happened to you since becoming a published author?

CJ:  My life is now so glamorous and exciting that it’s hard to choose. Would it be the vacations in Maui or maybe the winters in Gstad? Flying to Paris just because? Or all the famous people (Brangelina!) who clamor to meet me? My life is sadly quite uninteresting. When I’m not at work or with family or writing, I am either sleeping or thinking about sleeping.

JG:  What’s your favorite type of pie?

CJ:  Pumpkin pie.

Learn more about Scandal here.

Open Wide and Say Oink

            Thank goodness real science is back in vogue. Not one week into the Obama administration, and already scientific discoveries as far-reaching in import as Darwin’s theory of evolution are making headlines. Yes, indeed, word is out about the best-excuse-for-what-ails-you in a long, long time. And this time, it’s something I can really sink my teeth into. Or would that be something that causes me to sink my teeth into things?


from the Pittsburgh Post
from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Go Steelers!)



            Yep, I’m talking about the fatso virus. In case you’ve been hiding in a cave this week and missed the screaming headlines on Fox news and such, I’ll fill you in. There’s actually at least one scientist out there who claims to have evidence that a derivation of a very common virus, which spreads just like the common cold, somehow mutates in the systems of an unlucky chunk of the population causing them—er, uh, us—to get fatter, minus the joy of even having gorged our way into the jumbo-wear department! The idea is this: the virus somehow causes fat cells to replicate wildly out of control. It’s like cancerous blubber. Or blubberous cancer. And it’s all out of our hands (and into our ample derrieres, evidently).

Who’d have thunk? I for one am mercifully relieved to know that a virus—a stinking virus!—is undoubtedly what keeps me from being a lean, mean bikini-donning machine. And while I can’t appreciate what the insidious AD-36 adenovirus clearly has wrought upon me, at least I can appreciate that now I’ve got something on which to blame it when I reach for that dessert tonight. “What the heck? It’s not gonna do me any good to not eat it. After all, that virus is making those fat cells multiply regardless!”

Of course fat in America is a relative thing, what with the Super Size servings so rampant in this country. Since when did a helping of pasta actually equate to an entire one-pound box of Barilla spaghetti? Even little old Italian grandmothers whose reputations ride on overfeeding their families won’t pile on a plate that high.

But at your average chain restaurant these days, that’s what you get: a whole lotta food. Last month we went to a Brazilian churrascurria for my in-laws’ 50th anniversary dinner. For them it was a little trip down memory lane, as they spent several years living in Rio de Janeiro. For us, it was the express bus ride on the binge-eaters’ superhighway. I would hazard a guess that while residing in Rio—home of that tall and tan and young and lovely girl from Ipanema—the in-laws didn’t gorge themselves quite like we all did at that all-you-can-eat mutton palace.

While bands of waiters wielding meat-laden skewers milled about our private dining area, at the ready to drop large chunks of various meats on our plates, guests helped themselves to a McMansion-sized salad-and-sides bar that could easily have fed a refugee camp for a month. I was sufficiently repulsed by the toddler who grabbed a baseball-sized marinated mozzarella ball from a serving bowl. After squishing it in his germ-infested palm for a minute, he reconsidered and returned it to its rightful place, for the next sucker to place it on his or her plate (and possibly contract the fat virus). That was at least 150 calories that wouldn’t go my way. But I made up for it, and soon my plate over-floweth(ed).


Oink, oink
Oink, oink



As we returned with plates a-groaning to the dining room, a sort of Vincent Price-esque Gothic room with rich, vermillion walls (alas, reminiscent of the carnage that probably occur in the kitchen, what with all the animals they must butcher each night), I suddenly noticed the mirrors. Now I realize from a decorator’s standpoint, mirrors are a great idea—they create an expansive feeling even in a small room. But this room was overrun with ceiling-to-floor mirrors, something that doesn’t exactly lend itself to shoveling food into your mouth, when you know every time you look across the table you’ll see none other than yours truly stuffing your own pie-hole. But this place had a clever little trick: the mirrors were all slimming, placed at a strategic angle so as to easily remove 15 pounds from one’s appearance. So even while we were committing gluttony to the point of nausea, we’d catch glimpses of ourselves—our unusually thin selves—and feel practically justified in going for that third helping of black beans and rice. Because hey, we look so darned good in the mirror!

Nature is a fickle mistress, isn’t she? First she throws a vengeful little fatso virus at us, so that no matter what we do, we pork out. Then she enables us to foolishly trust that we look fine, because the enormous mirrors suspended at a strategic angle tell us we do, even if a cursory check downward argues differently.

But I have faith that a skinny virus must be just around the corner, and I’ll go searching for it—maybe not even wiping the handles of the shopping carts with wet wipes, so as to encourage catching it. Keep watching for me, I’ll be the one hanging out near the skinny people, just waiting for them to sneeze in my direction.