This weekend supplied me with countless material for an edgy teen novel, or at least, a realistic one.
It all began when I had to go away for one weekend with my husband. We have two kids, seven and ten. So, we needed a responsible person to take care of them. We asked our really great grad student babysitter who is awesome with the kids. Only hitch was, she was graduating this weekend. We went to option B, a high school senior we've known since age 12, who's babysat for us for about six years. She's been to Europe with me, on author tour. However last year, she went a little teen nutty when she got into her first serious relationship. Still, she's graduating in a few days, and I thought, she's almost nineteen, what sort of trouble could she possibly cause in a day-and-a-half?
I learned this weekend that you never, never, never ask that question when a teenager is involved.
The kids are all right. The house didn't burn down. However, I've had a few eye-opening experiences into today's teenage world.
Said babysitter snuck her boyfriend in for a sleepover of her own. I say snuck because I was never asked. Also, he "left" when the kids went to bed, but his truck stayed parked in front of our house all night long. He "returned" at 7:15 by letting himself in through the front door. And she told her parents he didn't stay over. And I guess she figured no one would ever be the wiser.
Doesn't she realize there are no secrets in a house with children? (Diane Sutterfield made a whole book around that very idea, The Thirteenth Tale)
Didn't she ever see Bill Cosby perform stand up or watch his TV show, even in reruns?
The seven year old is the informant.
Did she forget my husband and I were teenagers once as well?
My husband knew all of the right questions to ask our seven year old. And I did a little around the neighborhood investigative journalism. It was pretty easy to put the pieces together and figure out what went on.
It didn't get worse from there, just consistent. She didn't ask if she could have a girlfriend come over and spend the night Saturday night. She told my girlfriend, who's daughter she took along with mine to the movie, the girlfriend was just visiting.
She call me and didn't ask what she should feed the kids when the glaring leftovers in the fridge, the fresh bread, the milk, the fruit, the cold cuts, the ready make mac and chees, pasta, cans of tomoato sauce, frozen pizzas my husband stocked the fridge with on Friday left her without a clue. Instead, she called her parents and told them I hadn't really left any food in the house for my kids and she needed money to take them out to dinner.
She didn't ask if it was okay to go into my bedroom and use my bathroom repeatedly for long baths.
She didn't bother to refill the dog's water bowl and put the dog outside for six hours, then told me she did refill it when I called and asked.
I was never asked. It was the "better to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission" weekend.
I'm ranting. I know. I feel incredibly violated. I feel really disappointed. I feel hurt. And I feel like it's my fault. I should have known, right? What can I say in my defense? She used to be a decent kid. I mean, I've known her for almost seven years. My kids adore her. She's never, to my knowledge, exhibited this kind of irresponsible behavior before when work was involved. And I know kids go through trying times. I was a teenager, however long ago it was, but I remember when I was working, man, I tried to up my game, tried to seem responsible at least.
And this kid, she's almost nineteen. When does maturity and responsibility kick in? My husband said this is teen reality today. They don't want to be responsible. This is their life.
I am so out of touch.
As a human being, I ask myself, where are we going? And, how did we get here? As a parent, I ask myself, is this what I'm going to be up against? As a writer, I ask myself, is this my readership?
Because if it is, man, I've just had an intensive weekend seminar on how some teenagers at least function, what's important to them, and what to write about. It's gonna take a while to process all that. Reams of material.
In the meantime, anybody out there got the name of a decent babysitter???
Ellie, Engineer: Jackson Pearce
2 days ago