I’ll never forget that first angst-ridden leap as a mom: leaving my infant with a sitter for the first time — after hours of instructing the poor teen on everything from how to lower and raise the crib railing to what I consider an acceptable number of burps during a feeding.
I left Post-it Notes on the fridge, warning her not to let the baby drink from a bottle for more than an hour, or her formula could become infested with deathly bacteria. I showed her how to massage away gas bubbles and gave her the front-to-back lecture on “how to wipe a girl.” You name it, I explained it — including which CDs contained my baby’s favorite Broadway overtures (she was partial to Mame).
A little neurotic? Hey, I was a sitter myself once. I know what’s out there. And frankly, it frightens me.
1977 … Calvin Klein jeans, disco, the Bee Gees, and the year I may have started 7-year-old Carrie Kleinfeld on the road to a lifetime of costly analysis. At 14, I inherited a regular Saturday night gig from my college-bound sister. I charged a baseline fee of five bucks, ate the family out of house and home, played a few rounds of Lite Brite, watched Carol Burnett and ran up their phone bill.
So there I am one Saturday night, when Carrie asks if we could deviate from our usual routine and make some Jell-O.
“Sure,” I said. I opened the cupboards. “Should we make cherry or lime?”
“The green,” Carrie said. “No, the red. … no, green.”
I knew it was coming.
“Can we make both?”
So we made the lime Jell-O and let it chill. An hour or so later, we made the cherry and poured it on top. When it was time for Carrie to go to bed, she made me promise to wake her when her masterpiece solidified, so she could turn it over herself.
It was almost midnight when the mold looked firm, and I honestly didn’t have the heart to wake the kid. So I covered the mold with a plate and flipped it over myself.
Let’s just say the firmness was a mirage.
Green and red slime oozed over the counter, plopped into the sink and onto the floor. The Kleinfelds would be home any minute. I had to think fast. I scooped up the mess and threw it back in the mold. I wiped the counters, mopped the floor, rinsed the sink. And then …
I tiptoed down the hall to Carrie’s bedroom.
“Carrie,” I whispered. “It’s time to turn the Jell-O mold over.”
Yawning and rubbing her little eyes, she followed me into the kitchen. And when she flipped the mold …
“Oh my God,” I shrieked. “Look what you did!”
Poor Carrie stood there, barefoot in a puddle of Jell-O slime, crying in her Charlie’s Angels nightgown.
“It’s okay,” I soothed. “It was an accident. You meant well.”
I’ve often wondered what happened to Carrie Kleinfeld. She’s in her early forties now. Does she shudder when she sees Bill Cosby on T.V.? Does she have ‘Nam flashbacks every time she passes a salad bar?
There is a distinct possibility that I have caused this now-middle-aged woman undue harm.
Do you know there is a scientific name for the irrational fear of Jell-O? There is. Jangelaphobia. And there is suffering involved, people — horrible suffering. Jangelaphobics can’t attend potlucks or church picnics or frequent places like Old Country Buffet or Chinese smorgasbords that want patrons to fill up on cheap ingredients, instead of gorging themselves on the boiled shrimp.
To this day, I can find no logical explanation for the events I orchestrated. Why on earth I didn’t just throw out the Jell-O? Did I think it was super valuable and the Kleinfeld’s would need a really good explanation for its disappearance?
Well that ship sailed. But I made sure this kind of trauma never happened to my kid. I did background searches on my sitters only surpassed by the FBI. First came Jill … top of her class at a Baptist college … spent her summers on missions in Grenada. Then there was Sarah. Despite a full course load at college (which, may I add, she paid for herself, along with her own car), she assisted at a physical therapy clinic during the week and catered events on weekends. An overachiever with no serious boyfriends, Sarah was waiting for the “right” guy … not just any guy. Both of these young women could not only play Barbie and build a mean pillow fort, they could teach my little girl about setting goals and self respect
Still, while the Jell-O karma never came to bite me in the butt with regard to my own sitters, I do sometimes wonder if that karma hasn’t reared its ugly head in other ways. What if all the dreams I had that never came true … being a Broadway actress … having four children and a bombshell body … being a world traveller and living in a showplace on the sea … what if it’s all somehow related to Carrie Kleinfeld and that damn Jell-O? Maybe if I could find her, apologize, swing a chicken over my head, and pay her back for her therapy … maybe then everything would — once and for all —solidify.
So Carrie, if you’re out there, I’m truly sorry. But until we meet again, the best I can do is pay it forward.
So here’s my advice to you readers:
The next time you’re breaking in a sitter, hide all the Jell-O and leave out a package of microwave popcorn.
Because there’s evil out there.
And it just might be lurking in a Justin Bieber T-shirt.