Friday, May 28, 2010

BSC: The Summer Before

Here it is. Sadako's retelling of the BSC prequel. Enjoy, kiddies!


That summer. The summer before the life changing formation of the Babysitters Club. When all of us--Mary Anne, Claudia, Stacey and I--felt like we were alone. Teetering towards teenagerhood. Clinging to the remnants of childhood. Staring into a river of sturm und drang, with Barbies on one shore and tampons bras womanly apparel on the next. What a time we had.

Mom was dating my future stepfather, Watson, that summer. And I resented that he was such a great father to his real daughter, Karen, who'd probably be put away in an insane asylum when Phyllis Reynolds Naylor finally got around to bringing that Mrs. Tuggle related plagiarism suit against Ann M. Why was Watson such a great parent to Karen when my father couldn't even be a mediocre father to a great kid like me?

I wanted to do something to bring my dad's presence back into my life. Something that showed him that I wanted him in my life but wouldn't disrupt continuity like a visit or a phone call. Just something that would still give me a reason to feel angst that was appropriate for someone of my age.

So I wrote him a letter. I was going to put in something to remind him of my coming birthday, like Can you believe your daughter is almost 12? but then Ann realized that that was old lady-esque passive aggression more characteristic of Mary Anne than of me.

Dad never wrote back and I got a return to sender on the envelope. And no present on my birthday either. I suppose men do have to be gently prodded into remembering these things after all.

Mary Anne

I remember that summer. The summer I used to sneak up to the attic to find a little bit of who I was--memories of my mother. I had to do it carefully, as I knew it would anger my father and obsessive ghostwriter Ellen Miles who thought I didn't go up there to find out about my past till BSC Mystery #5.

That was the summer that my father loosened the cord--just a little bit. He let me start babysitting. But the catch was that I could only babysit with another girl supervising, with my dad on speaker phone no matter where he was, and with the fire department on call.

If only there were a way to make him see I was mature! But not so mature that he'd loosen all the rules before my epic time babysitting for a feverish Jenny Prezzioso. (One has to save something for the reader.) When I finally babysat with Claudia for Jamie Newton and nothing happened, Dad realized I was (sort of kind of but not really) growing up. "Mary Anne," he told me, "you can babysit by yourself. But only under certain situations, before dark, and with the Life Alert button I bought you last Christmas."

That was also the summer Kristy was missing her dad. She was hoping he'd do something for her birthday and he didn't, so I decided that in addition to making her a present, I'd try to fill the void in her life with a parade--featuring some of our sitting charges. I even asked Claudia to help, but she was dating an older boy and had no time for Kristy or me.

"No thanks," Claudia said. "I've got to sit at home and wait for Frankie to come by. He might snicker at my art or look sophisticated and call me kid."

I looked at her. I was losing my temper, I knew. I didn't lose my temper all that often but when I did--watch out. Months, even years, of bottled up passive aggression. I balled my hands into fists and almost said, "Enlighten me, Claudia. Why do you spend all your time waiting for a future professional Thailand tourist?" But I didn't, when I saw how sad she seemed. I settled on a slight sneer instead. It would serve me in good stead in the future, like when Logan would refuse to put on the Rum Tum Tugger suit I made for him at the BSC Pet Contest.

The parade went well, and Kristy was happy. And I knew that rearranging my entire summer to make sure she didn't snap at me in irritation had been worth it. Sometimes I was so shy around boys back then. I was used to trying to please Kristy, though. If only I could replicate our friendship with a guy--wouldn't that be wonderful?


That summer, I had my first boy-girl party. It was my twelfth birthday, and I decided to make it a big one, since I knew I wasn't going to get another birthday party for many, many cycles. It was a pool party and I accessorized my hair, jewelry, swimsuit that would show off my chest type area, as well as all the carefully orchestrated manoeuvrings I'd have to do to make sure I didn't get anything above my shoulders wet.

"Oh, the friends I invited are here--" Janine started to say till I interrupted.

"JANINE. Can't you use normal words? Who says invite?" I grumped. But that's when I saw him. Frankie. My first crush. He was almost a freshman in high school, and Janine had met him in her summer classes. My older sister clearly liked him, but Frankie gave me his shirt to wear when I got cold, and he put mustard and ketchup on my hot dog, so I knew I'd won.

Frankie called and came by for me a lot that summer. I saw my parents exchanging uncomfortable glances when he came over, but I didn't care. Frankie was the only one who understood my art. I'd given him a picture of a sparrow I'd sketched and before saying, "Oh, uh, thanks, what a great tumor," he had crumpled it up and put it in his jeans pocket that didn't contain wadded up gum. Finally, someone who appreciated my art.

One day, right before school started, we went to the pool with his other friends. They fawned over him and made fun of me. One of them asked if I'd been to day camp that summer. Later that night, Frankie called and said we shouldn't see each other anymore. "But--

"Besides," he said, "I don't think Connecticut has a Romeo and Juliet provision for statutory crimes yet." He hung up. So that was love. I realized I had a lot of growing up to do.

I talked to Janine about it because I knew she'd been upset, and we had a moment that felt sort of intimate. I almost confided in her about my hidden candy and Nancy Drew books but remembered that we couldn't get too close until the phantom phone calls episode or Mimi having her stroke, and pulled back. Then it was time to to re-befriend Kristy and Mary Anne, or as I called them, the reserve friends. After all, I never knew when my regular lunchtime set Dori Wallingford, Pete Black, and Rick Chow would drop me.


One night, Mary Anne, Claudia, and I sat together reminiscing about our summer. By our standards, it had been simple. No trips to Hawaii or Europe. Only one crush. No medical emergencies, no makeovers, no racist incidents. Still, it had been wonderful in its own quiet way.

"I was afraid we'd grown apart," I said to Claudia. "You've been wearing some awfully wild things. Like magenta."

"I felt that way, too, at first. But I think we're closer than we realize. There's a glue holding us together," she told me. "The glue is all down Bradford Park. In the sidewalk. In this tree. And not just in all of us--it's in the supporting characters like our parents and Janine and Sam and Charlie and Mimi. And in the almost non-existent ones like Kristy's father and Mary Anne's dead mother."

"Didn't the summer go by fast?" said Mary Anne.

"No," I said. "Not fast enough for me. I just wish I knew what the future held in store. If only there were a way to look ahead in a crystal ball. Not so much for us but for the people around us whose only entertainment is our preteen dreams."

Claudia nodded. "Like, what if there were a way to see if we had a Big Day or Great Idea or something coming up. Wouldn't that be great?"

"Our lives are just so interesting. Everyone really needs to stay tuned," I said, glancing off into the future.


That summer had been a really intense one for me. My former best friend Laine and I grew apart. And then I got the diabetes and had to spend most of my time watching Wilford Brimley infomercials.

It was a simpler time. I was so much younger at twelve than I am now, telling this, at thirteen. There was a time when I actually begged to be allowed to order non diet ginger cola when today the mere sight of regular soda fills me with a rage rivaled only by Meme Roth's sugar hatred.

My parents arranged a surprise party for me before I left. They even invited Laine. I knew they wanted it to go well, but no one was prepared for how badly things went, least of all me. My old friends laughed at my babysitting charges. And then Laine did the most absolutely shocking thing she's ever done. She poured coke on my new ruffled blouse.

I was really glad to go to make the move to the suburbs. I'll always love the city, but I guess you can see that New York kids are more than a little wild.

My first week in Stoneybrook, I met a girl who showed me where my science class was. She wore braided pigtails and looked shy. As she scurried away, part of me knew that my destiny was entwined with hers.

I had lunch with Emily Bernstein, the school's Tracy Flick. She showed me around and introduced me to some people. Since there were only a few things there I could eat and my overprotective stay at home mom hadn't thought to pack me an appropriate lunch, I bought a pretty small meal. I could see Emily eying my meal and thinking, "Did Dalton kick her out for anorexia or bulimia?" but one glance at her healthy gams, and I knew she was just jealous of my flat stomach and filled out chest.

That was the day I met Claudia. She was pretty much the only who fill the position of BFF for me, based on her fashion sense and ability to attract guys without overshadowing me. Yup, I had a feeling the school year was going to go fine.