I grew up reading the Baby Sitters Club. As an adult, it’s my go-to comfort read. I know the characters better than the ghost writers. I know which sitters below where during meeting times, I keep track of their friends outside the club and even know most of the ages of the children they girls look after on a regular basis.
If you’ve never picked up a BSC book, the series works like this: four girls start a baby-sitting club. Their membership base grows rapidly (seven girls and two associate members) and they treat it like a legitimate business. They are super organised and love children. Each girl has a different interest or talent. The books are written in the first person, but each one contains two or three recounts of other club member’s baby-sitting adventures.
The books us3 several plots — usually an A plot (the theme of the book, usually denoted by its title), a B plot featuring the BSC’s clients and a moral lesson that combines the two. Each book has fifteen chapters, with Chapter 2 dedicated to describing the club members. The baby sitters have three weekly meetings, which are described in detail throughout the book. Although they claim to be best friends, the girls usually only interact with their best friends outside of meeting times. As the series develops, the author addresses this by having the girls (minus the two younger sitters) sit together during lunch or walking home in a big group.
The books, particularly the early ones, often include a narrative about games to play with children or fun activities to try out. The books are set in fictional Stoneybrook, the characters are aged either 13 or 11 until the end of the series. Adult readers often refer to its timeless charm — children are safe to roam around by themselves, they watch television shows and movies from decades ago and enterprising young women, like the BSC, are given much responsibility by parents who are off running endless errands.
When I first read a BSC book, I was eight years old. I sat up one hot January night and read Kristy and the Baby Parade. Throughout the school year I ordered the books from Scholastic Book Club, soon owning the first six books, with smatterings of others thrown into the mix. Another summer later, my parents moved us to a new town, and I spent much of my free time reading the books over and over again. At my new school I struggled to fit in to the close knit social group. The Baby Sitters Club characters became my best friends. I played out story lines with my Barbies and wrote my own fan fiction during story writing. I made up my own Fan Club (for myself and two of my penpals), and stuck any bit of BSC paraphernalia I could find onto my bedroom walls.
I liked the Baby Sitters Club girls because they were all relatable in some way. I had a baby brother like Jessi, I liked setting up clubs like Kristy, I was shy like Mary Anne, a funky dresser like Claudia, I longed to move back to my home town like Dawn, I wanted to be an author the way Mallory longed to and I had my own taste for quirky and kitsch presents like Stacey.
There was one thing I didn’t really like, and that was baby-sitting.
I liked baby-sitting my younger brother, but my other baby-sitting adventures were less than thrilling. At ten we had 5 year old ‘class buddies’. My class buddy, Mia, didn’t behave like the kids the BSC looked after. Whenever I told her to do something she would run off or act silly. She liked me enough to nag me during lunch times for piggy back rides, but that was as good as it got.
On school holidays I would attempt to corral my cousins into doing BSC type activities, including Dawn’s clean up races (I always ended up cleaning up messes with my cousins watching on) or playing house type games. Unfortunately, my cousins would railroad any of these bright ideas, instead choosing to put on ‘a show for Grandma’, which mostly consisted of the eldest cousin wearing a lampshade and making his two sisters into assistants for his magic tricks.
My disappointing times with Mia and my cousins reaffirmed something I had always known — life in the BSC was much nicer on the page than in reality. The tricky situations the girls found themselves in were generally solved by Chapter 15. The unresolved issues would play out for a few books, until the girl at the centre of the crisis solved it in the next book she narrated. Life wasn’t like this. I wasn’t going to move back to my home town the way Dawn did and I wouldn’t be able to pull off a big party for children, or hold an art exhibition in my garage. I am sure there are many girls who tried out similar BSC ideas and had a lot of success with them — it just didn’t work out that way for me.
Ann M Martin, the writer of the series, was a great baby-sitter growing up. Martin majored in Education and Psychology, and had intended to become a teacher, due to her caring nature and interest in working with children. After her first year of teaching, Martin became an editorial assistant, and soon began to write novels herself. When this series was suggested to her, she ran with it and did incredibly well.
Having read her biography at the tender age of nine, I always knew that Martin had a career change quite early in her working life. I failed to see the parallels with my own until recently. Two and a half years into my teaching career, I began having some serious doubts. Although I liked working with children, teaching brought many more challenges than the actual teaching itself. I found my mental and physical health deteriorating. I tried different roles within the field, but ultimately I didn’t want to teach in a traditional classroom. It felt just like being Mia’s class buddy, or trying to boss my cousins around; coupled with endless paperwork and countless stakeholders who always had too much to say.
Martin’s Stoneybrook lends itself to unrealistic expectations. Thirteen year olds who casually solve problems involving anxiety, dieting and stage parents seemed the norm. How on Earth did they know how to say things like this? And how did the parents let them get away with it? The freedom each of the club members enjoyed, along with juggling sitting commitments and extra-curricular activities seemed excessive, even when compared to my idyllic country Australian lifestyle. The girls flirted and had serious relationships with boys who spent a lot of money on them. Stoneybrook was part Enid Blyton’s Magic Faraway Tree series, part Mills & Boon Sweet Romance and part child care textbook.
I devoured the books until I was too old to be seen carrying around the tatty pastel covers. I nitpicked The Baby Sitters Club Movie, while watching it, slightly in awe, in a cinema one Saturday afternoon. In high school, I tracked down the BSC Best Friends Forever series, which was slightly cooler, and the California Diaries series which made me feel so grown up.
Who I am has been shaped by being part of the BSC movement. My sense of compassion, fashion inspiration and how to be a girl boss comes from my knowledge of the series. At times, the BSC brought predictability into my life when I needed it most, and a warm sense of being with friends, when I had felt this the least. Thank you Ms Martin and the baby sitters for always being there.