From the Files of Way Back When

When I was thirteen years old, and throughout my teen years, I was more than occasionally employed as a baby sitter. Unbelievable as it was, responsible parents left their beloved children with me, in my care, for periods of time long enough to allow them to dine at restaurants and see entire feature length movies. This was obviously before nanny cams. I was trusted to perform duties like bathing children, feeding them and tucking them in for the night. I did all of this for a mere dollar an hour plus benefits. This doesn't sound like much, but those benefits were spectacular. After the children were safely snug in their beds, I got to help myself to potato chips of all flavors, ice cream and cookies. I was free to watch TV, and, if I was at the right house, I could carefully and breathlessly thumb through their copy of The Joy of Sex, which was right there on their living room bookshelf for god's sake, right there in plain view. "What kind of people are these?" The best part, however, is that I got the telephone all to myself with no parents listening and I got to stay up late without getting in trouble. It was also an ego trip to be looked up to, literally, as a big kid, a teenager, by the little kids I was in charge of. Baby sitting was so many things. It was a chance to make some money, to be thought of as a responsible young adult; it was also a fun excuse to dip back into the recent past that I had somewhat reluctantly left behind. At home I was too old to color, play Hungry Hippos and Barbie dolls, but when I was baby sitting these activities were part of my repertoire of professional skills. And then, of course, there were the after bedtime hours that provided a hedonistic oasis of junk food, pop culture and sexual education.

Six year old Daniel was fun to babysit for because he had a basement playroom full of toys, where we would spend most of our time together. On one particular day, however, he bypassed his toys in order to excitedly show me the hamster he had gotten only the day before. Walter was a pudgy tan and white ball of requisite rodent cuteness. Ah yes, a hamster. I was a pro at hamsters, having gone through many at this point, each coming to his own tragic end, each named Cinnamon, followed by a corresponding Roman numeral. I was eager to share with Daniel the joys of hamster ownership, especially my copyrighted trick, Hamster Trampoline. The way that Hamster Trampoline works is that you put the hamster on the front of your nightgown which you have pulled taught in front of you and you proceed to bounce the hamster up and down while gleefully exclaiming, "Wheeeee!" Since I was not wearing a nightgown at the time, I was forced to improvise. I put Walter on my outstretched t-shirt, and vaulted him up in the air. I was pleased to note that the t-shirt provided a more than adequate bounce.

Daniel watched, delighted. Up and down. Up and down. Hamster Trampoline is not something that six year olds tire of quickly, nor thirteen year olds, at least not this one. It is really a sight to see that hamster flip and turn in the air. After showing Daniel how it was done and going through safety rules, (Hamster trampoline does not equal hamster catapult.), it was Daniel's turn to try it out. Daniel took to Hamster Trampoline quite eagerly, bouncing Walter up and down gaily, both of us firm in our belief that Hamster Trampoline was a win-win situation for all: thrilling for the bouncer and bouncee alike. Up and down. Up and down.

A minute into it and Daniel's shrieks of glee were replaced by shrieks of surprise. "He's having babies!" he cried excitedly. "He's having babies!" I took in the situation. Walter was bouncing up and down. Daniel was shrieking. Coming out of Walter's body was a little bald, blind, pink creature. In addition to the one sticking out of Walter, there was another one rolling around on Daniel's t-shirt. Up and down. Up and down. It took me a moment to process this scene. Up and Down. Up and Down. Two little pink, bald, blind creatures on the t-shirt. One more wiggling creature sticking out of Walter. Daniel shrieking, "He's having babies!" He was right. We were witnessing the miracle of birth right before our eyes. I joined him in his excitement. "He's having babies!" I exclaimed. We both shouted, "He's having babies!!!" "He is having babies!!!!"

Then we paused, looked at the three squiggly bodies on the t-shirt and the one wriggling out of Walter, looked at each other and in a sudden moment of recognition, we said in unison, "SHE'S having babies!"

I thought of that hamster years later after I delivered my son. All us moms have our labor stories to tell. Mine was the most intensely painful experience I could ever imagine. I was in labor for 24 hours. Four hours of pushing and still I ended up having a C-Section. When we moms get together and exchange labor stories, I get a lot of sympathy for my tale. Then, I guiltily remember Walter, and I imagine her little voice interjecting, "Oh come on. You think that was bad? Let me tell you about when I had my first five kids...."

(Post Script- As writers do, I took liberties when retelling this tale, for dramatic effect. To be completely accurate, there was no sudden realization that Walter was a girl hamster. We just sat there dumbly in silence. I, at 13, soon after recognized that Daniel had pegged the sex incorrectly, but who knows when Daniel figured that one out. One would have to think that he has it straight by now.)

This is copyrighted material, Buster! So, make sure you give credit where credit is due.

Difficult Times

Dear Spleen,

We would like to thank you for your loyal service for the past several decades.  You have been a  reliable and hard working part of our organization.  Unfortunately, the recent financial crisis has forced us to re-evaluate our way of doing things, to do some soul searching, if you will.  We have decided that, in order to remain truly competitive, our organization will need  restructuring.  As you are aware, we recently circulated a questionnaire.  We have had a chance to analyze the results and found that the majority of those surveyed were not aware that you were part of our organization, and if they did, they did not know your function. (Just for your information, the heart, brain and reproductive organs received the highest marks.)   We understand that your function is important to the organization as a whole, but in these times of belt tightening, we have to take a good hard look at our practices and we have determined that dedicating an entire organ to the specialized job of cleaning up of red blood cells is not cost effective.   In order to trim overhead costs, we have made the decision to eliminate your position and reassign your duties to another department, a larger and more high profile organ. We understand that this news may be difficult, but you will be pleased to learn that we will provide two weeks of overtime pay during our transition period during which you will continue your daily functions while providing training to the liver, the organ to which your duties have been reassigned.   Please bring a copy of your job description and report to the liver first thing  Monday morning.

We recommend also that you take part in a creative job skills seminar, free of charge, hosted by the right brain.  In these difficult times it is important to diversify your skills in order to increase your flexibility in a competitive job market.  Please sign up quickly as space is limited, and the tonsils, vermiform appendix and the vestigial muscle palmaris longus have already reserved their spots.

Thank you for your years of loyal service, and good luck to you! 


The Management 

No Teacher Left Unscathed

I just received a very disturbing letter from my place of employment, an elementary school where I teach.  I have paraphrased it below:

Dear Ms. Stinglash,


Enclosed are the results of a survey of students grades 3-6 who were asked to rate their classes and teachers.  If you received a low score, we ask to you please consider discussing the results with the students to determine what you can do to become more popular in their eyes.  This survey will in no way influence your evaluation, which will be done by grown-ups, but we think that it provides some valuable information for you to use to enhance your teaching.


Your average score:  1.5




Ms. Simons



1.5?  This seems bad.  In fact, it seems very, very bad.  Of course, they didn’t tell me what the maximum score could be.  I might have scored a 1.5 out of 2.  That isn’t so bad.  In fact it could be very good.  Especially if the survey read like this:


How much do you love Ms. Stinglash?


1-    Very much

2-    More than my own parents


A score of 1.5 would mean that the children were pretty evenly split between loving me very much and loving me more than they love their own parents.  In that case, I have done very well indeed.


Only, I have never heard of a survey where the maximum score is only a 2. It seems rather unlikely.  I suspect that the maximum score is at least a 3.  As in:


How much do you think Ms. Stinglash’s class sucks?


1-    It sucks big time

2-    It’s okay

3-    It is a wonderful class, engaging, inspiring and surprising.  I never knew learning could be so blissful.


Great.  I am somewhere between sucking and being okay.  This is not good. What if the maximum is even more than a 3?  Horrors!  It appears that they detest my class!!  And who knew?  I thought they loved it.  They come in all smiles, eager to get started.  They participate enthusiastically.  They try hard in class.  We laugh together.  They really seem to like the class and to like me as well.  In fact, the children call out my name when they see me in the hallway and run over to hug me.  I just don’t get it.


I had to find out just how badly I had scored.  A bit of investigation revealed that the maximum score is a 4.  The only explanation for my dreadfully low marks is that I have been stabbed in the back.  Behind their cherub like faces, twinkling eyes and easy smiles lurk hearts of stone.  Either that or the questionnaire was flawed.  After all I only received a numeric score.   I did not receive a copy of the questions.  Who knows what they were asked.   Perhaps it was something like this:


Do you agree with the following statement?  “Ms. Stinglash has squids for hands.”


1. No

2. Not sure

3. Maybe

4. Yes


A 1.5 in this case would not be so bad really.  It would reflect that most of the children recognize that I have hands of a regular sort.  I say "most" of the children.  Some appear to be unsure about this point.  These children are not that smart.  This is not my problem.


The thing is, other teachers have told me their scores in the strictest of confidence so I cannot repeat them here, scores that they also found surprising and not just a wee bit devastating.  All the scores were substantially higher than mine. The only explanation for this would be that the students hate my guts with a passion usually reserved for superintendents who can’t see their way to canceling school during a record breaking snowfall.   I suspect that if the school employed a teacher who regularly feeds her class unsalted popcorn while she reads aloud from the Handbook of Autopsy Practice and shows them pictures of dead clubbed baby seals, she would score higher than I did. 


I truly did not see this coming.  I had no idea that the children were even going to be surveyed.  What if people from other aspects of my life are also being surveyed?  I could be blindsided once again.


Dear Sandra Stinglash,


Enclosed are the results of a satisfaction survey.  This particular survey was given to a select group of people, namely individuals who have come directly from your womb.  This demographic was asked to rate you according to how happy they are with your performance. We feel that this numeric score will provide you with valuable information, and we urge you to take the results to heart.  If you received a low score, we ask to you please consider discussing the results with the people or person surveyed in order to determine how to improve future ratings.  


Your score: 1.5




Ms. Simons




I have decided to take matters into my own hands.  I have designed a simple survey, which I will give to the people in my life, all of them: family members, friends, and acquaintances alike.  It will have one question, so that it won’t take up too much of their valuable time.  The participants will be assured of their anonymity, as I will promise to close my eyes when they hand their surveys back to me.  It will read:


I thank you in advance for taking the time to fill out the following questionnaire which will give me valuable feedback that I can use in order to better myself as a person.  Rest assured that your anonymity will be guaranteed, so please answer as honestly as possible.


How satisfied are you with Sandra Stinglash’s performance as a(n) _________________________?  (The beauty of this format is that by filling in the blank, I can customize the question to fit any person being surveyed.  Example: mother, daughter, acquaintance, friend, total stranger, etc.)


1-    Not at all satisfied

2-    Somewhat satisfied

3-    Mostly satisfied

4-    Satisfied


I must remember to be very careful to fill in the blank as accurately as possible so as to avoid invalidating the results.  For instance, if I presented my father with a survey and instead of writing “daughter” in the blank, I made even a minor mistake, like “How satisfied are you with Sondra Stinglash’s performance as a world class botanist?” the results could be disastrous.  I might even score a 1.5.

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