Thursday, January 19, 2006

A Summer Job Involving Bugs, Snakes and Bratty Kids

The notice hanging on the bulletin board of my dormitory caught my eye. Someone wanted to hire a live-in nanny for the summer. I did not want to go home for the summer. So, I called the number.

The woman and her friend came to interview me at my college student union. I can't remember anything of the interview, but afterwards, I was desperately hoping for the job, sure I wouldn't get it. And then she called and said, "I just felt like God was telling me to take you under my wing. So, you're hired." I must have sounded pathetic with my tale of divorced parents and not wanting to go home for the summer. Whatever the reason, I was thrilled.

I'm sure it broke my dad's heart, but at the time, that never occurred to me. I was determined not to return to my suburban home, to a job at a fast-food restaurant or worse. A job as a nanny sounded exciting.

The first day, the 10-year old boy called me "fat," and nicknamed me "Mamabahama." I was not amused. In addition to the 10-year old, I was in charge of a 7-year old girl, a 5-year old boy and a 6-week old baby. Their mother didn't have a job outside the house, but her husband was a doctor and she wanted help over the summer. I was the help. I was the playmate, the idea-gal, the errand-runner. I was the relief pitcher, the back-up mom, the one who walked that fussy baby for miles back and forth on the hardwood floors until she slept. I grocery-shopped, took kids to amusement parks, drove the car on long trips.

I lived next door in an apartment attached to the neighbor's house. Goldie, the wrinkled and tan landlord, was said to be an alcoholic, but I never saw evidence of that. The apartment was furnished with the same kind of gold fake-Americana furniture I'd left behind in my suburb. A few Reader's Digest condensed novels lined a shelf. I had practically nothing, hardly any clothes, even.

One night, I opened the door and flipped on the overhead light to see a scattering of cockroaches on the floor. I sprang into action, terrified, inexperienced, but fierce. I grabbed juice glasses from the cupboard and trapped a cockroach under each one. I'm sure I squealed like a girl during this battle, freaked out completely. I'd never seen a cockroach before in my young, sheltered life.

The problem, of course, occurred when I finished catching cockroaches beneath glasses. I couldn't crunch a bug skeleton. I still can't. I had no bug spray. What's a nineteen year old girl to do? I lived alone, remember, with a mostly invisible alcoholic landlord. And I've never been one to ask for help.

So I did what any clever girl would do. I slid paper under the glasses and carried the whole contraption to the toilet where I dumped the cockroaches one by one into the toilet bowl. My system broke down, however, when a particularly boisterous cockroach--the last one-- scrambled on the thin paper, causing me to panic, screech and fling my hands up in a girlish display of fear. When I did so, the glass somersaulted and landed in the toilet, broken upon impact. The cockroach crawl stroked past the jagged edge, laughing.

Not to be outdone despite my racing pulse, I ran for the kitchen and grabbed the Dawn dish-washing liquid and squirted until the cockroach passed out from laughing or smothered in the bubbles. I'm not sure which. Then I gingerly extracted the broken glass from the toilet, flushed and shuddered.

I didn't have a television, so I read those condensed novels and part of Mario Puzo's The Godfather. But mostly, I worked.

And those kids hated me, especially the 10-year old boy. I cut them no slack. One day, I'd taken them to Silver Dollar City and the boy purchased a plastic comb fashioned to look like a switchblade. He tormented his siblings on the way home, continually flicking them. I told him, "If you do that again, I will take that from you." And he did. And I did. And then the parents questioned me and as I recall, very reluctantly backed me up.

He was a trial, that boy. His sister was 7, easy as pie. The 5-year old boy was dreamy, distracted, adorable. I remember him with his feet on the breakfast table, a sticky cereal spoon in his hair. The baby was a girl, too, and a fussy thing. My job involved walking up the gravel road, cradling that baby in my arms until she slept. Blackberry vines reached out with thorny arms to scratch me, the mosquitoes and their loud-Missouri bug cousins shrieked in my ears. We in the Pacific Northwest might have too much rain, but we do not have bugs that whistle and click and holler and shout like those southern bugs do. I never got used to that outdoor noise at Tablerock Lake.

Nor did I ever grow comfortable with the idea that cottonmouth snakes lurked under the dock. We do not have poisonous swimming snakes, either, in my home state. But the kids swam, and so I had to swim, too. The back yard sloped down to the shores of Tablerock Lake and the view was pretty (for the Ozark so-called Mountains). Sometimes we went for boat rides, but mostly, we sat on the dock, sometimes catching tiny fish with kernels of corn on our hooks.

I hated that summer. I liked the mother quite well. Aside from the 10-year old, I grew fond of the children. But I was lonely, desperately lonely for my new college friends, and far from my home in Washington state. I hated the hot humid weather. Friends came to visit a few times and my sisters and stepmother stopped by for a couple of days. I received letters from friends, which helped sate my loneliness some, but I was a giant black hole of loneliness. I was unfillable at the point in my life and pretty much everything good leaked out the bottom of my broken heart.

And so I wasn't a very good nanny.

That summer, we drove to Cedar Park for vacation, then on to West Virginia to stay with grandparents. Another time, we went to New Orleans, but I stayed in a round hotel with the baby the entire time we were there. Once, the father had a car accident (a race car accident, if I recall correctly) and the mother had to rush out of town and the housekeeper and I were in charge of all the children for a few scary days.

We went to a cultish little Pentecostal church which freaked me out almost as much as the cockroaches, even though I'd been raised in a Pentecostal church my whole life. We had season's passes to Silver Dollar City and a water-park, which was the scene of the worst sunburn of my life. We rode bikes, did crafts, went to the library.

I earned five hundred dollars a month. Plus room and board. And when I started, she took me to Wal-Mart and bought me frumpy culottes, a horrifying sort of uniform.

But I was grateful. I earned my own way for a whole summer and I triumphed over cockroaches. And when I returned to school, things went from bad to worse, but that's a story for another day.

So what was your worst summer job?


Blogger Eyes said...

How interesting. Great story. My wost summer job was working for a dentist in high school -- who was Pakistani. I went in, he offered to train me -- and I took the job. It was a whopping $7.00 an hour when minimum wage was $2.35. I was thrilled.

The bad part? The Indian clients who came to him were dirt poor, and had the worst teeth you ever saw. I mean rotton, smelly -- awful!!! But it got worse -- he slaughtered their mouths. Blood sprayed everywhere. Every time I left, I was coated. Took an AIDS test since (this was before AIDS) and I am fine thankfully.

But it didn't end there. I was 16 and next thing I know he hires an 18 year old, and he starts going after her. I find them in the X-ray closet making out!! Then he starts calling me JAIL BAIT! I about died.

I quit. Found another office that was respectable and through that training and experience I figured out this dentist wasn't a dentist. He didn't know anything. He NEVER STERILIZED ONE THING correctly. Egats. Can I barf? I think he had a fake license. When I figured it out, I went back and he had vanished! It still gives me the shits!!!!!

7:17 AM  
Blogger yorkist rose said...

My worst summer job was a 10 day stint at a Girl Scout camp. I had been working all summer at a Camp Fire camp with friends I loved. I knew my way I knew what I was doing. I was somebody. At the end of the season they came to the staff and said another camp needed help, 10 days and it was a chance to pick up another couple of hundred bucks.

Well, the other staff member who was supposed to go never showed and I ended up there alone in a primitive camp (tent/outhouse instead of the cabin/flush toilets I was used to). On my third day there my grandfather died of cancer and I missed two days for the funeral. I never made any friends, I did very little work and when it rained the tent leaked. On my head. But bless them, they paid me every dime. I didn't earn it and I felt bad but I took the money and never looked back.

Sorry about your gig in Missouri -- my home state, by the way. Great writing, though.

7:41 AM  
Blogger portuguesa nova said...

Absolutley fantastic story!

Every business owner in my hometown is in the running for the title of World's Cruelest Human Being. I have worked for three of them, sometimes being so masochistic as to have two jobs in one summer. I still have nightmares.

9:24 AM  
Blogger Turtle Guy said...

Interesting about the 10 year old boy. What a complimenting gentleman, too! "Mamabahama"? The Bahamas, as I understand it, are BEAUTIFUL! And to be the mother of something beautiful... wow... He must have grown up to be quite the ladies man.

11:27 AM  
Blogger The Daring One said...

Not as bad as yours, although I do have my own nanny diaries. I once spent the summer working in one of those little booths in the mall that sold things made out of horse-shoes. Hat-racks, etc. Crazy good times. Luckily I was not paid on commission. Although if I remember correctly, I was paid under the table and not much at all.

6:56 PM  
Blogger weorwe said...

My worst was a day camp the second summer after college. I applied for a job I wasn't adequately prepared for (because it paid better), and for some reason they hired me for it, which they shouldn't have, and it didn't work out well. I was an inclusion coach, supposed to help the other leaders and kids work with the differently abled. My only experience was subbing in the mildly retarded class in high schools. No other training.

(The best part about my one summer working at Girl Scout camp was the platform tents -- I loved their somewhat-less-but-still primitiveness.)

7:29 AM  
Blogger dinodoc said...

I spent 2 weeks sorting garbage for a recycling study. 'Nuff said.

12:25 AM  
Blogger Tina said...

I don't think I would liked being a nanny either! Although, I might have liked it better than working as a summer hire in the motor pool on an Army base...yes, that was my worst summer job.

8:24 AM  
Blogger Liz said...

Missouri does have some wicked bugs.

You inspired a fresh post idea. Here is my least favorite summer job story.

4:14 PM  

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