Blazing the Trail

My first adventure into the world of work began when I was twelve years old and started baby-sitting. It was a great way to earn spending money and after the kids were in bed I had plenty of free time to read and watch TV. This seemed like a dream job, until I got a little older.

In my senior year, my needs changed (read: boys) and on weekends, I wanted to go out with my friends. My parents thought I was too young and my policeman Dad, overly protective in my mind, had no understanding of how that cop car in the driveway was impacting my social life. After much whining and begging on my part, they finally pronounced that I could go out if I didn’t have a babysitting job on Saturday night.

This worked for a while but soon I felt trapped. Often, at the last minute, someone would call for a baby sitter and I’d have to drop my plans. There was actually one time when my friend’s car was idling in the driveway, my hand was on the door knob, then the phone rang and I was out of luck.

On most Saturday’s I’d be a wreck all day. Each time the phone rang, my world would stop. Please, please, please don’t let it be a babysitting job. I’ve made it the whole week with no call. I have plans. Really important plans. Please, please, please. I tried to convince my parents that backing out at the last minute could lead to my friends no longer including me? I was frantic! But Mom and Dad, the long revered united front, were adamant. Those were the rules.

Finally, I had to do something; the whole world was passing me by! So occasionally, I started saying I had a babysitting job when I didn’t. This phantom commitment was always for the Pickering’s or the Taylor’s who were just a short walk around the corner. Friends, and especially boys, loved being part of the conspiracy of picking me up down the block.

I was amazed how easy this was and that Mom and Dad never asked questions. I guess they were just happy I was making less of a fuss. And I was careful not to do it too often so they wouldn’t get suspicious. But my life of crime was in for a jolt.

One night, after I was already out with friends, Mrs. Erickson, who I’d said I was sitting for, called. She explained that something had come up at the very last minute; she was sorry to be calling so late and would certainly understand if I was already booked. Dad took the call and, I found out later from my sister, his investigative skills quickly kicked in as he realized what was going on.

He grilled my sister, who, of course, knew everything. The group of boys from Milwaukee who visited one of their family’s cottages out on the lake. The exciting new romance my friend, Ellen, was enjoying. The beer keg in the living room. Looking back I see a parent’s concern but at the time, the freedom and excitement was alluring. Ratted out by my own sister. Darn!

Once he had the whole story, he was in hot pursuit. For many years, Dad proudly told how he walked right up to the front door, knocked and asked for me to come outside. He informed me I should get my coat and follow him. I was going home! Though not in his police uniform, my memory is vivid of the aura of power and authority he displayed that night and every other time I’d challenge the status quo. And there were many.

It was a very quiet drive home, but this ordeal wasn’t over. Once in the kitchen we all stood around being uncomfortable. Mom, off in the corner, wringing her hands and my sister smirking in enjoyment that I’d finally been caught.

Dad rummaged around in the kitchen junk drawer until he found the ruler he’d long ago used for discipline. He put it in my hand.

“Here, take this,” he said in a calm and quiet voice.
“Go ahead,” he continued as he turned away from me, bent over a little and pointed to his backside.
“Go, on. Give it to me. I’ve been a bad father. If I’d been a better father, you wouldn’t be doing this.”

He seemed ready to maintain this freeze-tag pose until I delivered the punishment he was certain he deserved. Or was he pulling some reverse psychology? Either way, I wasn’t buying it. I put the ruler down on the counter, went up to my room and pouted.

A few days later, after things had calmed down, I decided to once again plead my case. I went to Mom first as I was accustomed to doing. She sympathetically listened but then ended with her usual answer.

“You’ll have to talk to your father. There isn’t anything I can do.”

By the time I got the courage to approach Dad, I think they’d talked to each other and to some of their friends who’d had similar problems. Or maybe Mom’s persuasive skills were better than I thought. Either way, they seemed to have a new understanding of what was at stake.

Much to my relief, our conversation wasn’t the usual interrogation, instead more calm and reasonable. From then on, I was allowed to go out on Saturday nights, no matter what. This was a huge win and just the first in a series of compromises my parents had to make for me, the oldest of their six kids.

Much later, while home on a visit from college, I could tell things had changed. The rules had loosened up considerably, judging from the freedom and autonomy my three youngest siblings were enjoying. I had to fill them in and we sat down for a talk.

I loved telling them my stories of how things used to be. And I made sure they realized how much they were benefitting from my early bravado. And just how much they owed me. But I most enjoyed boasting that now there was no way Dad could interfere with the delayed adolescence I was finally enjoying at college.

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