I remember as a teenager going to the home of some children I was asked to babysit. The purpose of my visit that day was not to babysit, but for the mom to check me out before she trusted me with her children later that month. I remember she told me that she and her husband were attending a marriage “encounter”. I remember smiling sheepishly as I didn’t understand what that meant, plus it sounded X-rated so I didn’t want to appear that I knew what it was anyway.
I was asked to sit at the kitchen table while the mother, complete with hair “flip”, frilly apron and that 70’s red lipstick forming a perfect heart on her top lip, grilled me with questions and simultaneously showed me how she ran things around the house.
Flip Mom moved from topic to topic, talking about everything from safety to bedtimes to the childrens’ toilet habits. She showed me where things were kept, and let me know what I could touch, and what I could not. Flip Mom said no to TV, but said that she might make an exception that night, and would let me know when I arrived on babysitting night. Although I badly wanted the job, I remember thinking I was working awfully hard for it, what with having to endure all of the unpaid “training” and all.
As I sat there that day, I observed this little family, the mother and her two girls, going about their activities. I can still picture the scene in my mind of those two little girls, impeccably dressed, hair done up, reading story books at the table, as their mother served them sliced apples and celery sticks on a tray. When the youngest begged for a treat, Flip Mom gave them each a miniature piece of candy right out of the freezer, explaining that the Halloween candy was taken out only on special occasions, and even then only one piece at a time. I remember wondering if this woman thought that I might stuff her children full of chocolate while she was gone, and made a mental note to completely stay away from the freezer that night, just in case.
It was a small house, and I could see into almost every room right from the kitchen. I saw learning paraphernalia all over the place, and even spied an old record player (that’s right, 45’s) in the next room surrounded by what the girls told me were classical records scattered all over the floor. There were few “toys” there, and most everything seemed to have a purpose, a learning purpose. To me, way back then, there didn’t seem to me to be anything fun; and I admit feeling sorry for those girls, thinking those poor children must have had a dreadful life. They looked happy enough, but Flip Mom obviously made their lives miserable.
Fast forward a decade or two and I became a mom myself. I busied myself with things like safety, bedtimes and toilet habits. I served apples and celery sticks and I hid Halloween candy in the freezer. I limited TV and littered my home with learning gadgets of all kinds. In fact, classical is still the music of choice during lunchtime here, even though our music now comes from CDs played over a boom-box on the kitchen counter. And though my children are almost grown up, I confess that I still like them neatly dressed and it frankly bothers me when their hair isn’t combed.
As I look around my home and think about my parenting style, I realize that I am not much different from that Flip Mom of many years ago. Thought I never used babysitters, I am pretty sure I would have grilled them the same way that the 70’s mom grilled me. I want only the best for my children, as she did for hers. I make decisions based on what I think is right just like she did. And you can’t tell me I am too rigid or over-protective – I’m a mom and it’s in my job description.
I recently posted on a mom’s group a confession about myself. I admitted that I stink when it comes to planning social activities but that I’m great at planning classes and field trips, or anything involving learning for that matter. Though I enjoy having vino with the girls and chatting on the telephone with old friends, I am much more comfortable planning a writing lesson or talking about school. In fact, I refer to myself as “Geek Mom” , which I just a moment ago realized is the full-blown modern equivalent of Flip Mom, only with a different ‘do’.
I look back to my babysitting years and think, “Wow! What a great mom she was, that Flip Mom.” She knew what was right and she did it, no excuses to me or anyone. And though my public school upbringing and my teenager mind-set couldn’t see it back then, I see it so clearly now. She was great. And her children were extraordinary. And mine are, too. I get it. I am Geek Mom and I am fine with it.
I ended up making three dollars on babysitting night. The money was handed to me in a tiny envelope, wrapped in a little bitty Hallmark gift card, like the kind you attach to a baby shower gift. It had a kitten on top and, inside, was written, “THANKS!” all in caps. Flip Mom had trusted me, like she trusted herself. I didn’t understand her then, but I so understand her right now.