The kids I babysit are convinced that I’m a teenager. For the longest time, I thought that this was because I look a lot younger than I actually am: I’m short and small-boned, I wear my hair long, and don’t use makeup.
But no. It turns out that the main reason why they think I’m not an adult because I don’t have kids of my own.
The youngest one (five) is especially hung up on this idea. She mentions it a lot. And yesterday, the topic came up again. I forget how it started, but something I did prompted her to say (for the millionth time), “You’re a teenager.”
So I explained, once again, that no, I’m not a teenager; in fact, I’ve been an adult as long as she’s been alive.
“But you don’t have kids?” she asked (so incredulously that you’d think she was raising this question for the very first time).
“Nope,” I said. “Not all adults have kids.”
“But why don’t you take care of kids?”
She probably didn’t mean to switch the terms of the discussion from “not having kids” to “not taking care of them,” but her wording hurt nonetheless. I wanted to say, Damn it kid, what do you think I’m doing right now?
But even that is beside the point. I received a really nice email the other day from my friend Lucy in which she said, “I have an immense, immense amount of respect for you that you babysit. I’ve always been really impressed by that. I know I couldn’t do it. Because you’re not in a position where you’re the parent and so you get to grow with them, but instead you’re just supervising them, like an outsider. In my opinion, that would be very difficult. Lina [her fiance] and I have decided we never want to have kids, for a number of reasons, but I don’t think I would be able to babysit. So I have a lot of respect for you.”
And she’s absolutely right about the “outsider” thing. There are a lot of lines I’m hesitant to cross as a babysitter. I even feel uncomfortable blogging about the kids, actually. I want to influence them, of course; we spend a lot of time together. But for one thing, they’re not my children, and secondly, I’m all too aware that a lot of people in the conservative town I live in are put off by the kinds of ideas that I have. So I keep my mouth shut, for the most part.
But not about this. I’m kind of blown away by the thought that the kids I work with literally can’t think of any adults who aren’t parents. I knew a few growing up. My aunt never married or had children. And I loved that she didn’t, because it meant that my sister and I were extra spoiled anytime she came to visit. All of my other aunts and uncles, who had kids of their own, were not charmed by us the way that she was.
Because of the messy economy and the effect it has had on me and others my age (I’m living with my parents to save money while I’m in school), I feel like society treats me like an overgrown teenager and worry that no one will ever take me seriously. So it’s hard to accept that even the five-year-old I babysit can be counted among those who don’t see me as a productive member of society because I don’t have or want children of my own.