Thank You, The Babysitters Club

This is unlikely very surprising, but I was a precocious child. I read voraciously, cultivated fifty-cent words like ‘voraciously,’ and was generally an enterprising youth. My elementary school math book had paper punch-out dollars and change as part of a unit on money, quickly becoming the only math chapter I ever really loved (until the logic of geometry proofs). Among my many quirks was a deep love for the stationary aisle at any store, those multi-layered carbon receipt books in particular. When Staples opened it was a revelation. I loved the idea of documenting things, of creating a situation that warranted such documentation. Bring on the notebooks and fancy pens!

Imagine my utter delight when The Babysitters Club was published.

I credit The Babysitters Club with much of my itch to build small businesses. Tenacious Feminist is part of a larger consulting brand that includes my genealogical work, but it’s not my first foray into entrepreneurship. In addition to the lemonade stands and hours and hours of babysitting, I also created a sewing company that got me through grad school with my sanity mostly intact.

If you haven’t read the books, the gist of it is this: a bunch of preteen girls who do neighborhood babysitting in Stoneybrook, Connecticut, form a club so as to more efficiently sit for all the kids in town. They call it The Babysitters Club (BSC).

There are dozens of books in the series featuring the four main characters: Kristy, the tomboy-ish lead, daughter of divorce. MaryAnn, whose mom died when she was young, leaving her with an overprotective dad and a lifetime of sheepishness. Claudia, Japanese-American with uncanny fashion sense (I still remember reading about a giant purple sweater she wore). Stacey, diabetic with gorgeous blond hair and links to New York City. I wanted to be all of them.

Most readers might have been mostly interested in Stacey’s ongoing romance with boyfriend Logan or MaryAnn’s struggle for independence but me? I wanted the paperwork.

The club held open office hours at Claudia’s house twice a week, where she had a dedicated phone line. Parents could thus call one number and find an available sitter from several. As calls came in, the club consulted a calendar of their available time. Dates and names ere be pencilled in, pay rates recorded, dues to the club paid and tracked–the club had to fund said notebook as well as periodic pizza parties, after all.

Did I mention that THEY HAD THEIR OWN PHONE LINE? This felt like the epitome of business ventures to me. I wanted in. (This, btw, is the phone I eventually got installed in my room. It was amazing, but I still shared the line with the rest of my family).

The club also kept client records, a diary of difficult pets, weird neighbors, and kids’ various issues. Allergies? Noted. Neighbor rumored to be a witch? Accounted for.

LET ME IN YOUR CLUB. I had a collection of purposeless notecards, an old steno notebook (two columns? OMG the possibilities), and at least one four-colors-in-one pen.
80s cool. Don’t even get me started on Trapper Keepers, the best thing to happen to people who like to organize stuff since the invention of paper.

The example of the BSC stuck with me. Since I was 13ish and a regular sitter myself, I’ve been earning my own paychecks. My love for paperwork led me to fill out my own tax forms by myself when I had a proper job (in a pharmacy–boring but those first checks? hot damn). And the trappings of running a business have always excited me: from stickers to excel spreadsheets to ULINE catalogs to accounting software, those details fill me with glee. The BSC notebook has loomed large for me since I first read about it.

More importantly, though I didn’t think much about it at the time, is that seeing a group of young girls create their own company served as a form of representation for me: I could do that. And I think that’s been at the back of my mind ever since. Between the BSC’s carefully organized sitting business to Nancy Drew’s detective enterprise (though I don’t recall her getting paid), I read constantly–voraciously, even–about young women forging entrepreneurial paths. I have to credit them with contributing to who I was, in order for me to be who I now am.

 

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4 thoughts on “Thank You, The Babysitters Club

  1. I was addicted to those books as well, though I don’t recall being quite as enamored of the paperwork side of things. I remember admiring the ingenuity of the enterprise. I guess it really was a pretty strong model for young girls, though it wouldn’t have occurred to me at the time. Interesting take.

  2. I loved (still do) these books. I read them basically from 1st grade through 7th and still pick them up occasionally 🙂 I spent many a hour organizing pretend babysitting jobs and kid kits as a child 🙂

    I hate to be *that* person, but Stacey dated Sam (Kristy’s bro); Maryanne was the one who dated Logan 🙂

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