Another Conversation With My Teenager Babysitter (and Daughter)

Disclaimer 1: Teenage Babysitter is a very bright and personable girl.

Disclaimer 2: I have an ungodly fear of cockroaches, (also known as water bugs and palmetto bugs). This is probably because I grew up Florida, where the cockroaches are gargantuan and, God help us, sometimes FLY THROUGH THE AIR.  My daughter shares my phobia–most likely because I unleash a bloodcurdling scream whenever I see a cockroach. (This annoys my husband, who thinks I am being murdered.) I put EVERYTHING in containers and throw away my garbage every night. Regardless, this is New York City, and we occasionally encounter one.

Now, my story: A few weeks ago, I asked Teenage Babysitter to watch my daughter while I went to my writing group. I came home to find my kitchen in ruins. Specifically, smashed crackers, stalks of broccoli and chocolate cookie crumbs were strewn in front of my oven. It was like Hansel and Gretel collided with a toddler armed with Cheerios.

Me: “Okay…what happened?”

Daughter: “There was a COCKROACH!”

Me: “What does that have to do with all these crumbs?”

Teenage Babysitter: “The cockroach ran under the stove. Your daughter was convinced that we needed to lure it out, so we decided to scatter crumbs so we could kill it.”

Me: *blinking rapidly* “Interesting.”

Daughter: “He didn’t come out yet, but HE WILL!” (Yeah, that’s what I said about a friend of mine ten years ago. Still waiting.)

Teenage Babysitter: “She insisted. She said you were really afraid of cockroaches, so we needed to kill it before you came home. ”

Me: *still blinking* “That was very…creative.”

Babysitter and Daughter: Smile broadly.

So, cockroaches: welcome to my house. Apparently, we’ll feed you well.

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The Imaginary Japanese Elf Friend (with a record)

As I put my six-year-old daughter to bed, she asked me to playact a story about Button, her imaginary elf friend. Cue Button being arrested. (He’s arrested in almost every story. Don’t ask.)

Me (as police officer): Where’s the criminal, ma’am?
Daughter: Here, officer. He’s being extremely bad.
Me: What is the perpetrator’s name?
Daughter: Button Kawasaka.
Me (out of character): Wait, Button’s Japanese? I never knew that!
Daughter: Um, YES. I can’t believe you had no idea.

So, my kid not only has an imaginary friend, he’s a Japanese elf who gets arrested in every story. I think we might have an HBO series in the making.

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Conversation with my Teenage Babysitter, Who is the Daughter of a Friend of Mine

Me: So, how’s your mother?

Her: Scrunches up face

Me: She’s okay, right?

Her: Makes face as though she has terrible, terrible news, but cannot put it into words.


Her: Well, I never know how to answer. It’s so difficult.

Me: Silent, shocked, breathless, thinking about the fact that my friend was kind of mysterious about her most recent doctor’s visit and maybe she had tests and not only that, I don’t really KNOW her boyfriend because he’s quiet and doesn’t talk much and what if maybe he’s really not as nice as he seems.

Her: I mean, how is she? Hmmmm. She didn’t win the lottery, so she’s not great. And nothing terrible happened, so things aren’t bad. It’s just such a hard question to answer.

Me: It’s really okay to just say “fine.”

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Depression Dolls and $40 Feedbag Dresses

My mom was born during the Great Depression. (I know–that makes me feel really old.) She grew up on a sugarcane farm in rural Australia, and didn’t even have electricity–if I’m remembering the story correctly–until she was 14. As a result, my mother was always thrifty and often felt as though we as a family could do without many things that a typical American family would have considered necessities.

Buy me! In this picture, I look like I'll murder your daughter and your family while you sleep!

Buy me! In this picture, I look like I’ll murder your daughter and your family while you sleep!

In other words, my mother would never be enough of a sucker to spend $110 on a doll who comes packaged with a story about the Great Depression. My daughter was dying to be the proud owner of Kit Kittridge, an American Girl doll who is described on the AG site thusly:

Even though the Great Depression was filled with hard times for families, Kit helps hers by being resourceful. With her best friend, Ruthie, by her side, Kit figures out clever ways to make do with what she has. She also learns to treasure what money can’t buy—friends and family.

Yeah. So I spent $110 on resourceful Kit, who “makes do with what she has” and “treasures what money can’t buy.” Anyone else see the irony? Now, I’ll admit that I’ve seen the Kit Kittridge movie, and it’s sweet and heart-warming. Abigail Breslin makes a suitably plucky Kit–one with ambition, to boot. (She wants to be a newspaper reporter.)

However, in the story, Kit is horrified that some of her friends must now wear dresses made from feedbags–but of course, her own family’s finances soon plummet to that point. Luckily (and not surprisingly), Kit’s mother makes the prettiest feedbag dresses ever!

Part of me was hoping that the feedbag dress would be for sale at American Girl, a veritable pink-and-black temple of high commerce. However, it seems that the AG execs are too savvy to offer a $40 Depression-era doll dress made from faux feedbags.

I don’t mean to sound bitter. I actually like the American Girl historical dolls and I think it’s great that little girls are fascinated by every detail of their imaginary lives. My only real issue with the dolls is that the price point is exclusionary for many, many people in this country, especially as we experience the greatest recession to date.

And there’s no doubt that any little girl taking notes could one day learn to be a brilliant marketer. Maybe I’ll just join Conan and his doll for a little Chardonnay. Enjoy!

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A Tribute to Amazon and PG Wodehouse

What ho, old chap! Hail fellow well met and all that. Have you heard? Apparently, the Drone Club is making its mark upon the world. One wouldn’t think our traditional little club in Mayfair would break new ground, but apparently, we are Modern. We’ve begun admitting ladies! Now, don’t let your face fall—it might freeze that way and then you’d be even less successful with the femmes than you are at present.


I must admit that at first, I had the same reaction—ladies in our cozy drawing room? It will ruin all the camaraderie, what? No more will the eggs, beans, and crumpets be perfectly free to be…well, eggs, beans, and crumpets. And you know I like girls just as much as the next chap—more, even!  (Well, perhaps only the good-looking ones.) Still, I must admit there’s part of me that feels as though the fairer sex is best admired at a distance.

But here’s the good news! These ladies…well, they’re Amazons. The mythological type, I gather, although I having trouble fathoming the idea of members who don’t actually exist. But no matter, old chap! I’ve always had a penchant for statuesque—some might even say Junoesque–women.  I believe it had something to do with my sister’s tennis instructor. Really, her backhand was unequalled.

Here’s the really shocking thing…apparently, once we align with these warrior princesses, we’ll actually take flight! Imagine—airborne drones gently floated aloft by love and devotion. Apparently, we’ll deliver parcels, too. Not sure how that happened, since all the Drones share an antipathy for work, but the love of a good woman and all that…

Look, chappie, I must fly—see what I did there? A joke, and it wasn’t even intentional! I owe Pongo Twistleton-Twistleton a tenner and he’s heading this way. Keep me in the know if you hear anything more about these non-pocket Venuses. Ta-ta!

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My Kid’s Never Read The Rules

Henry's present

Henry’s present

It’s Valentine’s Day, and my daughter is crushing on her fellow line leader, Henry—or, as her father and I like to call him, The Most Interesting Kindergartner in the World. We’ve heard a lot about Henry over the past few weeks. He likes to learn about animals, and has a particular interest in poisonous frogs, which apparently come in an array of colors. Since a poisonous frog doesn’t seem like an appropriate Valentine’s Day gift, my daughter bought him a book about animals. She insisted on wrapping it herself, without any help, so let’s hope Henry’s aesthetic standards are not high.

I’m not sure if Henry returns her sentiment, and for a period of time, I was hearing so much about him that I hoped he wasn’t pondering a restraining order. My daughter’s babysitter half-jokingly suggested that we tell her that the man is supposed to give presents to the woman. But my kid’s obviously never read The Rules, a book about how ladies should play hard-to-get (although she would wholeheartedly endorse the authors’ advice about growing your hair long).  She just expects Henry to like her back, which is the great thing about being five. There’s no overthinking the situation.

I felt reassured about the stalking when I heard Henry apparently plans to get her a puppy for Valentine’s Day. All I can say is, let’s hope it’s a stuffed animal. (I love puppies. Who doesn’t love puppies? But we live in New York City, which is not conducive to puppy owning.) However, my daughter said it’s fine if Henry doesn’t get her a present at all. So much for The Rules. In the meantime, I look forward to the stories of The Most Interesting Kindergartner in the World, and seeing my daughter smile every time she says his name.

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A One-woman Finishing School

I once read that Carolyn Bessette Kennedy credited the development of her aesthetic sense to her job at Calvin Klein. Unfortunately, I can’t say that I had much in common with poor departed Carolyn, but I do believe my time at a former job with Estee Lauder Companies did make me more aware of design. Things like brand equity were taken very seriously, and I remember a huge debate that broke out when a creative director decided to put models in—gasp!—bathing suits in an ad. (Even very modest one-piece suits “were just not done.”)

One of the best things about my time there was Maureen.  She named products, and had been at the company forever. Since space was at a premium, I was placed in front of her office—where an assistant would go, if she had one. On my first day, a very short, very chic woman of a certain age stalked past my desk.  Suddenly, she whirled toward me.

“Dear,” she said, “I know I haven’t introduced myself, but I’m Maureen. I apologize for being so rude, but I’m all in a tizzy because of those c**ksuckers in legal.”  I think I managed to keep my jaw from dropping, as she pushed her carefully coiffed hair behind one ear and smiled sweetly. (I later discovered that she always had it done by Kenneth, who–of course–had been Jackie Kennedy’s stylist.)

Over time, Maureen and I became great friends and she regaled me with tales of her transformation from Catholic schoolgirl to former Vogue editor. She worked for Carmel Snow and knew Diana Vreeland—or vice-versa. I could never quite keep it straight, even though I found it fascinating.

Best of all, Maureen was full of advice. She told me to buy a home outside New York City so I wouldn’t “be stuck working as an old lady.” She also believed that I always need to be doing something that would make me more interesting. (She very much approved when I told her I was running a marathon,  because “it gives you something to talk about at cocktail parties.” When I told her I wasn’t very fast, she said, “Just don’t mention that part to anyone.”)

Apparently, it was vitally important that I shop at Barney’s and Bergdorf’s, even if I could only buy one or two new things a year. Maureen window-shopped at one store or the other every lunch hour, and adored a high-end fashion designer whose name was suspiciously like Zoltar, the fortune teller in Big. She would (despite the fact that she was presumably working at age seventy or so because she needed the money) occasionally give me presents of pieces of clothing that she thought would be “chic and useful.” I suspect she thought I needed the help.

Naturally, she always asked me about boyfriends, and when I occasionally didn’t have one, she’d tell me I’d get one if I’d stop “being so funny.” After all, she said, men like to be the entertaining ones. And of course it was sexist, darling, but it was true.

Maureen and I had a few lunches after I left that job, but then I found out one day that she had retired. I wasn’t sure how to find her—all I knew was that her husband was a former architect named Jack and she had a son who was a chef. To be honest, after some time went by, I was afraid to search, because I feared I’d find that she’d passed on.

Sometimes, she would say to me when she left the office, “Darling, you are loved. Know that.” Maureen, you were loved, too.


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