Parenting

Bloody Mary Babysitter

I don’t recall having many babysitters throughout my childhood -- either my parents didn’t go out often, or my memory is already starting to fail. However, there were a few sitters who made a lasting impression. There was the gal who, despite being given express directions not to mess with our brand new microwave oven (high tech equipment in 1981), got bored and decided that experimenting with pieces of bologna was an excellent way to pass the time, or the sitter (pretty sure it was the same one) who thought that Friday night babysitting meant a Friday night boyfriend party, replete with Friday the 13th (the it movie of the time). Then there was the girl-next-door sitter, Kiki, who arrived wearing a blue bow (again, the early 80s) that had me double-checking our Hellman’s jar to confirm her fashion inspiration. Of all the sitters we had, there was one that would forever be etched in my memory: Katie.

Katie was the teenage daughter of my parent’s best friends, who lived across the street from us on our Air Force base in England. I was fascinated by Katie, as most kids are of teenagers at that age, with her carefree attitude and Hubba Bubba chewing habit. Whenever I saw Katie, I knew I was sure to snag a piece of fluorescent orange, deliciously strong watermelon, or grape flavored gum, a treat every child of the 80s treasured. It wasn’t just the fact that Katie was always chewing gum, it was the epic proportions of her gum wads that intrigued me, combined with the artificially sweet, fruity effervescence she emitted. I’m pretty sure the huge bubbles Katie created were the result of adding piece after piece of fresh gum, in an effort to revitalize the short-lived sweetness of the piece before. Even more interesting, to my elementary-aged self, was the manner in which Katie saved her gum. Like building a rubber ball band, Katie added Technicolor pieces of Hubba Bubba and Bubble Yum to a gum ball she kept in her room. In my mind, this ball of masticated gum would be able to perform feats that would impress even The Absent Minded Professor and his Flubber. Whether I was too grossed-out, or Katie fiercely protected that ball, I never got the chance to test the limits of that Technicolor gum ball.

While Katie’s gum habit is the quirk I’ll always associate with her, her talent in weaving tales made an impression that lasted much longer than my childhood. While I can’t remember the specifics of many of the stories, I can tell you that most of them involved a careful mixture of fact and fiction, the fictional aspects of the stories being so far-fetched that I absolutely wanted to believe them. Tales of teenagers meeting their fates while out and about intrigued me, as the characters in her stories were always teens that I knew of on base; think gossip in it’s highest form, with a hint of Final Destination flair (though long before that movie franchise’s time). One story, in particular, managed to haunt my childhood and follow me through adulthood: Bloody Mary.

If you’re not familiar with the Bloody Mary story (what rock have you been living under?), it has legendary roots in being practiced by young women, reciting the name in an effort to catch a glimpse of their future husbands in the mirror. If Bloody Mary appeared in the reflection, it was said to be a sign that the young woman would not live to marry. Modern forms of the Bloody Mary myth include some variation of a dark room, a candle, a mirror, and reciting her name three times. Bloody Mary is said to either appear in the mirror in a gruesome form or actually come out of the mirror to inflict bodily harm, often killing the woman invoking her. My own Bloody Mary story experience involved the worst-case scenario: the bloody death of a teen.

I have a distinct memory of being at the playground, swinging side-by-side, when Katie first told me her Bloody Mary story. After hearing the tale, I was both haunted and intrigued, and would ask Katie to extrapolate on the story each time she came to sit for me. Never mind the nightmares, I wanted to be scared over and over and over again, and Katie did not disappoint.

While the original story involved a sleepover with Katie’s friends, I’m positive the story took different forms as the tall tale grew over time. Katie’s tale involved a sleepover, a bathroom, a candle, a mirror, a gaggle of teen girls and a bathtub of blood. I can’t even remember the specifics of the story these days, I just know that I will not enter a dark bathroom, whether or not the name Bloody Mary has been uttered. Just thinking about a dark bathroom, a mirror, and the words Bloody Mary sends shivers up my spine, even now, and makes me reach around the door to flick on the bathroom light before entering.

If you think this is silly, it absolutely is, but it’s also a testament to just how impressionable the young mind is. While we’ve only had family sit for our son thus far, I admit I’m nervous about leaving him in the hands of a teen, not because of the possible scary stories, but because of the boyfriend and bologna escapades that are sure to happen while we’re out. I’m not upset about Katie’s scary stories at all, as they lend flavor to an otherwise uneventful childhood, with just the mildest hint of Watermelon flavored Hubba Bubba.

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There’s no way around it, parenting is the most important job we do, and often the most difficult. Since parenting is such a large part of my life, I often write about all of the bumps, bobbles, learning experiences and laughs I encounter along the way. Enjoy!