Like most performers who’ve made their way in the big city, I’ve had many side jobs. While the majority of my peers seem to wait tables, I prefer dealing with whiny children as opposed to whiny adults. I babysit.
I’m the eldest (isn’t ‘eldest’ much more prestigious than ‘oldest’?) of three and my mother worked providing child-care, so it comes naturally. I’m excellent at imagination games and improvising stories, an under-demanded skill beyond the playground. Being good at make-believe doesn’t exactly instill one with a sense of superiority, but as I met the city’s elite children, a miraculous thing happened.
Patience is the key to dealing with unruly children. If you wait out their emotional outburst, you always win. Unfortunately, in a fast-paced city like New York, many kids can whine their way into anything, especially with over-taxed parents who want all their kid time to be “fun time.”
I’d meet the parents, with their pristine designer clothes and expensive work gadgets. They “summer,” have country houses, own horses, sit on boards for prestigious institutions, videoconference, have access to private aircrafts. My fancy clothes come from H&M, and my idea of luxury is an unlimited metrocard.
When presented with an irrational, screaming child, however, they were just as bewildered as anyone. Perhaps more so, as I suspect they were used to giving the tantrums at work. They weren’t skilled in exercising patience, they want it done ASAP or someone’s fired! I’ve seen enough movies to jump to some pretty thorough conclusions about “high powered executives.”
Assuming this, I’m especially smug when I’m able to soothe/distract their child with a modified improv game. And they said majoring in Theatre wouldn’t get me anywhere!
Sometimes I got to see what entitlement is like all grown up. I was acquainted with the granddaughter of a pretty famous person. Her dad, son of famous person, was a talkative dude but it was painfully obvious he hadn’t gotten a lot of “you-kind-of-sound-like-a-dick” tone-check comments in his life. His intentions seemed good, only out-of-touch and ill-conveyed.
I always try to cut privileged people a break, Equality to me means treating everyone the same with dignity. I will admit I think bad rich people wreak more havoc on the world than bad poor people, but on principle I give big shots a chance to show me they can be awesome, too. Other nannies were not so kind.
This dad, I’ll call him Mr. Bigshot, in particular felt he was very funny and I’m a comedian, so he was especially keen on joking around me. He’d often try to tease one of the kids I babysat, an awkward 7 year old boy. He’d mock the kids interests as exceedingly dorky. When the boy would just blink in response, Mr. Bigshot got irritated. One time he loudly declared, “That kid’s got no personality. He’s not gonna get anywhere in life with that altitude.”
Then it was my turn to stare blankly. Did a grown man just get offended a second grader didn’t like his jokes? Oh, ego, you fragile thing.
Seeing powerful people become utterly undone by a bit of tantrum-throwing or awkwardness, something I can endure with relative ease, instills a confidence within me in my professional pursuits. They wouldn’t be able to do it without people like me.
Jenn ’Bunny’ Themelis is a comedienne, actress and writerette in NYC. You can find out more at JennThemelis.com.
Photo credit: Flickr user tex batmart, used under cc license.