birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

Babysitting in My Teens

The brown wall phone with the curling cord would ring and one of my family would dash to answer it. This was long before voice mail, answering machines, phone i.d....answering the phone promptly was proper etiquette. We were all taught to say "Criswell residence" upon picking up the receiver. Seven people -one shared line...and yet half the time the phone calls received had a singular purpose. Our house was known to have four teen age girls who would babysit.

I was the youngest of the four girls and the neighbors certainly kept calling after my older sisters each left for college. I started babysitting when I was 13 and, in family tradition, charged fifty cents an hour. This rate never changed. It didn't matter if the family had one child or six, fifty cents an hour was the payment. Plus I provided my own transportation. Most of the time, that meant walking less than a block.

There was one family, among many, that I recall. Across the street were "The Brocks"- the children Matthew and Katherine. These two kids, being raised by a doctor and his wife, were the first children I ever heard call their "private parts" by their real names, "penis" and "vagina". It was in their home one night, long after the kids had fallen asleep that I discovered FM radio. I turned the radio on and happened upon a station that played contemporary music for song after song with few commercial breaks. This stream of good music was something I'd never heard before, as we were radio listeners at my house, but after every song, on our AM station, there'd be an annoying commercial break or the d.j.'s lively banter. This FM radio changed my listening habits for decades.

The Brocks liked to stay out late- even on my school nights. For some reason, I always felt the need to appear awake when they walked in smelling of alcohol and cigarettes. I can remember sitting up quickly, rubbing my eyes as their front door would open, and pretend to be reading when they strolled back to the family room. They would count out $2.00 with quarters and dimes and I would pocket the money, cross the street and head to bed.

Commonplace Magic

The Opposite of Well Put Together