Babysitter For A Day
4247 Maplewood Dr.
Thursday, July 20, 1989
“I’m getting it!” Lee called out, trying to be heard over his daughter’s cries. “Don’t worry—Daddy’s getting it.” He opened the freezer. Now where—hastily he scanned the frozen bottles –microwave dinners—it had to be here, Lee thought frantically. Amanda kept it in here—it was the only thing that would calm Jenna down once she got going. Finally he spotted it—near the back, close to the ice trays. Lee grabbed the thing and went into the family room. Jenna lay on a blanket on her stomach, one drool covered hand jammed inside her mouth.
“Here you go, munchkin,” he told her. “Straight from the freezer, just for you.” Jenna whimpered slightly as he knelt beside her, tear-filled dark eyes looking up at him.
“This should help those gums of yours feel a little better, huh?” Gently Lee removed her fingers from her mouth, replacing it with the chilled teething ring. Jenna’s whimpers stilled as she gnawed at the object. Lee felt her forehead with the back of his hand and frowned—he had given her the recommended dosage of Infant Tylenol an hour ago, but she still felt a little on the warm side to him. Should he call the doctor? Take her in?
‘Think, Stetson—think.’ Lee ran one hand back through his hair as he looked at his daughter. “Okay,” he said out loud. “You ate your breakfast just fine—you don’t seem lethargic—just a little cranky—but who wouldn’t be cranky when they’re teething?”
Jenna babbled in response, blowing bubbles at him through her teething ring.
“So, I should probably wait and see—shouldn’t I? Not overreact? Give the Tylenol a chance to work?” More babble—followed by more drool. Lee sighed—grabbing a tissue he wiped at the drool. “Oh munchkin—I really wish your Mommy was here and not at Station One.”
The doorbell rang. Probably the Blue Jays’ candy patrol again—Lee had already bought one box this morning. Standing up he went to the door and opened it, expecting to see the little girls in their blue and white jumpers standing in his doorway—but instead—
“Francine, what are you doing here?”
“I’m not staying long, Scarecrow—I know this is your day off, but there’s a message from one of your contacts—Billy thought you should take a look at it.”
“I see,” Lee eyed Francine , taking in the figure-hugging blue dress, the designer pumps—the diamond pendants that swung from each ear. “Aren’t you a little overdressed for visiting the suburbs?”
“Very funny—I’m just on my way to a diplomatic reception in Alexandria—just a meet and greet with the new Ambassador to Estoccia —so I can’t stay long.” She handed him a sheet of paper. “It’s from Eddie—crypto couldn’t make heads or tails of it.”
“Well they wouldn’t—it’s a code that Eddie and I worked out years ago—just between us.” Lee scanned the paper—he continued to watch Jenna out of the corner of his eye as she rolled on her blanket, teething ring still in her mouth.
“How is she doing?” Francine asked.
“You mean Jenna?” Lee said. “She’s doing all right but she’s cutting another tooth—she’s running a fever—fussy—drooling like crazy.”
“Drool?” Francine’s eyes widened. “Ugh—I’m sorry I asked.”
“It’s just what babies do, Francine—I’m sure you did a fair amount of drooling when—” Lee’s voice trailed off as read the words at the bottom of the note—‘meet, urgent—10:30 AM today’ Today? But how could he possibly—Jenna was here, and—
“Well if that’s all you need,” Francine said. “I’ll be go—” She turned to leave when Lee’s hand clamped around her wrist, holding her in place.
“You can’t go.” He told her.
“What do you mean, I can’t go? Of course I can go—just let me—”
“You can’t.” Lee repeated. His grip tightened as Francine tried to pull away. “I need to meet with Eddie in less than an hour—it’s urgent—and I need someone to watch Jenna.”
“But the reception—”
“That’s not priority—believe me, this is.”
“Well what about Mrs. West? Or even Amanda’s sons? I’m sure Bobby and Jamie would be willing to babysit for a little bit.”
“You mean Phillip and Jamie— and they’ve all gone to Kitty Hawk for the day.” Lee’s teeth gritted as Francine redoubled her efforts at escape. “Francine, listen to me. There’s no one else—and this meeting—it’s a matter of national security.” He finally managed to pull her inside, shutting the door behind her. “I have to go.”
“You could always take her—”
“Into a potentially dangerous situation? Come on!”
Francine sighed. “No—no of course you can’t. But Lee—I know nothing about babies, okay? Look at me. I’m not dressed for babies—I don’t know what to do with them—and didn’t you say she was sick or something? What if—”
“It’s just a fever—I’ve already given her infant Tylenol so you don’t have to worry.”
“Listen,” he led her over to the blanket where Jenna was rolling around. “It’s easy. Her diapers are upstairs in her bedroom—she likes her teething ring to be cold—there’s half a jar of baby food in the fridge that she can have around noon—if she drools just wipe it off and you need to be careful about anything that goes in her mouth—okay? You got it?”
The expression on Francine’s face was slightly dazed. “I—I don’t—” she managed to stammer.
“You’ll be fine.” Once again Lee knelt beside Jenna, scooping her up into his arms. “Come here, my little munchkin.” Jenna responded to his voice with a smile—her little fingertips reached out to touch his face. “Daddy’s got to go out for a little bit—and Aunt Francine’s going to take care of you until I get back. Okay?” He took her tiny hand and kissed it and then he kissed her forehead. “I love you—I promise I’ll be back real soon. Here—” he handed her over to Francine. Jenna’s reaction to the handoff was immediate—her small face crumpled—chubby arms reached out towards Lee—her wails filled the room.
“Oh no, you can’t –you can’t leave me like this, Scarecrow!” Francine said. “She’s crying—what am I supposed to do here?”
“I told you already,” Lee fought to keep his composure—it was never easy to leave his daughter, but the fact that she was starting to notice made it even harder. “I really do have to go—I’ll try to be back as soon as I can.”
“There’s a smell—oh God, what is that smell? She’s drooling all over my—”
This was not what she was supposed to be doing, Francine thought.
Right now she was supposed to be enjoying a nice drive to Alexandria—a brunch when she arrived. And later on there would’ve been cocktails by the pool, canapés—and maybe one or two eligible bachelors if she was lucky—
There would be no brunch today, she realized—no canapés, no cocktails—just this—a teething baby in need of a new diaper.
“I won’t forget this, Lee,” Francine murmured. “You’re going to owe me big time.”
Jenna lay on the changing table, her cheeks flushed and damp with tears, the fingers of one hand jammed into her mouth as she stared balefully up at Francine.
“Let me get you into a clean diaper,” Francine told her. “You’ll feel much better after that.” For a response Jenna blew a raspberry, kicking her legs out as Francine undid the clasp on Jenna’s ‘onesie’, pulling it out of the way. Quickly she unfastened the diaper—lowered it—
The smell nearly knocked her out—Francine stepped back, one hand clasped over her nose but even that didn’t help.
“Oh,” she said.. “Oh—it’s—” There were no words to describe the stench that assaulted her nostrils—the true horror of what she was looking at. It was smelly, gooey, sticky-looking at—she peered closer.
Oh god—some of it was still coming out. Francine’s stomach lurched. Hastily she tried to close up the diaper again but Jenna squirmed, twisting her torso—the diaper came undone. Luckily she had stopped going by now—Francine pulled off the diaper. Holding it gingerly between the thumb and fingers of one hand she dropped the thing into the diaper pail and slammed the lid shut.
Wipes—Francine grabbed the wipes and cleaned Jenna off the best she could—the stuff seemed to have gotten everywhere. The wipes promptly went into the diaper pail. Jenna started to cry again.
“I’m trying, Jenna,” she said. “I’m moving as fast as I can.” Another raspberry.
“Everyone’s a critic,” Francine muttered. She grabbed a diaper from the stack. Lifting Jenna’s legs she put it on, fastening the sticky tabs—
Perfect—she’d actually gotten it right on the very first try.
‘Take that, Lee,’ Francine thought to herself smugly
A line of drool ran freely down Jenna’s chin and onto her chest. Wipe the drool, that’s one of the things Lee had told her—grabbing a clean cloth Francine bent over the baby, wiping at the goo— as she did Jenna reached up towards her—one hand explored Francine’s nose and the inside of her mouth while the other hand—
“Ouch!” the sudden pain caused her to cry out. “Jenna let go—please let go.” Somehow Francine managed to unclench the baby’s tiny fist from around one earring—Jenna shrieked with obvious displeasure—her other hand left Francine’s mouth and took a hold of Francine’s hair—pulling strands out of what had once been a picture-perfect coif as Francine pulled herself from Jenna’s grasp. One ear throbbed—carefully she removed both earrings, placing them on the dresser.
“Okay—diaper’s done.” Francine lifted Jenna. “It’s time to—” Her voice broke off as the diaper slid right off—falling to the floor.
She had put it on backwards.
The next sound Francine heard was a dribbling sound—the kind of sound you get when you don’t turn off a faucet completely.
“Oh no—oh Jenna—” looking down she saw the stream running down Jenna’s legs—directly onto her shoes. Her four-hundred dollar shoes. Her eyes met Jenna’s.
“You were just waiting for that diaper to come off, weren’t you?” she asked her.
Jenna promptly blew another raspberry.
SMK SMK SMK SMK
“Francine, you’ve only been there an hour.” Even over the phone she could hear the amusement in Billy’s voice. “You can’t tell me it’s that bad.”
“Oh no? She’s peed on my shoes, drooled on my dress—I’m not sure if my hands will ever be clean again—” Francine watched as Jenna rolled on the carpet—teething ring in hand—fussy cries interspersed with loud shrieks.
“Sounds about normal to me.” Billy replied. “ Teething babies are fussy—that’s a fact of life.”
“But I don’t know what I’m doing. Billy. Listen, if you could just send someone down here to help.”
“I don’t have the manpower to send someone out to help you babysit. You’ll be just fine—trust me. “
“Give my Goddaughter a big hug,” Billy said. There was a click and the line went dead. Francine sighed as she placed the cordless back on the receiver
“So much for that, huh?” she said to Jenna, who had dropped the ring and rolled onto her back—Jenna grabbed a plastic block, bringing it to her mouth.—
Be careful about what she puts in her mouth—that’s what Lee had said. Were blocks safe? Better to be safe than sorry. Jumping up, Francine snatched the block from Jenna’s hands. The cry Jenna gave this time was one of protest—her little hands reaching out for the block.
“Jenna, come on, your teething ring is better,” Francine told her, reaching for the object to give it back to Jenna. But the teething ring was warm—Lee said that she liked it to be cold. Bending down Francine picked Jenna and the teething ring up off the floor.
“Let’s put this in the freezer, huh? “ she told Jenna. “Get it nice and cold.” Opening the freezer she placed the ring inside. She carried Jenna back to the family room, putting her down on the sofa—too many hazards on the floor. Grabbing a tissue, Francine dabbed at the drool that had collected—without warning Jenna’s hand grabbed her own and pulled it towards her own mouth—her gums clamping down hard.
“Come, on Francine.” Even over the phone she could hear the amusement in Billy’s voice. “I’m sure it can’t be that bad.”
“Oh, it can’t?” Francine kept an eye on Jenna as the six month old rolled around on the carpet, teething ring in hand. “Tell that to my shoes.”
“Well, I put Jenna’s diaper on the wrong way and when I lifted her—she—peed—all over my shoes—they cost a fortune and now they—Billy?” Francine’s voice rose “Are you laughing at me?”
Billy made a noise like he was clearing his throat. “No—no, of course I’m not laughing. Look, I’m sure Lee will be back soon.”
“What do I do in the meantime?”
“Read to her, hold her, play with her, feed her. You were a baby once yourself, remember?”
“Ha Ha,” Francine said. “At least send me someone to help—an assistant or something. Please?”
“No, I don’t have any manpower to give you for child care.” Billy replied. “You’ll just have to deal with it.”
“Deal with—” Francine’s voice broke off as Jenna suddenly let out another screech, the sound filling the room. The screech dissolved into a bout of sobbing. Francine rubbed at her temples with her fingertips—a headache was beginning to form. “She won’t—she won’t stop doing that.”
“Teething babies are fussy—that’s what they do. I should let you go—I think madam needs your full attention.”
“No—no Billy, please—”
“Give my goddaughter a hug from me.”
“No—please—” there was a click, followed by a dial tone. Francine sighed as she hung up the cordless and turned her attention back to Jenna, who was now lying on her back, a round plastic block heading straight for her mouth.
Be careful about what goes into her mouth—that was what Lee had said—and Francine wasn’t sure if the block was safe or not. She knelt beside the child—prying the object from gooey fingers—that action brought about another earsplitting screech.
“Oh, I am definitely putting in for hazard pay on this one,” Francine told Jenna, who blew her another raspberry.
SMK SMK SMK SMK
Read to her.
Francine had found an old child’s book on the shelf—Phillip King’s name inscribed in Amanda’s neat hand on the inside cover. She held Jenna on her lap as she read aloud from the book. “On the cover, what did that say? Did that say there would be a monster at the end of this book? Oh, I am so scared of monsters !”
Monsters, Francine thought—and this was an appropriate book for babies? Jenna didn’t seem impressed either way. She whimpered, clutching her teething ring with one hand while her other hand reached for the pages of the book—the pages crinkled as she moved her hand in a grasping motion—like she was trying to grab the picture off the page. Jenna managed to get hold of the edge of the book’s cover and pulled it towards her—opening her mouth—
“No—Jenna don’t do that—look, but don’t touch.” As Francine pulled the book away Jenna let out a yell.
Should she put her back down on the blanket on the floor? Francine wondered. No—there were a lot of toys on the floor—Apart from her teething ring Francine wasn’t so sure what was safe for Jenna to chew on and what wasn’t.—and she didn’t want to incur the wrath of Lee if something happened.
Then again, the way she was feeling, Lee might not want to risk her wrath.
The soft plastic ring went back in Jenna’s mouth--her cries stilling once more —she babbled noisily as she gummed the object. A thin clear string of drool issued from her mouth—heading downwards—straight for her—
“Jenna stop—don’t— please hold on—” Quickly Francine reached for a tissue but she was too late—she watched in horror as the stuff—whatever the stuff actually was, pooled onto the lap of her gown, creating a tiny dark puddle on the blue material.
“Oh no—” Francine groaned. “Just great—” A designer original, probably ruined by now—did dry cleaners know anything about removing drool? She wiped off Jenna’s mouth and chin—and then wiped ineffectually at the mess in her lap. Instead of cleaning it, though—the cloth actually only seemed to spread the goo around—along with bits of tissue lint—
“You couldn’t have waited to do that?” she asked Jenna.
“Bababababa—” Jenna squirmed restlessly—arching her back, twisting—the teething ring fell from her hands and landed on the floor.
Jenna’s mouth opened in a scream of pure rage.
“Hold on, hold on—I’m getting it.” Francine bent down to grab the object—lodged half underneath the sofa—
“Ugh—” she pulled her hand back—the object was wet, sticky—and God only knew what things it had picked up from the bare floor. Jenna certainly couldn’t put that back in her mouth, Francine thought. But what else—
Jenna had ideas of her own on that one.
Her little hands grabbed at Francine’s fingers, pulling her hand towards her mouth Jenna bit down—Francine tried to pull her hand away and Jenna screeched, pulling it towards her again—covering Francine’s hand with drool as she chewed on her fingers—
Not only a babysitter now, but also a human teething ring.
“Your Daddy’s really going to pay for this,” she told Jenna.
“Okay—here you go.” Francine finally managed to maneuver Jenna into her high-chair. Straps hung down on either side—Francine fastened the straps, making sure that Jenna was secure. Jenna had her own fingers in her mouth now—not Francine’s.
Francine herself wasn’t actually sure if her own hands would ever be clean again—she turned them, looking at her skin, now red from five vigorous washings under hot water—as for her manicure—her heart sank as she took in her ruined nails.
Best not to think about the manicure. A bit of loose hair fell into her eyes—impatiently she brushed it back.
Best not to think about the way she looked at all.
“Time for lunch,” she told Jenna as she opened the fridge. Lee had said there was a half a jar of something in there—hadn’t he? There it was, right in front. She grabbed the baby food.
“Dadadadada,” Jenna banged the tray in front of her with one hand.
“Oh you don’t want to hear what I’m going to have to say to your Dada—trust me, it won’t be pretty.” Francine shut the fridge. She found a clean bowl in the sink drainer and a little spoon with the spoon part covered in soft pink plastic. That had to be the right one to use. Opening the jar, Francine poured the orange-colored mixture in a bowl. As she drew closer Jenna made excited noises, pumping her legs.
“Personally I wouldn’t be all that excited, Jenna,” Francine told her—the stuff smelled positively awful. She pulled one of the kitchen chairs over to the high chair and set down, putting a little bit of the mixture onto the spoon and guiding it towards Jenna’s mouth. “Open wide.” Jenna did—a little bit got on her chin but most of it seemed to reach her mouth.
“Good girl,” Francine said. “And another one—perfect—well, nearly perfect—now a third—” she felt herself start to relax a little, smiling—as far as babies went, this was the easy part. This she could do.
“You’re a good baby, aren’t you? Yes, you are—you are!” she cooed. Jenna grinned at her—a little baby food mustache on her upper lip. Her cheeks weren’t as flushed as before, Francine observed—the infant Tylenol had probably started to kick in—she was definitely less fussy.
Maybe babysitting wasn’t so bad after all. It wasn’t something she’d ever do on a regular basis—but still.
The phone rang. “Wait right there, okay?” Francine told Jenna as she sat the bowl and plate on the high-chair tray. She picked up the cordless in the kitchen.
“Stetson residence.” She said.
“Lee, is that you?” It was Mrs. West.
“No sorry, this is Francine.”
“Oh. Well where’s Lee?”
“He had to step out to run an emergency errand—to meet someone. He left me here to watch Jenna—he should be back soon.”
“Oh—I don’t suppose it would do any good to ask what kind of errand.” Mrs. West said. “Just tell him that the boys and I will be back later this evening and not to worry about dinner—we’ll pick up something on the way home.”
“Will do.” Francine grabbed a pad and pen and hastily wrote down the message.
“How is my granddaughter?”
“Fine—she was a little fussy earlier but she’s calmed down—I’m feeding her—” Francine’s voice trailed off as she looked at Jenna.
“Oh no—” she said softly.
A large dollop of orange goo graced the top of Jenna’s head—smaller bits of orange were caked on her forehead—even her eyebrows—
How had that happened so quickly?
“Feeding babies is the fun part,” Mrs. West was chatting away, oblivious to Francine’s distress. “I remember how Phillip used to laugh when—”
“I’m sure that was adorable.” Francine’s mind wasn’t really on the conversation, though. She watched in horror Jenna’s goo-covered fingers grabbed the spoon with one hand—and the edge of the bowl with the other—the bowl tilted as Jenna lifted it—
“Oh no,” she breathed softly “Oh please don’t—”
“What was that, Francine?”
“Look, Mrs. West—I really do have to go—Jenna’s hungry—I’ll give Lee your message. Bye!” she hung up the phone without waiting for a response and dashed towards Jenna as the baby swung the bowl in the air and—
Something cold and wet smacked against her chest—Francine looked down numbly at the orange blob that graced the front of her dress.
The doorbell rang.
“It’s about time.” Taking the bowl and spoon from Jenna she ran for the door, unlocked it—opened it.
“Francine,” Lee said. “Look, I’m sorry I had to leave out of here in a rush but it was an emergency—you can go to your recept—what on earth happened to you?”
“What happened to me?” Francine’s voice rose. “You really want to know what happened to me?”
From the kitchen came the stream of babbles—Lee walked past Francine into the kitchen.
“Hey there, munchkin—hey there!” Lee bent over Jenna’s high chair. “You look like you’ve had a fun time—a messy time, though—” grabbing a paper towel he wiped off her head and forehead as he spoke. “Aunt Francine must have left the food where you could grab it, huh? Is that what she did? And you threw some on her dress too—didn’t you?” Jenna lifted her hands as he bent over her playing with Lee’s nose and mouth—he pretended to ‘bite’ her fingers and she laughed. Francine’s ire rose.
“Oh Lee,” she said—scooping the mess off the front of her dress—
“Yeah?” When Lee turned around she took the baby food and spread it all over the front of his shirt.
“Francine, look—I can understand that you’re upset,” Lee said. “But I wasn’t gone all that long.”
“That is not the issue.” Francine spoke softly but distinctly, biting off the end of each word. “In the past couple of hours my shoes have been peed on—my earrings have been yanked—I’ve been drooled on—she’s tried to eat my fingers and I’ve had baby food thrown on my dress—” Lee’s lips were pressed tightly together, trembling. “And don’t you dare laugh, Lee Stetson.”
“I wouldn’t think of it,” Lee said, but she could see the suppressed laughter in his eyes. “I’m sorry—like I said, it was an emergency.”
“Well I want to say is that you owe me.” Francine told him. “You owe me big time—and one day I’ll collect. Goodbye, Jenna.” She bent down briefly, giving the baby a kiss on the forehead. “I’ll be going now—I’m going to take a long shower and then I’m going to the Agency to see about hazard pay and reimbursement for these clothes. So if you’ll excuse me—”
Mustering all the dignity she could, Francine grabbed her earrings, her purse, stepped into her ruined shoes and swept out the front door.