22 December 2010

Babysitting

Between the ages of sixteen and eighteen, I earned quite a lot of pocket money through babysitting. Mostly I went to two homes on nearby Barley Gate - a small private housing estate that had been built on fields adjacent to our house in the mid-sixties.

In one of the homes I went to, there was a little boy called Neil. Often, after his parents had driven off, he'd get up and tiptoe downstairs to get me to read him a story. He'd sit on my knee and when the story was done, I'd take him back upstairs and tuck him in. Twenty years later, I met him again in a pub in Beverley. He came over and hugged me - though at first I didn't recognise him. He was now a strapping, handsome soldier - as tall as me and so obviously delighted to reconnect with a character he remembered warmly from his happy childhood.

At the other home I went to, there were two little girls. One was called Dawn but I can't remember the younger girl's name. Their mother, Pat, always made me up a supper tray which I'd look forward to after a spell of A level homework. The little girls nearly always slept soundly. I would look in on them occasionally to check that they were okay. Once Dawn woke up - she had a bad cold - and I brought her into the warm sitting room where I made up a story about fairies in the garden before carrying her back to her bed.

When we moved from the Crookes region of Sheffield here to Banner Cross, our Frances was only ten months old. A schoolboy called Jamie - who was seventeen at the time - called round every Friday to collect payment for the week's milk deliveries. He was an affable young man and after a few weeks we decided to ask him if he'd like to make a bit more pocket money by babysitting for us. He jumped at the chance and so for a few months we had the services of a trustworthy babysitter.

Jamie is now in his late thirties and a manager at the nearby suburban restaurant where Frances worked as a silver service waitress from the age of fourteen. Jamie kindly offered her a few shifts through the Christmas period. On her first night back, he announced to some of the new waitresses that this was Frances and that he used to babysit for her when she was literally a baby. One of the new girls said something like this - "You mean her parents trusted you to babysit? A teenage lad looking after a little girl?" The essence of her remark clearly being that young men cannot be trusted when it comes to child-minding for they are all potential perverts or paedophiles.

Living across the road from us now, there's a lovely little family, including two delightful small girls called Sophie and Helen. I know them far better than Shirley does simply because - since my "retirement" - I've seen a lot more of them. The dad, Chris, has a job which often takes him out of the country so his wife frequently has to operate as if she's heading a one parent family. I talked it over with Shirley and offered our babysitting services. Interestingly, they have made the automatic assumption that it will be Shirley doing the babysitting and not me. Between the lines, I can sniff that same widespread notion that you just cannot trust men any more when it come to babysitting.

It is both sad and maddening. Jamie and I are like the vast majority of men everywhere. The idea of sexual contact with children is repulsive to us. Our instinct to protect children and brighten their days is as strong in us as it is in the majority of women. Why should we as "normal" right-minded men have to suffer unspoken suspicions nurtured by the gutter press and inflammatory television programmes? Small children have the right to learn that daddy is not the only good guy and that nearly every man they encounter will mean them no harm whatsoever.

11 comments:

  1. You are right of course.

    I'm male, and am a stay at home parent. Many other stay at home dads I know complain about discrimination against them as caregivers and I can honestly say I've never come across it.

    What I have come across however is my own unease when in places like playgyms where I seem to attract kids like some sort of pied piper. I can feel peoples eyes zoom onto me in a heartbeat as their kids want to play the rough and tumble games with them like I am doing with my own kids.

    I personally blame a sensationalist media.

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  2. As a society, we are all so suspicious of each other and so quick to assume the worst.

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  3. passez un bon fétes de fin d'année.

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  4. Can you hear the sound of my cheering? I hope it's reached all the way to Sheffield. What a lovely post and what a good point.

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  5. Although I heartily agree with you , in this day and age parents have to be vigilant. Though the unspeakable doesn't happen very often (in the greater scheme of things )experience has shown that these monsters often appear like nice friendly men and often hold down positions of trust.
    I'm sorry YP, for you and all the caring men out there who have to endure being put under the microscope. It's made teaching (such a caring profession where physical contact in the form of hugs was par for the course )very difficult especially for the men in the job.
    Cheers
    Helen

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  6. The best babysitter my brother and I ever had was an old cowboy friend of my parents. He taught us to play poker and ate all the do-it-yourself snacks we cooked up for him. As farm kids, we were pretty rough and tumble. We ran loose all over our little valley and no one ever bothered us. Some old guy - a vagrant I think - exposed himself to us once when we were playing near the barn. We had no real idea what he was doing, but we threw rocks at him anyway and thumped him good. He took off. He was lucky, if my mom had seen him she would have shot him. People nowdays raise their children to be such helpless ninnies.

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  7. So sad isn't it? the way of the world now causes anxieties that really shouldn't be there.

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  8. The majority of people connect male relationships with children as those of proud dad, jolly uncle, indulgent granddad, committed scout leader etc. So why do they suspect men they don't know as being paedophiles? I blame the media, but then I always do!

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  9. I came over here to wish you a merry Christmas and a joyful 2011 and to tell you I always enjoy reading your comments to RWP's posts ;-)

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  10. RESPONSES TO COMMENTS:-
    1. DAN I am so pleased that my annoyance struck a chord with you. To be a stay at home dad of fairly young Yorkshire children is in my book most admirable. Keep up the good work and get the bath-pond sorted for the ducks before Spring!
    2. JENNY Suspicious? Nah! Was it you who pinched my wallet when we met up at "The Sportsman"?
    3. IAN And "Bon Noel" to you too mate!
    4. DAPHNE To tell you the truth, it was probably your swimming pool experiences that ignited this particular blogpost.
    5. HELEN Of course, you're right. It's the Catch 22 situation we're all in.
    6. JAN "Helpless Ninnies"? Sounds like a C&W band from the Deep South. You also appear to have enjoyed a pretty carefree upbringing. How different it seems to be for today's children.
    7. LIBBY Some of these anxieties are based on possibilities that are as remote as winning the National Lottery!
    8. SHOOTING PARROTS Somehow I can't imagine you being a "jolly uncle". Probably more like Phil Mitchell from "EastEnders"!
    9. CAROLINA Thanks for dropping by and Merry Christmas to you and your loved ones!

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  11. I know exactly what you mean!
    as a middle aged guy man. I am so careful when interacting with kids ( and boys)
    many children love visitng the field...and I always try to make sure there is a chaperone around
    .....a bloody awful state of affairs

    have a good Christmas pud!
    best

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