I became an Official Babysitter when I was eleven. My parents went out every weekend, but this particular Friday evening my older sister had to fill in for a coworker at Cracker Barrel. â€śIâ€™ll watch the girls!â€ť I boldly proclaimed, speaking of my two little sisters, wild-haired things with sticky smiles and pink fingers. My parents glanced at each other with some apprehension. â€śIâ€™m big enough,â€ť I pleaded.
We lived in a small town, I had a small family, and when you pair those two lifestyle aspects together, you get a recipe for potential boredom. My three sisters and I cooked up a plethora of schemes to keep our minds and hands busy. Babysitting was one such occupational endeavor. When my older sister took the helm in our parentsâ€™ absence, sheets became houses suspended across the furniture, meals became feasts partaken with old black and white movies, and house cleaning became a race to accomplish our servile duties before the overseers came and beat us to death. To come forward and slide into my sisterâ€™s shoesâ€¦ah, such elation would another eleven year-old never know!
â€śOkay,â€ť Mom finally said, and my headiness came not from her perfume. At long last! I was becoming an Official Babysitter. What a laurel to display on the playground when next I graced it with my maturity-embellished presence!
My parents swept out the door, as they did every Friday evening, with Momâ€™s smell trailing behind her and Dadâ€™s face beaming at having such a lovely girl on his arm. My sister was already at work. I turned around and raised an eyebrow at two curious faces peeping around the couch.
â€śCan we make popcorn?â€ť asked Kelsey, the youngest. I complied right away -- making popcorn the old-fashioned way was a process I had watched a billion times over. I knew the exact measurement of cooking oil to pour into the bottom of a stockpot, how many kernels to pour into the oil only after a single kernel popped at the sufficient heat, and how hard to shake the pot back and forth to get the hard balls of goodness bouncing and jostling.
We gathered the ingredients: unpopped popcorn, stockpot, cooking oil, salt, real butter. To make popcorn would be my first duty as an Official Babysitter. My hands shook as I seized the handles and scooted the stockpot onto the burner. In the short course of my life, I had invariably memorized this entire process in my head, but never sanctified with the high honor of doing it all by myself! Kelsey and Caitlin stood off to one side, their eyes seeming like those of enamored movie extras, watching the superhero fly over their heads.
I poured the oil into the bottom of the pot and grandly flipped on the heat.
But itâ€™s a funny thing, burners. They take so long to heat up.
So naturally we retreated into the living room to watch a movie, color a picture, giggle amongst ourselves. After a time, I sent Caitlin into the kitchen to check on the progress.
She screamed. I flew out of my seat and Kelsey, without knowing what was going on, covered both ears and shouted that she was going to throw up. I raced into the kitchen and, beholding the stovetop, felt every muscle seize in a numbed panic.
Flames were leaping from the stockpot, raging all over the stove. They licked the underside of the microwave and made the air dance in front of the dials controlling the heat. Caitlin burst into tears. I saw my life flash before my eyes as my body instinctually jumped at the stovetop, reached through the fire, and flipped off the heat.
I did next, in my shaken state as an incompetent Babysitter who just failed her first mission, wasnâ€™t that intelligent. I grabbed the pot by both handles and threw it to the floor. The stockpot clattered to rest on the linoleum and the bottom burned a hole in the material, rupturing the floor.
My parents returned several hours later to find all us holding each other and acting especially friendly, eyes glazed over and a burnt smell lingering about the house.
Mom looked at the floor and came over to me. My face was pressed into that beautiful perfume and her soft voice murmured, â€śBaby, you did a wonderful job.â€ť
I have remained the Head Official Babysitter ever since.Â My only rule instigated throughout my ranks?Â Popcorn is made only in microwavable bags.