A long time ago, in a neighborhood not-to-far away…
I was riding my bike and a new family was moving into the neighborhood. By habit and training from my mom—the top Avon Lady in the Pioneer Valley being one of her many jobs—I welcomed them to the neighborhood and chatted them up to see if anyone would be interested in Avon, Tupperware, getting morning or afternoon paper delivery, had any pets they needed watching, or—with my shiny new certificate back home on my desk—babysitting.
“You babysit?” the gentleman, who I’ll call Mr. D, asked after politely nodding through my list of potential goods and services my family could hook him up with.
“I do,” I said proudly, and then faltered a little when he asked about age and experience. I hadn’t actually babysat before…but I was certified for first aid and CPR for children!
A few months later, I got the call. My first babysitting job!
To this day, I still look back on those kids fondly and with a lot of love. When I started, though, I was in over my head.
Way, way, way over my head.
Anyone who knows kids knows that if you’re supposed to be “in charge,” you really need to earn their respect. And if you’re only a few years older than they are, they really need good reason to listen to you. And if they’re particularly smart and creative, then, well, you better damn well give them good reason to listen to you.
These kids were wicked smart and creative.
I felt like a failure for the next few weeks… Fortunately, no one died (Though there was a sliced open arm from racing through the breezeway and falling through a glass door. Yay first aid?) I don’t know why Mr. D didn’t fire me. I was getting really scared of this job—and kids know when you’re scared.
About this time in the history of childhood and entertainment, the X-Men cartoon was part of Saturday Morning Cartoon rotation—an important part of my life, as well as the lives of my charges.
They were debating about the relationship between Cyclops, Jean Grey, and Wolverine.
“Well, in the comics…” I began.
“What comics?” They asked.
“You don’t know the comics?!”
We didn’t have a lot of money growing up. To save money, my mom dragged us out, every possible weekend, to go to “Tag Sales.” (Yard sales, for those of you not from Western Mass.) I learned to love tag saling, because there was always at least one good sale with boxes and boxes of books. My mom was thrilled because she could buy me hours of entertainment at such cheap prices.
On one of my tag sale treasures was a giant box of comics. X-Men comics, primarily. I’d found it a couple of years prior to my first babysitting adventure.
I must confess to hypocrisy…
When I saw them, I was like, “There are X-Men comics?!” because all I knew about X-Men was the cartoon, and all I knew about comics were the Sunday paper “funnies.” It was a whole new world of literature for me, and it did change my world.
When my school year was over, Mr. D asked me if I’d be interested in working out a summer schedule between the kids’ camp and family visits. The kids cheered when I said “Yes.”
You see, we had become a team saving the world at this point. The world needed our new generation of mutants to fight of other newer, dangerous mutants.
I was the leader and mentor for these adventures; I’d earned that spot.
I was also the lead director when we had to put together and act out scenes we’d written for our feature movie we were totally going to make with our next generation of mutants. (This was waaaaay before superhero movies got popular.) And I was the art and writing director of the new sets of comics we were writing that we were absolutely sure Stan Lee would somehow discover and pay us great money for. (We never actually shared them with anyone but Mr. D., but it totally could have happened!)
We consulted my growing collection of comics to create our own “next generation” of X-Men—a combination of biological and adopted children from of existing characters with our own powers. We didn’t want to mess with the comics as they were; we wanted our own mostly-original mutants with our own adventures.
“Literally” in our storylines (which lasted through another school year and another summer—until they moved away), we were “The Children of the X-Men.” And, in a real life sense, that was true too. We were all gifted students who didn’t quite fit in at our schools with “normal” people; so were these super-awesome heroes! Our gifts came in our ability to tell stories, to draw, to act, to direct, to design costumes (yes, we did, indeed, design costumes for ourselves). If it wasn’t for having the X-Men in our lives, we wouldn’t have developed the relationship we had. We developed confidence, the ability to work as a team, and we all ended up honing our own talents and learning a lot together.
Basically, comic books saved my babysitting job. More than that, they made me a better babysitter—and a better person, because I learned a lot from trying to be the X-Men leader of my two charges.
I still have the comics. Some were too tattered to take out of their boxes bags to photograph, but just looking at them brought me back and reminded me of the lessons they taught. They’re always there to remind me of the importance of creativity, teamwork, good leadership—and how to never give up hope when it comes to saving the world or saving one person in need.
May comics continue to inspire people to do the impossible, to do better. Excelsior!
Trisha J. Wooldridge writes grown-up horror short stories and weird poetry for anthologies and magazines—some even winning awards! Under her business, A Novel Friend (www.anovelfriend.com), she’s edited over fifty novels; written over a hundred articles on food, drink, entertainment, horses, music, and writing for over a dozen different publications; designed and written three online college classes; copyedited the MMORPG Dungeons & Dragons Stormreach; edited two geeky anthologies; and has become the events coordinator for Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester. Because she is masochistic when it comes to time management, she created the child-friendly persona of T.J. Wooldridge and has written three scary children’s novels, too. Most recently, she is proud to be part of the New England Horror Writers’ anthology Wicked Witches and has released the novella “Tea with Mr. Fuzzypants.”