When it came to childcare, Mom couldn’t afford to be picky.
She needed to find her own version of Mary Poppins who would A. cut her a break on cost and B. watch my brother and me during her string of night shifts.
As Mom pulled up the long gravel driveway that led up to some sort of house-trailer hybrid, the panic set in.
“Is this really it?” I asked, taking in the unkempt acreage with swamp cabbage, pecking chickens, and a group of unruly blonde children.
It was like a scene straight out of Children of the Corn – minus the corn.
Mom didn’t utter a word until she dropped us off at the front door.
“This is Carol. She’s going to be your new babysitter.”
I wanted her to take us, turn away, and never look back.
Instead, she gave us a squeeze, hauled my cardboard box of Barbies out of her trunk and then took off in little yellow Toyota Turcell for work.
Carol was around the same age as my Mom and was also a curly-haired blonde, but that’s where the similarities ended.
Her cartoon-like voice grated on my nerves, and her tight perm reminded me of my aunt’s poodle, Muffin,
I spied one of those tiny crosses around her neck, so I figured she couldn’t be all that bad if she were a holy woman.
Our new babysitter led us on a tour of her house, explaining that there used to be just one bedroom until they added the extension – a trailer.
They needed the space for their growing brood that included their own three children and around a dozen or so daycare kids.
That house felt more like an institution than a home, but I did spy a swing smack-dab in the middle of their living room that piqued my interest.
“Sorry, it looks like your bum is just a little too plump for that,” said Carol as I attempted to fit my chubby seven-year-old derriere on the white plastic seat.
Muffled laughter came from the corner of the room where the ‘anti-vaccination kids’ assembled, making a castle out of wooden blocks.
Mom told us their Mom was a weird hippy and warned us for us to wash our hands after playing with them.
That wouldn’t matter.
We’d all eventually end up with the same case of Chicken Pox – all 14 of us.
I didn’t fit on that swing, and I had a strong inkling I wouldn’t even fit in with this family or the rest of the children under Carol’s watchful eye.
Finally, this lady was speaking my language.
My new babysitter instructed me to close my eyes and bow my head like the rest of the children who dutifully chanted in unison before diving into their steaming bowls of Kraft dinner and wieners.
Mom wasn’t really the praying type, so I had no idea what to say. Instead, I lip-synced the words, stifling a giggle as my infant brother, Clay, grabbed a fistful of neon noodles and mashed them into his highchair.
I took a big swig of milk to wash down a mouthful and spat it across the table, wiener chunks and all.
“This milk tastes like pickles,” I protested, pushing the offensive glass away.
Carol looked up with utter disgust and told me in no uncertain terms, “my milk was just fine.”
It really wasn’t.
I was forced to sit there each night, gagging down each creamy sip until the glass was empty.
Mom would eventually admit she packed our milk for daycare in a pickle jar.
Make me say my prayers. Fine.
Force-feed me pickle milk. Okay.
Take away my Barbies. Lady, this means war.
The hallway from the ‘real house’ to the trailer addition was long, dark and creepy.
It was down that dingy hallway where I’d spend three out of five nights a week in a tiny room that contained bunk beds, a small window, and not much else.
I bunked with Carol’s adopted daughter, Sara. Despite her sheltered religious upbringing, Sara was pretty ‘worldly’ for 10.
We weren’t allowed to watch much TV, and my new roommate didn’t have many toys. My trusty box of Barbies would help pass the time, but it was only a temporary fix.
Sara’s Barbie scantily clad doll, Stacey, was about to engage in another lewd sex act with Ken at prom one dreary, painfully dull Saturday night. The rain pounded against the window, muffling the sound of her footsteps inching closer and closer, and …
“Just what do you two think you’re doing? That’s the Devil’s toy!” screamed Carol, ripping the half-naked dolls out of her daughter’s grasp.
Before leaving and taking my box with her, Carol turned back to heed one last warning.
“God is always watching you, girls.”
Structured religion rubbed me the wrong way as a kid. However, at 35, I’d find myself on a quest to find some sort of higher power or God of my understanding. Some friends invited me to join them at a Mennonite church across town. I saw that sparkle in their eyes and zest for life, and desperately wanted what they had, so I agreed to go.
“Mom, why do we have to go to a stupid church with you?” protested my precocious redhead, Zoe.
At seven, she was the same age I was when I dragged my heels at going to church with two unknown women in a rundown van.
“If you girls behave and sit there quietly during the service without embarrassing me, I’ll buy you guys a Shopkin.”
Zoe looked at her big sis, Molly, and the two nodded in agreement. Neither seemed particularly pleased, but the promise of a new toy sealed the deal.
“Fine, but can I at least bring the Ipad?”
The pastor was a hip thirty-something year old with a Justin Timberlake haircut and high-top chucks. I enjoyed his sermon on relationships, but the sour look on Zoe’s face was distracting.
Everyone was asked to rise for a worship song, and everyone did, except my child.
“This is the worst day of my life!” she said, pulling her winter jacket over her head and curling herself into a tight ball on the pew.
My girls got their Shopkins, but I never did get that religious awakening I so desperately craved.
But hey, if those two women want to whisk my kids or me away in their blue van for a couple of hours each Sunday, I’ll take the break.
Like what you just read? Caring is sharing xo