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The trials of babysitting and the circle of life

• May 28, 2019 at 3:00 PM

Babysitting has always been a great starter job for teens who can’t drive yet. Now babysitting has moved into the digital world with Care.com.

Yet, even though it’s a part of the emerging gig economy, some things remain the same. There are many things about babysitting and growing up in a neighborhood filled with kids that are universal experiences.

Ah, the sounds of spring. Back on my tree-lined street in Grand Rapids where I grew up, about this time of year on Saturdays at 8 a.m., I would awake to the roar of Big Wheels racing down the sidewalk and screeching to a halt at the bottom of the hill.

Before heading out, the boys grabbed a bowl of Cheerios as they got an early start to their day.

The boys included my brother, Jerry Brown; Roger and Blake Martin; along with Kevin, Matt and C.J. Breay. Wendy Martin and I were the big sisters — more mature and refined, we rode actual bikes, and never with them.

After their morning ride, the boys would climb the cherry tree in the Breays’ backyard, chase each other as part of a war game or enjoy a leisurely afternoon setting up army men in the sandbox. Their full schedule went well into the evening with their moms’ calling for them as darkness fell.

Future “Axis and Allies” players, they dared each other to do things — and pushed the boundaries of the kid comfort zone. Their interactions were fun, yet competitive and intermingled with an ongoing banter of negotiation and debate, qualities that would take them into their adult lives.

We were safe on our tree-lined street where all the moms knew each other, went to the PTA meetings and got together for a neighborhood bridge club.

Our house and the Breays’ house were so close that the boys could talk to each other at night in the summer when the windows were open, or in the winter with walkie talkies. But, after a while, their mom would come up and say, “Time for bed, boys!” Then slam the window shut.

Did she allow them time to socialize a bit? Did she just happen to hear some chatter going on? Or did my mom alert her? We’ll never know. They’d settle in for the night and awaken refreshed, ready to head out in the morning.

One spring, after Wendy and I took the Red Cross Babysitting Class at East Grand Rapids Library, we started picking up jobs in our neighborhood to earn extra money over the summer.

I started out babysitting for Roger and Blake, which was an adventure. Rambunctious, they liked wrestling and chasing each other around the house. One evening after dinner, when they were supposed to be taking baths, they snuck out and emptied each other’s underwear drawers in the front yard of the house, laughing hysterically. After making them pick up the mess, they got more cooperative.

The Breays, who lived next door to us, had the three boys — C.J., Matt and Kevin. Mr. Breay was a lawyer who worked downtown. Outgoing and bubbly, their mother told me that I was coming on board after they experienced a string of babysitters who couldn’t “handle” the boys.

It went well, and I came back.

My strategy for success with the Breay boys was to keep things running smoothly with a constant flow of snacks while they watched TV in the family room. The family room was cozy with knotty-pine paneling and windows that overlooked their huge backyard.

There were times I felt I was in one of those 1950s family shows where everything is idyllic. I could even work on my homework.

But, every once in a while, one of them would invade the other’s “space.” Wrestling and creative insults would ensue. Occasionally, things got a bit heated, and I sent them outside to get some fresh air. But it was always surprisingly easy to wrangle them up to bed when it was time.

Eventually I moved on. I joined the swimming team, got busy with my friends, and they got old enough to stay home alone. The Breays moved out of the neighborhood. A new group of families with younger kids started moving in, and I went away to boarding school. The circle of life.

This column is dedicated to the memories of Jim and Matt Breay. Jim passed away recently after a long battle with Parkinson's, and his son Matt passed away last year.

About the writer: Carrie Brown is a freelance communications professional and writer who lives in Spring Lake. She is a graduate of the University of Michigan, where she won the Avery Hopwood Award for Poetry.

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