Lena had named her girls Fluffy, Mittens, Boots, and Mopsy, but when baby number five turned out to be a boy, she didn’t—as we all expected—call him Rocky, Rusty, Spike, or Snuggles. “His name is Barry,” she said, kissing him on his smooth round head.
“Berry, like a fruit?”
“Barry, like a person.”
We—the four babysitters of the neighborhood—took turns watching the children. They could be a handful, which was what we had learned was the polite term for lunatics. Some of us had other afterschool jobs, at McDonald’s or Pizza Hut; some of us took ballet and tap; one of us was far too studious, worrying even her parents, who told her she should get out more. We went to the same school but traveled in different circles. Still, one thing we could agree on: Lena’s daughters were a handful, but we adored Barry. Sometimes we would babysit together, two at a time, for half price, just to be able to tuck that smooth-headed boy into his crib and watch him sleep.
We didn’t ask about the children’s’ father—fathers? We didn’t ask. We assumed that Mittens and Mopsy were full sisters, because of their sharp noses, but then Mittens’ nose grew more angular and Mopsy’s soft and upturned, so we weren’t sure anymore. When Lena first moved to town and advertised in The Pennysaver for “a sitter for four delightful daughters,” Fluffy was a serious girl of eight, with chapped lips and two Shaun Cassidy singles she played over and over. Mittens, seven, was a shrieker; we joked that she should would grow up to be an opera singer. She shrieked at spiders, at birds, at us. Boots was six, obsessed with cowboy movies. She galloped around the living room on a pretend horse, swinging her lasso, shooting her finger at the ceiling. She called us pardner and then stole from our purses. She gagged and tied up three-year-old Mopsy and left her under the kitchen sink until one of us heard her muffled sobs.
Mopsy was as soft as her name, sleepy and warm and chubby. You couldn’t help but gnaw on her little toes, gum her little fingers while she laughed and kicked.
But Barry, even as a tiny baby, was different. We knew this, although our experience with babies was limited. His eyes flashed with preternatural knowledge, wide and calm and wise. It was as if he were forgiving us for all our sins: for losing our virginity behind the bleachers, for cheating on the American Government exam; for lying, and crying, and telling our parents we hated them. He was curious. He was skeptical. We remembered, later, those spoonfuls of Gerber’s carrots we flew into his open mouth—open up, here comes the airplane! How one day, just nine months old, he said, “Not a plane.” How he pointed to his toes and said, “Not piggies.”
Continued in Confrontation 120, Fall 2016.