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The Ignominy of Being Small

I was reading Finslippy's entry on her baby-sitter hitting her son. Eesh. It got me thinking about bad baby-sitters and brought back memories from a million years ago.

Mrs. King. I must have been 5 or 6, which means my sister was 2 or 3. Mrs. King was a truly awful person, and the worst kind of baby-sitter. She was mean. And while she didn't hit me, she made my six year-old existence a living hell.

I was the kind of kid who went out of my way to seek adult approval, and who avoided confrontation at all costs. My first grade teacher suggested I use a tissue for my nose instead of my finger, and I cried. Not because she yelled; she was as quiet and sweet as possible. But I did something that displeased her, something wrong, and oh, the shame! A strong word from an adult would reduce me to a jelly-kneed, gurgly-bellied, teary-eyed mess. There were some kids who were sent to the principal's office on a regular basis, and I remember being amazed that they could do that and not shrivel up and die from the sheer terror and humiliation of it. That they could go, sit there, and then come back to class so nonchalantly, going about their business while their heart continued to pump blood and their organs continued to function and how did they do that?? Because I was sure I would die.

My first experience with scholastic disciplinary action took place in the first grade. A group of us sat on the reading carpet while the teacher worked with another group elsewhere in the classroom. A childish flirtation was developing between me and John C on that reading carpet. I don't remember how it started, but a word was spoken, then a retort, then more words. Things were good, light-hearted, and I playfully pushed him. Oh, you. A teasing smile. "Hey!" he yelled. "Rachel hit me!" "What? I did not...." "Rachel, did you hit him?" "No! Well I mean sort of but I didn't mean-" "Rachel, please go and sit out in the hall." Oh lord. The Hall. With the child-sized chair placed outside of every door for just this purpose. The Hall was the final stop on the way to the Principal's Office. Oh, the humiliation. My face flushed beet red, I gasped for air and tried to hold back the tears. Don't let them see you cry. And I sat. In the Hall. While teachers on breaks from their classes and the odd wandering parent or student walked by and looked at me as if to say, Rachel? You, in the Hall? I never would have believed...

My point in all this being that I was not the kind of kid who sought out trouble, and my worst offenses up to that point were play-pushing a kid and telling the occasional outrageous lie that always failed outright and miserably, the net result of this being that now I am unable to say with a straight face anything that is even remotely untrue. There goes my career in law or politics...

I was a good kid. Quiet, well-behaved. Adults generally liked me and I generally liked them. And then came Mrs. King. I'm not sure where my mother found her. Maybe she had a flyer on the bulletin board of Selby's grocery store. But she had a son my sister's age, and off we went every day to Mrs. King's townhouse. Maybe she had red hair, like her freckled, bratty boy. Maybe not. I don't really remember what she looked like. Maybe she smoked. I do know that she yelled at me. Right away, and for no particular reason. She told me to CLEAN UP THAT MESS in her son's room. As if I would play with her son's icky toys. I had probably been there less than ten minutes anyway and hadn't had time to make a mess of any sort. "But I didn't make the mess, I didn't even-" I tried to explain. DON'T YOU TALK BACK TO ME NOW CLEAN IT UP!!!! So, I had to clean up her son's toys. All the time. I don't remember what else she said or did, but I do know that whatever it was it instilled a holy fear in me. My clearest, most vivid memory of my time there was playing in her tiny postage stamp backyard. By playing I mean going down the slide over and over and over again, for what felt like ages. It probably started out as a suggestion. Why don't you play on the slide? But I took it as a command and slid on that slide like it was my job. Step step slide circle around step step slide circle around, for probably about three hours, because I was afraid anything else I did would incur her wrath. Now, this wasn't just any slide, not a metal playground slide or anything fun. This was a tiny, plastic Fisher-Price slide made for babies. It was about 2 feet high and it was for BABIES! But yet I circled, wearing tracks in the grass, going out of my tiny little mind, afraid to waver, convinced that as soon as I stopped moving she would snap. And she was happy. She was as happy and relaxed as I had seen her and obviously thrilled we were out of her hair. As I circled, the urge to go to the bathroom grew greater and greater, but I was afraid to say anything. Finally I could take it no longer. I built up all my courage and said, "Um, is it ok if I go to the bathroom?" OF COURSE IT'S OK IF YOU GO TO THE BATHROOM YOU DON'T HAVE TO ASK, she said. And oh! The luxury of doing something else, anything else but going in circles and down the slide! I remember when my father appeared to pick me up that day, it was like angels and sunbeams pouring down out of heaven, I was that relieved to be going.

I remember asking my parents about it in later years, Why did you take us to that awful awful woman?? They said, in their defense, that they didn't take us there for long. I'm not sure what the actual timeline was. It could have been a couple weeks, it could have been months, but man, it felt like forever.

I guess my point in this is that there are bad baby-sitters out there. People who have no business taking care of other people's children. Entrusting your child with a stranger must be very scary. Sympathies to