Sometimes I get asked to babysit last minute, I've been doing this job practically since Anne M. Martin started writing The Babysitters Club, and I can hardly remember a time when I didn't babysit. For some years in my mid-twenties I was embarrassed that I was still babysitting but I finally got honest with myself and embraced how much I actually enjoyed it. I enjoyed it so much as a kid I even started my own babysitters club when I was thirteen or so, about five of us met at my friend Diane's house creating fliers and waiting for the phone to ring. We would only be available from 3pm - 5pm one day a week so families had to know in advance when they needed us, but, if I'm being super honest, I've always loved hanging out with kids and last night was no exception.
The funny thing about being an adult babysitter in Manhattan is I never know who I'm going to encounter on the other side of the apartment door. When I was in High School I basically had the same families and knew what we were going to do. We would plan our Saturday nights, which usually consisted of baking something delicious, and creating our own music videos to a Beatle's song, but in the city it's a bit different. Sometimes it's a pretty generic after school evening of helping with homework, heating up some pasta, watching a really bad Disney Channel show and saying goodnight. Other times it's dropping someone off at swim, reading my book, and taking them home. Maybe if they are creative we put together an Imovie like last months Edward The Forgotten Tangerine - Or on the lucky nights I show up and the kids are already asleep I just sit in a fancy living room working on my plays. But last night on the other side of the apartment door I met my ten year old self.
Her name was Jules, name changed for confidentiality purposes, and she simply said "hey" when I walked into her apartment. She was sitting reading a book half in that world and half in mine and had this old soul aura about her. She was in fourth grade, about to graduate to Middle School, and the only thing she had to do last night was practice piano, grab some pizza, and finish a little homework. "I'm protesting the Pizza shop." She said with a serious look on her face. "But I'll go as long as you hide me. I don't want to seem like I'm crossing a picket line for when I gather my signatures. They changed their name and it's horrible. You'll see."
She told her mom she had it the schedule covered as she put two fidget spinners in a manilla envelope to mail to her Penn Pals in Columbia. "I think they will be really surprised to get this package. I'm so excited." Kids don't write anymore, I thought to myself. The majority of the children I've hung out with in the last ten years in NYC are snapchatting and social climbing and playing sports and taking fancy classes and vacationing in the Hamptons or the Maldives on Spring Break - they are not mailing a hot new toy to their Penn Pals in Columbia. I told her about my upcoming trip to Ecuador and the theatre project I was doing. "Cool." she said half impressed and half relating. "Do you want to see my stamp collection?"
I looked at her and was immediately back in my childhood home where I had books of stamps, and a certificate of being a Philatelist. I received a great Girl Scout badge for stamp collecting, travelled to Washington DC with my dad for a big stamp collecting conference, and even joined a stamp club. Somehow I hadn't thought about that in years. She took out her stamp book that could have easily been my ten year old self's stamp book and we went page by page through the countries, the categories, and the fun ones she just liked. I had stepped back in time. Maybe it was stamp collecting that fueled my desire to travel at such a young age. All of a sudden I was seeing that the kid I thought I was, strange and weird, was actually an inspiring quirky kid who understood how to embrace life with a whole heart. Jules was so giving of her time, of her thoughts, of her ideas and I started to understand more of who I was and still am. That foundation of childhood, those years right before you become a teenager and start dealing with socializing, are the real pure moments of self. It was a gift to hang out with her and a mirror reflection I never thought I needed.
"I like you, you know most my friends are like adults. Honey is my best friend and I think she's eighty" - She wasn't kidding about Honey being her best friend. When we left to get Pizza we ran into Honey who couldn't have been more excited to see Jules. And as we walked in her neighborhood most adults we ran into were excited to see her. "See. I'm well loved." She said in a frank manner of understanding and not in a egotistical way. I was well loved too as a child, still am, but had trouble believing it always when I was a kid. People talk about walking to the beat of your own drum and it's amazing how at ten you can do that without even thinking but once you start to hit High School, for me at least, I began to question my unique self. Something that I would go back and forth questioning for years. When we returned from pizza, where I successfully hid her and noticed how awful the new name was, she said she was going to dance for me. Randomly a song came on and she began to make up a dance, one that was so familiar to me, a dance I had done often in my childhood. She understood empathy, and not every child has a real grasp on that, something I knew well and didn't know how to express when I was a kid. There's a lot more I could write about regarding my time with Jules but simply I'm grateful that I continue to keep my heart open so I know when I'm being given a gift of seeing a little bit of my true self in a ten year old girl I had never met before.