Here comes the babysitter. You’re pumped. His appearance promises a night of board games, TV, living room dance parties. He’ll make mac & cheese for dinner and skip the broccoli entirely. Turn up the volume on bands you’ve never heard of. Dress up like a Sith Lord and let you annihilate him after a protracted battle that covers every floor of the house.
You may pass several hours draped in sequins and spiked on sugar. Playing, yes. But for show, not for keeps. Playing for this night only. Playing with the door closed.
The babysitter has one job: keeping you safe until your parents get home.
Under the babysitter’s watch, you’ll be staying close. You can maybe venture a block or two in either direction but only before dusk. Maybe. Then you’re in. At no point tonight will you wind up doing guerilla theater at a courthouse rally or busking at the bus station. The babysitter locks out the night. No questionable characters will show up at the door and drag you away for little debauchery.
Exuberance stays inside. Danger stays out.
Now here stands adult you. Maybe experiencing a little déjà vu?
No one is hiring a babysitter to keep an eye on things. You’re free.
Yet you invite them into your life anyway.
They show up everywhere. Friendly, easygoing, responsible (more or less). These people appreciate me. Keep me company. They encourage me to order the pancakes for dinner and watch bad TV in my pajamas on the couch. They still play board games. Still introduce me to bands. Still dress up with me and role-play the improbable alternate realities.
I don’t need to list names here. We know who they are. Co-workers, neighbors, family members, friends. I don’t know about yours, but my little world is populated with far more babysitters than agitators. More caretakers than troublemakers.
These are good, caring folks. Loyal. They have motivations and stories all their own, of course, before and beyond me. And unless we get in there and talk the deep talks, I can’t presume to understand what drives them. I only know that I’ve invited them to babysit me and that they oblige. When making a big decision or standing at any sort of crossroads, I seek their advice. They provide an ear, guidance, sympathy. They help me calculate the risks and rewards.
These good folks encourage me to stay on track and close to home. Within cell range, at least. They want to make sure I don’t rock the boat (if I even dare push out into the water) or stray too far afield (if I limit the trek to solid ground). They delight in my thrill when I attend a dance class and encourage me to keep dabbling in my little hobby. They high-five me when words finally take the shape of a church blog post or a listicle for work. They promote the predetermined formats. The familiar voice.
Together we check my impulses. We button down the wild.
The babysitters also appreciate when I show mercy. They are relieved when I refrain from asking them to bring their art, unleash their voices, kick start their stalled projects, oil up their rusty dreams. They will not drag me into the night to create mayhem on the streets, and neither will I ask it of them.
They show their love by helping me end the day tucked in. Paycheck assured. Heart unbroken. Son secure. They nudge me away from the edge of a cliff that too often materializes right there in my path. They are dear ones.
What comfort, to have someone remind me that small, simple treasures can satisfy the soul.
Here stands adult you. Maybe you are like me. Maybe you have cast a few too many people in this role. Are you starting to notice what their prevalence reinforces? What it prevents?
The babysitter has one job: keeping you safe until your parents come home.
You cannot ask them to mentor you. To dream with you. To grapple with the tough questions. You do not turn to your babysitters when you ache for the courage to take a bold risk but find yourself languishing in port. The babysitters should neither keep the lighthouse nor captain the ship. They cannot position the astrolabe for you. They cannot even teach you how to consult the one that finds its way into your hands.
The babysitter has one job. But safety is an illusion and no one is coming for you.
You stand here at another of the 7,927 crossroads you will face in this life. Pause. Take a good look around. Don’t worry. The babysitters will stay near. See past them for a moment. Can you find the questionable characters, the ones your babysitters have guarded you against?
Who pisses you off? Who demands more of you? Who asks you when the hell you are going to jump back into the musical theater you claim to love, or how far along you are in organizing that neighborhood confab you say your community needs? Who keeps sending you poetry submission notices for years on end even though you haven’t submitted a single one? Who keeps the heat up and the volume on?
Notice who feels alarming. Strange. Notice who’s the fodder for your whispers because of her reckless, artsy, airy-fairy choices. Who makes you itch?
Notice who is starting the nonprofit on little more than an idea and a few loose connections, and then hustles until it grow into a minor global force. Notice who plays her amateur songs at open mic, throws together an art festival with borrowed folding tables, or gets the neighborhood kids together for a slapdash park cleanup project.
Notice who’s saying, “Let’s try this!” and refuse to put a question mark at the end.
Do you surround yourself with babysitters or troublemakers?
Who’s keeping you inside and who’s urging you out?
What form of safety have you conflated with love?
Have you become someone’s babysitter?
Maybe your own?
Are you ready to disobey?
Stay awake well past bedtime?
Crack open the night?
Find out what it really means to play?
Image: Tina Newlove, She Had Rabbit Ear Reception