Transcript

175:

Babysitting
Transcript

Originally aired 01.05.2001

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Full audio: http://tal.fm/175

Prologue.

Mother

All right, guys. We're here. Don't forget your stuff, OK? And Dylan, grab your snow pants.

Male Child

OK.

Ira Glass

Here's a ritual that happens in millions of American families every day, parents dropping off kids at the babysitter's.

Cristiana

Good morning.

Mother

Good morning.

Cristiana

Hi, sweetie. I haven't seen you guys in such a long time.

Ira Glass

Sarah, age 9, and Dylan, who's 6, are being left at a friend's house where there are two other kids, Elliott and Emma, and their regular babysitter, Cristiana, who meets them at the door, who hasn't seen them since before Christmas.

These kids have known Cristiana longer than they've known almost anyone. Four years she's been their sitter, an eternity. Cristiana takes care of them after school every day. Cristiana knows everything about them. And their such old pros at being left with the sitter, they don't think twice about it. Mom leaves, no tears, no scenes.

Mother

All right, bye. I love you. I love you, be good.

Ira Glass

Cristiana serves cereal to the four kids. Emma gets the Powerpuff Girl bowl. Sarah gets the Barbie bowl. And Dylan and Sarah fill me in on the differences between Cristiana and their other main babysitter, a college student named Natalia.

Male Child

She's not as cool as Cristiana and everything.

Ira Glass

Like if you want to get away with something, who is it easier to get away with, Cristiana or Natalia?

Male Child

Natalia.

Male Child

She doesn't really know the rules of our house. So then, I say we can drink coke, and then--

Female Child

You say you can wear your clothes to bed all the time. Mom lets me wear my clothes to bed, for like half a year that you would do that at the babysitter's.

Ira Glass

And why do you want to go to bed in your clothes?

Male Child

Because then, I don't have to change.

Female Child

He doesn't like changing. He thinks it wastes too much time.

Ira Glass

With Cristiana, it's different. She's like a second mom.

Male Child

That's what she thinks.

Cristiana

I think of you guys as my kids.

Male Child

Yeah.

Cristiana

I know them, I've known them since they were also little. And I love them like that. Yeah, and these guys, I've just been seeing them growing up, and growing bigger, and learning things, and I'm just very, very attached to them.

Ira Glass

When a mom shows up at the house a little later to drop off yet another child, she doesn't use the word mom to describe Cristiana. Mom, that's her territory. The word she uses is aunt.

How do you define this job, watching children for money? Well, today on our program, babysitters, and what exactly happens when mom and dad are out of sight. Our show today in three acts. In the first, an older brother babysits, and the younger brothers cower. Act two is about a day in 1988 when huge companies accidentally found themselves taking on a massive babysitting job because of snow.

In act three, a brother and sister get a job babysitting for some children who do not exist. And before we say anything else about babysitters, first let's just have a little brief word, just you and me, about Mary Poppins. Mary Poppins, let's just say right here, she is the gold standard of all fictional babysitters, maybe of all real ones too.

She is the one that all others are to be measured by. And the movie, Mary Poppins, it contains what is probably the classic song about babysitting. You remember, the kids in the film sing about what it is that they want in a babysitter.

[SONG - THE PERFECT NANNY, MARY POPPINS]

Ira Glass

Let me just stop this right here. This is not exactly the tone that we are going for in today's radio program. Let's cut through the treacle.

[SONG - THE PERFECT NANNY, MARY POPPINS]

Ira Glass

Music recorded for our program by The Dishes. Engineering by Elliot Dix and Mike Segal at Engine Music Studios. Which brings us to Act 1.

Act One. What Big Teeth You Have.

Ira Glass

Lots of babysitting is done by family members. In this first story, parents leave their kids in the care of their teenage son, but instead of acting as a surrogate parent, standing above sibling squabbles and rivalries, acting as judge and mediator, the teenage babysitter stays squarely in the center of those rivalries. But as ruler and king, now with no parental forces tempering his actions, Hillary Frank has this cautionary tale about what happened.

Hillary Frank

The Perrys grew up in rural Idaho. When their parents went out, the oldest son, Doug, was left in charge of his four younger siblings. Doug was the kind of guy who ruled the last three rows of the school bus through a combination of force and psychological pressure.

He told other kids that the bus driver signed an agreement, putting him in charge of the back of the bus. He wore a bomber jacket. He rode a motorcycle. Still, his parents thought he seemed responsible enough when it came to his brothers and sister. There was a lot they didn't know.

Doug Perry

If I had to be there tending to these dang kids, I was going to make it fun for me too, you know.

Hillary Frank

Doug often subjected his three little brothers to what he calls bravery tests. He would do things like stuff them in a sleeping bag and tie them to a tree limb, or snap huge rubber bands at their skin until they stopped flinching.

Doug Perry

I really hesitate to tell this, because it could have been-- I mean, it's just-- well, anyway, we had this iguana, OK, this big lizard, about-- it was about three feet long. It died. Well, I was so attached to this thing that I, of course, didn't want to take it out and bury it.

So I put it in the freezer and kept it. Well, this is a fun thing for all of us boys to take out of the freezer, and thaw out, and play with it, you know. And then we got tired of playing with it. And then we'd put it back in the freezer, you know, and we'd freeze it again.

And after about a year and a half of this, we decided we needed a new bravery test. So we thought what can we do, hmm. I think we should boil and eat-- boil and eat the iguana. That would be the ultimate bravery test.

Well, we put it in a pot. We brought the biggest pot my mom had, and we stuffed it in there, and boiled it, you know. Well, well, it's been boiling about five minutes, probably done by now. And we got the thing out, and honest to goodness, we ate some of that lizard.

Hillary Frank

Oh, my god.

[LAUGHTER]

Doug Perry

I even ate some.

Hillary Frank

Really?

Doug Perry

And they even ate some.

Hillary Frank

What did it taste like?

Doug Perry

You know, at that point, it actually tasted kind of like sawdust.

Hillary Frank

Doug did all the bravery tests he made his brothers do. He was right in there with them. But they were on their own when it came to one of Doug's long running babysitting pranks. I spoke with Doug, and with his youngest brother, Mike, who was the easiest target. They're 10 years apart.

Mike Perry

We were convinced that he-- we were convinced for three or four years of our lives, I think, that he could actually turn into a werewolf. We would walk out of the house and then you'd hear this-- [HOWLS] and it would literally stop you in your tracks. And you just knew he was out there somewhere.

Hillary Frank

Again, here's Doug.

Doug Perry

We had a pasture in the back, and it was about maybe half an acre. And they'd go out clear to the back fence, and that's where they liked to sleep out. So this is the perfect place for me to stalk them in the night, you know, and sneak up, and be the werewolf.

So I would kind of just crawl out into the shadows. And I could hear them out there talking. And I'd be sneaking up through the bushes, and I'd go-- [HOWLS] And I'd hear dead silence. And then I'd hear one of them go, Doug's a werewolf.

Hillary Frank

Doug kept this up for years, and the kids began to dread it, whenever their parents went out, knowing something scary would happen them, until finally, it all came to a head one night. Mike was eight years old. The middle brothers were 11 and 13. Doug was 18. It began the way it usually did, out in a pasture surrounded by potato fields. Here's Doug.

Doug Perry

We had a full moon, which was wonderful. And I kind of got to where the moon was silhouetting me, and they couldn't really see me. And I stuck a bunch of weeds down in my glasses, so they were poking out all around, and then I kind of rose up out of the weed patch.

And they could see the silhouette with all this, looked like hair, poking out, you know, so that convinced them. I mean, totally-- I was totally growing hair. I was completely a werewolf. So run for your life, you know.

Mike Perry

And we all, of course, knew that the best thing to do was to get out of our sleeping bags and run as fast as we could to the house because that was the sure shelter.

Hillary Frank

What were you afraid that Doug was going to do to you?

Mike Perry

Well, it's just the whole idea of being chased around in the dark. And it's not like there was ever a lack of physical contact. I mean, he-- literally was a situation where you were scared for your life. And we knew that Doug was in between us and the house somewhere.

And as we were running to the house, Doug was just sitting on the roof in a sort of a gargoyle position, just as still as the night, and just staring at us, watching us. And so we just kind of slowly, kind of just walked, underneath him and ran into the house.

Doug Perry

Well now, I'm peeking in the windows. I'm rattling the doors more. I'm trying to get in. And they're running from door to door, trying to lock all the doors up. And I was always right on their heels, as they made it to the door. And I made sure that I just didn't quite catch them, you know. And they would run in to slam the doors.

Just about the time they thought they were all safe, I snuck over and took the breaker, I shut the breaker off to the house. And then all of a sudden, the lights go out. And it's pitch dark in the house. It was like this-- we're all going to die. I mean, it was just, they had no safe place they could think of to go, until one of them finally thought get to the car, you know, we got to get in the car and lock the doors.

Mike Perry

And as we were all sitting in there, looking around at each other, we realized that my brother, Steve, didn't make it out of the house.

Steve Perry

And then the next thing I know I'm in the house alone.

Hillary Frank

Let's introduce another brother. This is Steve.

Steve Perry

Of course, my fear went out, you know, through the roof. And then, I see him look in, in the patio window at me.

Doug Perry

Well, I was still around back, so I thought, well, Steve is still in there. I could see in the darkness, I could see him rocking in the chair. Well, I'll get Steve.

Mike Perry

He snuck into the house. And he saw my brother, Steve, sitting on the couch. And Steve just said, I don't care, kill me if you want.

Steve Perry

And that was when I told him, you know, just kill me or whatever, be done with it, however you want to end it. I mean, I'm done.

Doug Perry

I don't think we ever played it again after that point.

Hillary Frank

These days, the brothers are all quick to say that Doug was playing werewolf, that it was just a game. None of them carry resentment towards him. But when they were kids, clearly feelings were running a bit hotter. Around the same time that Doug had his little siblings convinced he wanted their blood, he got into a motorcycle accident that nearly killed him. He broke every bone in his face, one arm, and one irreplaceable kneecap. The force of the crash made the helmet, along with his scalp, shoot off his head. It took around 350 stitches to sew him back up.

Doug Perry

You know, when I came home from the hospital, I had my leg in a cast, my arm in a cast, I was in a wheelchair. My face was all banged up. And my brothers said, mom, we'll take Doug down the road in his wheelchair for a walk. And so he can have some air. And so she goes, OK. And I get in the wheelchair.

They get me out on the highway and run as fast as they can, and then let go. And I'm like, [SCREAMS], you know, going down the road in the wheelchair, heading for the ditch. And just about the time I go in the ditch, they catch up to me and straighten me out and go again, you know. So this was kind of a get even-- get even with me kind of a time. And there was nothing I could do about it. And they had great fun with me that time, you know. I guess that, you know, I was expecting a lot of sympathy and poor Doug. And no, it wasn't that at all. It was let's get some revenge for all this.

Hillary Frank

Revenge came in other forms as he got older. When Doug had kids of his own, to his horror, his oldest son, Corey, turned out to be exactly the same kind of babysitter that Doug had been. Doug would come home from a night out and find himself pulling Corey aside and saying things like next time, try and tie the rope a little looser around your brother's neck. Steve, the brother who told Doug, just kill me, is also a parent these days, of four daughters. And like Doug, he's had moments flashing back to the days when Doug babysat.

Steve Perry

I remember this one time, he came out with his box, and he said look what I found out in the street. And he opened this box, and he has a finger sticking up through the bottom of the box, where all you could see was this bloody finger in there. I mean, I freaked out over that for years. I still remember it vividly. Of course, after he saw how freaked out we were about it, he showed us how it worked. I did it to my own kids, if you can believe that.

Hillary Frank

You did?

Steve Perry

You know.

Hillary Frank

Why? Why would you want to freak them out like that?

Steve Perry

I don't know. I remembered it so vividly. And I thought, well that was-- and I think back on it, and I go well, it was kind of cool, actually, how he did it. So here I go, and I'm going to try it with my own kids, OK? And I lift up the box, and my oldest daughter just broke into tears. And I then-- I apologized all over myself for a week or two afterwards to her. I hope she's-- she's probably going to have as crappy a memory of that as I did when I seen it the first time, you know.

Hillary Frank

Yeah, did you feel sort of like you were in Doug's shoes, like you knew what it felt like to be him?

Steve Perry

I catch myself wanting to tease them too, like he did, sometimes, in a fun sort of way. But my wife will go, you know, you're acting just like Doug.

Hillary Frank

As an adult, Doug has gone to each of his younger brothers and apologized for how he treated them. But he also thinks if they'd been less aggressive with each other as kids, they wouldn't be as close now.

Doug Perry

I know families that have grown up more mellow than us, and they get along fine, and they're very civil, and they're very happy to see each other, but they're almost like when they see each other, they shake hands. And I'm like, give me a break. You haven't seen your brother for six months and you're shaking his hand?

I mean, we're grabbing each other and bearhugging, and we're jumping up and down, and it's a whole different relationship as far as I see, like people who've been through traumatic experiences together, you know. Maybe that's why. You feel like you've been through that, and survived it all together. And so it creates a deep bond or something maybe. So I think we're closer because of it, actually.

Hillary Frank

Did part of you know that when you were younger, that it might make you closer when you grew up?

Doug Perry

Well, you know, I think, maybe subconsciously it did, because after every time, you would feel somewhat closer. So I don't think as a kid you actually sit down and think if I do this, it's going to make me closer to my brother. You just do it if it feels that way, you know you just tend to do the things that make you grow closer together. And those are the things that we did that drew us together. So we continued doing those kind of things.

Hillary Frank

When I asked the other brothers if they'd do it all over again, they all say they would.

Mike Perry

Yeah, absolutely. I loved my childhood.

Hillary Frank

Even with all the terror and danger that was there, you would still do all of it over again?

Mike Perry

Absolutely, I look back on those years with complete fondness.

Ira Glass

Hilary Frank. She's the host of The Longest Shortest Time, a podcast about early parenthood.

[SONG - THE PERFECT NANNY, MARY POPPINS]

Ira Glass

John Langford of the Waco Brothers and the Micons with John Rice on mandolin, in a song recorded for our show. Whatever we are paying them, it is not enough. And this brings us to ACT 2.

Act Two. In The Event Of An Emergency, Put Your Sister In An Upright Position.

Ira Glass

On the day after Christmas, all across America, divorced kids shuttle from one parent to the other. If they fly, their babysitters are the airlines themselves. This is babysitting encased in corporate procedure and corporate language, kids flying without adults are called unaccompanied minors. Little ones get brightly colored tags pinned to their coats or hung from their necks. When you see them, it's hard not to feel bad for them and wonder what they're going to say about the experience someday when they grow up.

Well, back in December of 1988, on December 26, divorced kids from all over the country got snowed in at O'Hare Airport here in Chicago. Susan Burton was one of those kids. Now old enough to tell the tale, she and her sister Betsy were traveling from Colorado where their mom lived to Michigan, where'd they'd grown up, and where their dad lived. Here's Susan.

Susan Burton

There were two types of unaccompanied minors on flights out of Denver-- divorced kids and skier kids. You could spot the skier kids because they always wore something to prove they'd been to Colorado. They had lift tickets fanning out from the zippers of their jackets, or baseball caps that said Vale. But since today it was December 26, we suspected that even the boy with the raccoon face tan, the kind you get from ski goggles, was like us, a divorced kid too.

As soon as our flight left Denver, my thoughts turned to our layover in Chicago. Betsy and I loved the O'Hare Airport, with its shiny food court, and chain bookstores, and big glass atrium ceiling. It seemed like a beautiful new mall. When we landed in Chicago, it was snowing, snowing hard enough to shut the airport down. It was only the middle of the afternoon, and travelers were already reserving sleeping spaces by throwing their parkas over blocks of chairs. Even floorspace was scarce. And some people were stuck alongside the moving walkway.

The mall had become a refugee camp. The departure board showed that our flight to Grand Rapids was canceled. So we went to a service desk, where an agent took our tickets and typed things into a terminal. Then she turned on her microphone and sent a cryptic message out over the PA. I have two UMs at the service desk, two UMs at the service desk. OK, the woman told us, someone's coming by for you. A second woman appeared and we followed her to a gray, unmarked door. She fumbled with her keys. I squeezed Betsy's hand.

The door opened onto a room packed with kids, sitting on their winter jackets. There were dozens of kids, all kinds of kids. Some in small groups. The young ones conversing with stuffed animals. Others looking uncomfortable in dresses, or overheated in moon boots that had been too big to pack. Most of them were facing a podium at the front of the room, as if they'd been dropped off at the public library and were waiting for a reading by Shel Silverstein. At the podium, a steward put our names on the list.

The woman standing next to him was wearing the uniform of another airline. It's strange to see people from different airlines mixing, almost like something that shouldn't be allowed. There were a handful of folding chairs in the room, and we found a free one near the center. I took the seat and Betsy settled on the floor beside me. She got her baby blanket out of her bag and began to sniff it. It seemed we'd never been around so many divorced kids at once. Back home, most kids had both parents.

You'd forget you were different, and then you'd be at someone's house after school, and the dad would come home, and from the landing on the staircase, you'd see him sorting through the mail, talking to the mother in the kitchen. It was hard to explain why this was sad. As a result, all that most of our friends knew about our divorce was that my favorite video to rent was Kramer versus Kramer, and Betsy's was The Parent Trap. So now it was strange to hear kids talking about the things we kept for ourselves.

A group nearby was engaged in a kind of divorced-kid one-upmanship. A girl wearing a sweatshirt with a Christmas tree patch said she saw her father only a couple of times a year. A boy lying on his stomach claimed that he saw his dad even less. They exchanged a series of anecdotes about stepmothers, and took a poll of who'd been the object of a custody battle. It seemed improper to talk so freely about these things. I had no way of expressing this at the time, but it felt like we were part of something on a grand scale. All these kids, here in Chicago, at the transfer point between mom and dad.

Being babysat by the airlines was a lot like what you'd expect. Gate agents started in and out, consulting papers, and making shushing noises, and yelling out names from the podium. They seemed flustered, annoyed. Normally, their babysitting duties were small scale. They were good at shepherding kids along moving walkways, and doling out little pins shaped like wings. In the UM room, they reverted to the same crowd control techniques that they used in flight-- secure the doors, withhold information, and discourage people from getting up to use the bathroom.

So we did what any group of fed up delayed passengers does. We started to generate our own information. In the late evening, a rumor filtered through the crowd that the reason some kids were being escorted away was that their parents were making a bigger fuss than the other parents. Where were those kids going? The question arose from those of us in the landlocked middle and travelled through the crowd. The answer was transmitted back to us by our intelligence forces stationed at the podium. Those kids got hotels. The rest of us would have to sleep here in the UM room.

A divorced kid reacts to his parents' separation in one of two ways. As the rumor about the sleeping arrangements spread, it became clear who was the divorced kid who avoided conflict, and who was the divorced kid who acted out. Fart noises increased, crushed drink boxes began to litter the floor. I realized that when thrown with sufficient force, a Nerf ball could cause injury. Soon word came around that the system had changed, that our babysitters were mad, and they didn't care who your parents were or how many times they called. Now they were taking the good kids first. Immediately, Betsy lay down on her blanket. I took out the book in my bag, Catcher in the Rye. Within an hour, we were out of there. BY NOW IT WAS 1: 00 in the morning. Betsy and I, and a group of others, followed a stewardess through the dim halls. The metal gates were down over the entrance to the food court and travelers were sleeping in chairs. We would share a room with two other people. The first was a girl close to my age, who was wearing glasses with pink, plastic frames. I convinced myself that she was the same girl who had been in my line at swim camp years earlier, when my parents were still married. I didn't ask her because I didn't want to ruin it if it wasn't true.

The second person was a stewardess, who looked about 30. She wore a lot of makeup and she was big-boned, packed into her uniform. She wasn't mean to us. But she was pretty standoffish. We settled into our room. When the stewardess went into the bathroom, the swim camp girl pulled me over to the window. The curtains were closed, but red light shone in from the parking lot. Will you sleep in the bed with me, so I won't have to sleep with the stewardess, she said.

I looked over at Betsy. She was sitting on one of the two double beds in the room, sniffing her blanket. I told the girl yes. It just came out. Almost immediately I felt awful. When we lay down, I inched as far to the edge as I could, so that I'd feel nearer to my sister on the edge of the bed across the aisle. The stewardess came out of the bathroom wearing control top stockings and a lacy slip and got under the covers like that. I'd never seen a grown woman sleep in anything other than a flannel nightgown.

I wondered if she always slept like that, or it was just because she had to get up early. Maybe this was what all stewardesses wore under their uniform. But maybe she just felt awkward. Or maybe there were rules about what you wore, that you had to keep covered. Or maybe she just didn't want her bare legs near Betsy. I saw Betsy shift under the covers and curl into a ball. I now felt certain that this was the worst thing I'd ever done to my sister. I wanted the strangers removed and my family restored.

I hated the swim camp girl sleeping next to me. She wasn't from Michigan. She didn't have anything to do with my life. On these trips to visit our father, more than any other time, all Betsy and I had was each other. I thought of the kids in the UM room at the airport, the ones saying crass things about the saddest thing that had ever happened in life. And how reassuring it had been when I looked at Betsy, sniffing her blanket, the way she always had, the way I thought she would forever.

Ira Glass

Susan Burton-- in the years since that story was first broadcast on our radio show, a movie based on that story, about kids of divorce, trapped in an airport over Christmas, was released. It was in 2006. It was a kids' comedy directed by Paul Feig. It was called Unaccompanied Minors.

[AUDIO PLAYBACK]

- We have our own suggestions for the new nanny. Would you like to hear them?

- You have my undivided attention.

- Maestro, if you please.

[SINGING]

- If you wish to be our sitter, please be sweet, and never bitter. Help us with math and book reports. Might I add eat my shorts.

- Bart.

- Just cutting through the treacle.

- If Maggie's fussy, don't avoid her.

- Let me get away with murder.

- The nanny we want is kindly and sage.

- And one who will work for minimum wage.

[END PLAYBACK]

Ira Glass

Coming up, how hard could it be to babysit kids who do not even exist? That's in a minute from Chicago Public Radio when our program continues.

This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Each week, of course, we choose a theme, bring you different kinds of stories on that theme. Today's program, babysitting and what happens that mom and dad do not find out about. Today's program was first broadcast back in 2001. We've arrived at Act 3 of our program.

Act Three. Yes There Is A Baby.

Ira Glass

This is a story that caught our interest because of babysitting, but then it ended up being about so many other things besides. A man in Florida named Myron Jones wrote us this letter. He said that when he was 16 years old, growing up without a dad in Buffalo, New York, he was allowed to stay out till midnight.

He came and went as he pleased. Spent a lot of time in bars, actually. This was the 1940s. But his sister Carol, she had different rules, and she wasn't let out of the house at all, even though she was older than Myron. This story gets to babysitting in a big, big way. And I called him to talk about it.

Myron Jones

She had to say exactly where she was going, who she was going with. She could go to church dances, but only some church dances. It all had to do with protecting her chastity, really.

Ira Glass

If one were to ask your mother at the time, what would she have said?

Myron Jones

She said you've got to be more careful with the girls.

Ira Glass

Yeah.

Myron Jones

Spelled P-R-E-G-N-A-N-T. So my sister figured out a little scheme. She invented a family called the McCrearys. Said they needed her to babysit. And I remember when she first told me about it. She said listen, guess what I did, I made up a family. I said what do you mean? I made up this family I babysit for, they're called the McCrearys.

Ira Glass

It seemed clear once I got talking to Myron Jones that his sister Carol, might have a few thoughts about all this. And we gave her a call. She agreed to go into a studio and chat. She says if anything, her brother was understanding just how strict the mother was with her.

Carol Jones

She used to follow me. She had a friend. We called them Sam Spade and the fat man. And they would follow us. And then I'd go home, and she'd come in and say where have you been. It was-- it was really, really hard. She didn't believe anything I ever said.

Ira Glass

And were you a pretty good kid, good student in school?

Carol Jones

I was, you know, for a long time I thought that, oh, I was terrible. My mother started calling me a whore before I had any idea what the word was. And I couldn't look it up, because it didn't know it was spelled. I couldn't find it.

Ira Glass

Wow.

Carol Jones

And so, it occurred to me that if I had a family, a non-existent family, I could go, I could say I was going there.

Myron Jones

Carol started working out the details. Because whenever she babysat, my mother had to have the phone number so she could check up on her. So the man in the family was an FBI agent, working on a top secret project, so he could not give his phone number to anyone at all. He also couldn't let anyone but my sister, the babysitter, know just where they lived. It would have been dangerous for him to do so.

Ira Glass

So, how far did this go? How complicated did the story of the McCrearys get?

Myron Jones

It got very complicated. They had two kids. Michael was three and Laura was two. That happened to be the age separation between my sister and myself, but it was reversed. Sometimes the little boy in particular would try to test us. And I'd let him get away with it. But my sister wouldn't. And they had all kinds of toys, but not too many toys. And they liked their parents very much, loved their parents. They were easy, they weren't spoiled in any way.

Ira Glass

They sound like very special kids.

Myron Jones

Oh, yeah, they were great. They were like no kids I ever met really. I think, I think in many ways they had the life my sister wished that we'd had.

Carol Jones

I had them rent a cottage at the lake for the summer.

Ira Glass

So the McCrearys had a summer house.

Carol Jones

Yes.

Ira Glass

And did they require your services at the summer house?

Carol Jones

Yes, indeed. They knew that the kids would enjoy it so much more if we were there. And it was we, because both my brother and I always liked little kids a lot, you know. So my mother would accept this quite readily, you know, that they wanted the both of us out at the lake. It was wonderful. We had such a good summer. I mean, it was glorious.

Ira Glass

What would you do?

Carol Jones

Well, we just-- sometimes if we knew someone out there-- sometimes kids we knew would have cottages, you know kids used to get together and chip in, or their parents would have a cottage. Sometimes we'd just sleep on the beach, which was great. I'd love sleeping on the beach.

Ira Glass

I have to say every time you talk about the freedom you got, your voice becomes completely different. It's like you can still taste it.

Carol Jones

I still remember what that was like. It offered freedom that was just so wonderful to me.

Myron Jones

We really got all of this from our mother, this notion of fantasy people. Our mother had, from the time we were young kids, younger than 10, our mother had three people that she went to see. None of them existed, and we always knew they didn't exist.

Ira Glass

Really?

Myron Jones

Yeah.

Ira Glass

Who were they?

Myron Jones

One was a lawyer. And she wouldn't say what she was doing there, but she'd drop little hints. And what we were supposed to believe was that was making arrangements to put us in an orphanage. The second person she saw was a psychiatrist, which she pronounced psycholorgist-- interesting. And she went there because he would tell her that we were driving her crazy.

Ira Glass

I see.

Myron Jones

And the third person was a doctor, who told her she was going to die. And we had no idea where in fact she went, but she was never gone long enough to see anyone at all.

Ira Glass

So in other words, she would literally-- this wasn't just something she would say to you, well, I've been to a psychiatrist and he tells me that you're driving-- that you guys are driving me crazy. She would actually leave the house and go to her appointment.

Myron Jones

Yeah, she'd say-- she'd say-- she'd go for the door, and when we were young, we'd say where you going, Ma, because it was so unusual for her to go out, except to work. And she'd say wouldn't you like to know? Oh, OK. Is it your doctor? As we got older, she'd say, maybe. And so that was her game.

Ira Glass

In retrospect, where do you think she was going?

Myron Jones

I have no idea. I think she walked around the block a couple of times.

Ira Glass

So at some point, your mother must have wanted to meet them, right?

Myron Jones

No, she was-- shy isn't the word for her. But she didn't like knowing people at all. She didn't know the people next door. She didn't want to know them. So she was really deliberately isolated. But the McCrearys were far and away her favorite topic of conversation. My mother would ask questions about them. And then Carol would give her far more information and she asked for.

Ira Glass

Say more of what you remember of what she would tell her.

Myron Jones

Well, one was that Mrs. McCreary was very intelligent, and lovely, and very kind. She was my sister's fantasy of a mother. And she was my fantasy of an older woman who might fall in love with me, and with any luck at all seduce me.

Ira Glass

So wait, would you talk about it with your mom too?

Myron Jones

Yeah, my sister started that. I was a little uncomfortable about it. My sister said I think he's got a crush on her. And I would almost blush, uncomfortably, because I did.

Ira Glass

And then your mom would ask you questions. For example, what color hair does she have?

Myron Jones

No, she didn't ask questions like that. She never asked questions like that.

Ira Glass

So what would she ask?

Myron Jones

She'd say, well, I hope you act right over there. What do they think of you? And then the question she to this day asks, well, what do they think of your mother? And Carol would say, give the right answer, which is they think you're wonderful, mom. It was a way of having a conversation with her.

Ira Glass

And a kind of in-depth conversation.

Myron Jones

That's right. She liked to hear about fancy people. She imagined somehow that it would all rub off on Carol.

Ira Glass

That they'd be a good influence somehow.

Myron Jones

They'd be a good influence and there might even be some money in it. Carol also handled-- because she wasn't getting any money from babysitting, she said that Mr. McCreary was taking all the babysitting money and putting it into stocks and bonds.

Ira Glass

Wait, wait, hold it, just back up.

Myron Jones

Yeah, Carol knew she was going to ask, so she anticipated it. Carol said, before it could even come up, Carol said Mr. McCreary isn't going to pay me. He's going to pay all my babysitting money into stocks and bonds. My mother didn't know anything about stocks and bonds, and neither did we. But my mother knew that that's what rich people did. And it was over on the other side of town, the rich side of town.

Ira Glass

Right.

Myron Jones

My mother didn't know anything about that neighborhood. She was the oldest of seven children, grew up in a very really poor family. My mother had one friend who was middle class, who she'd met when my father was still alive. And she influenced my mother. And so did the people that my mother cleaned for.

At the end of the summer, it was the last weekend. And that was near the real change in the McCreary time.

Ira Glass

Well, what happened at the end of the summer?

Myron Jones

We really were exhausted from our summer, from our real summer weekends.

Ira Glass

The strenuous work of having fun with your friends.

Myron Jones

Yeah, right. And those times when there was no cottage to go to, and we'd sleep out on the beach, and we were going home, and we headed up the back stairs. We always had to go in the back way. We headed up the back stairs, and we'd go to the second floor.

And we could tell before we turned the corner that our mother was outside the door, waiting for us. And we turned, and there she was. And she looked ready to kill. She looked absolutely furious. She said well, where you too been? And I though, oh, god, she found out all about the summer cottage stuff.

And Carol said, you know where we've been, ma, at the McCrearys. And my mother said, oh, yeah. Well, you're a couple of damn liars. I just got off the phone with Mrs. McCreary. She hasn't seen you in weeks.

Carol Jones

My brother and I agree, we didn't breathe. We thought, oh, my god, she's talked to them. And then as quickly, we realized, of course she didn't talk to them.

Myron Jones

Carol got over it immediately, and said, sorry, Ma. Nice try. We just left the McCrearys 10 minutes ago. Went in the house. She didn't say anything to us, we didn't say anything to her. And after that, we really stopped talking about the McCrearys.

Ira Glass

Did she often claimed that she had run into the McCrearys?

Carol Jones

Yes, that she'd talked to her, that she hadn't seen me. She did it so often. She believed this. It was amazing, but she never questioned these things.

Ira Glass

Why do you think she didn't question it?

Carol Jones

I think she wanted it to be true, probably as much as I did.

Ira Glass

It's interesting, when you invented-- when you invented them, it's as if you invented them in terms that would reassure your mom.

Carol Jones

Yeah, I probably did. I don't think that-- well, you know, it did. I'm sure it did occur to me that I wanted a family that would please her.

Ira Glass

Is that because-- is that because it would make her more likely to let you out? Or was there a part of it where you also were the kind of kid where you always needed to be reassuring her anyway?

Carol Jones

Oh, I had to constantly reassure her, always. I mean, it isn't something I talk easily about, but she really never liked me. That was the problem.

Ira Glass

Is your mom still alive?

Myron Jones

Yeah.

Ira Glass

So how old is she now?

Myron Jones

94.

Ira Glass

How old are you?

Myron Jones

I'm going to be 70 in another 10 days.

Ira Glass

So have you ever come clean with her on this?

Myron Jones

Oh, no, never. Do you want me to make my mother look like a liar?

Ira Glass

In the sense, you already have. It's just a question of whether she's going to know it.

Myron Jones

Right. No, it never crossed my mind to do it.

Ira Glass

Are you serious? It's never crossed your mind?

Myron Jones

To tell her? No, never.

Ira Glass

Because she wouldn't be able to laugh about it, it sounds like.

Myron Jones

Not in any way. She might simply say that we were lying now, that there were McCrearys and we were just saying that for some reason.

Ira Glass

Does it make you sad that you can't have the kind of relationship with your mom, where now that everyone's an adult, you know, you can't come straight with all of it?

Myron Jones

No, my sister and I-- I think because of, because of going away to school when I was so young-- let me back up a little bit. When I was nine, I came home on a Saturday afternoon, and my mother said, I'm sorry you weren't here, because Father Sager, who was an Episcopal priest, was here visiting. And he found a very nice orphanage for you.

And I said, but I'm not an orphan, Ma. She said, no, I know. I told Father Sager that. But he said, really you are, because I have to work all the time, and there's no one to take care of you. And I said, well, we take care of ourselves. And she said, I need to tell Father Sager that, but he said, not really. You go there, it'll be a good place for you. You go there.

I was close to-- I was in my 30s before I understood why I went away to school when I was 10. I didn't have to. I could have not gone. I could have screwed up the test. I could have gone and gotten kicked out right away. I knew that. One of the things that our mother did with us, from the time we were very young.

I can't remember before, but I know before I went to school, my mother used to say to us, when your father died, everybody told me to put the two of you in an orphanage. I didn't, and that was the biggest mistake of my life. So when the day came, I came home, and she said, Father Sager found an orphanage for you, what I really did was say, you've been threatening me with this all my life, and now, damn it, I'm going to go.

Ira Glass

Yeah.

Myron Jones

And it felt safer. I was scared as hell. I was one of two kids in the sixth grade. The other kid never showed up. I went to all classes alone for six weeks. And after six weeks, I went home. And I was-- it was late October, already dark in Buffalo, and around supper time. And I was walking down the street, and I loved my neighborhood. I knew everybody. I looked, and the lights were on, thinking it's warm in there. That's people-- that's Sonny Calucci's house. That's his house. They're in there. And I have a house too.

I go to school now, but I have a house too. And I'm almost there. And I walked in the door, and I started to hug my mother. And my mother put out her hand to hold me back, and said, now, let me ask you a question. When you're up there at that fancy school, do you ever think about your mother, lying here in bed, crying her eyes out every single night? You ever think about that? Nah, you never think about anybody but yourself. And I literally from that moment on have never asked my mother for anything, never looked to her for anything.

Ira Glass

How old were you then?

Myron Jones

I was 10.

Carol Jones

Through the years, I have truly envied him that he has been able to do that, and that I have been unable to do that, not believing that I'm going to get anything from her. I know I haven't. But I have never, I haven't been able to this moment to just take her out of my life completely.

Ira Glass

How often do you see her now?

Carol Jones

Do I see her?

Ira Glass

Yeah.

Carol Jones

I'm now seeing her twice a week. I mean, I call her every night, which is all something to do with me. Because she doesn't know that I call her every night.

Ira Glass

Because she's becoming senile?

Carol Jones

Yes.

Ira Glass

What do you think you've gotten by being the one caring for her?

Carol Jones

One time, when I was 35, I lashed out at her in such a way, and told her how I felt about her, and she sat in a chair in the kitchen, and she was crying. And I had never even seen her cry before. And when I finally stopped talking, she said, I did the very best I could. And I thought, oh, my god, she did. Her best was so bad. Her best was so empty. But she couldn't do any better.

I decided, and it helps me a lot-- I have a great aunt that I just adored, and her mother, my mother's mother, who was wonderful, and my great-grandmother, who I didn't know, but who adored my mother, my mother slept in bed with her, I thought I'm going to do this for the people that loved her, you know, all of the people that really loved this little girl, I'm going to do it for them. And it feels-- that feels fine to me.

Ira Glass

You know what you're describing is you and your sister going off and pretending to babysit for these imaginary kids. But in fact, you guys had a babysitting job, and it was for your mom.

Myron Jones

That's right. My sister was the chief babysitter. It's true.

Ira Glass

At the time, when you were kids, did you-- when you were kids, did you ever see it that way? Oh, we're taking care of mom. She thinks she's taking care of us, but we're taking care of her?

Myron Jones

Oh, yeah. There was a kind of humoring her, and placating her. And when I was about 10, she gave me a first baseman's glove, because I was going to be a major league ball player when I grew up. And she said, you tell people who gave you the glove? I said yeah. You tell them how much it cost? I didn't, but I said, yeah. She said, you tell them how long I had to work to buy that? I said, yeah. She said, you did not.

Ira Glass

Let's set the record straight. Here we go, you're on the radio. How long did your mother have to work to buy you the baseball glove?

Myron Jones

She had to work a week.

Ira Glass

That's a long time.

Myron Jones

Absolutely, I've thought about it since then. Have I ever given my kids a present that was worth a week's wages? No, I haven't.

Ira Glass

Mr. Jones, what would have happened if there hadn't been the McCrearys?

Myron Jones

The McCrearys seemed absolutely inevitable. I never thought about what would happen if they hadn't been there.

Ira Glass

Wow.

Myron Jones

They had to be there. I still think we would be in-- let's see, they would be 56, 57 years old now. I've wondered where they're living, how they're doing?

Ira Glass

Where do you picture them?

Myron Jones

I picture them doing very well. And kind of dull now.

Ira Glass

Really.

Myron Jones

Yeah. I don't picture them as being terribly interesting. They're more conservative than their parents. But nice, pleasant, good people.

Ira Glass

Where do you think they're living?

Myron Jones

I'm afraid I think they're living in Florida.

Ira Glass

They are, not too far from where you are.

Myron Jones

I may run into them in the store.

Ira Glass

Myron and Carol said there was no way their mother would ever hear this story on the radio. And the fact is she never did. The story was first broadcast in 2001. She died at the age of 95 in 2002. After she died, Carol told Myron this secret that she had promised her mother she would never tell him.

It turns out her mom didn't actually buy that baseball glove for Myron. Their uncle bought the glove. And when it arrived at the house wrapped as a gift, Myron's mom intercepted it, gave it to him, and pretended it was from her all along. Carol lives in California. Myron, who was a model of grace and good humor in that interview, died in 2011 at the age of 80. Lovely man.

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Ira Glass

Today's program of our show was produced by Alex Bloomberg and myself, with [INAUDIBLE], Jonathan Goldstein, Starlee Klein, Julie Snyder, and Aaron Yankee. Our technical director is Matt Tierney. Production up for today's show by BA Parker.

Quick program note, a couple weeks ago, we had an excerpt from Jon Ronson's new podcast, The Butterfly Effect, on our program. He has been one of my favorite interviewers anywhere, a wonderful writer. And his podcast has just been released. If you want to hear it, it's an audible.com/butterfly. Our website, ThisAmericanLife.org.

This American Life is delivered to public radio stations by PRX, the Public Radio Exchange. Thanks as always to our program's co-founder, Mr. Torey Malatia. He still asks me after every single show, you tell them how much it cost? You tell them how long I had to work to buy that? You did not.

I'm Ira Glass. Back next week with more stories of This American Life.

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