Baby-Sitters Club #5: Dawn and the Impossible Three by Ann M. Martin
Title: Baby-Sitters Club #5: Dawn and the Impossible Three by Ann M. Martin
Summary: Dawn Schafer is the newest member of The Baby-sitters Club. While she’s still adjusting to life in Stoneybrook after moving from sunny California, she’s eager to accept her first big job. But taking care of the three Barrett kids would be too much for any baby-sitter. The house is always a mess, the kids are out of control, and Mrs. Barrett never does any of the things she promises. On top of all that, Dawn wants to fit in with the other members of the BSC, but she can’t figure out how to get along with Kristy. Was joining The Baby-sitters Club a mistake? [Wing: That is not at all what the story is about.]
Tagline: Dawn thought she’d be baby-sitting — not monster-sitting!
Dawn is one of my favourite baby-sitters, and I’m thrilled to get to recap her very first book. I love how she complicates things with the club, especially the friendship between Mary Anne and Kristy, I love a bunch of her personality traits (particularly the way she loves ghost stories), and I love her enthusiasm about life. This is going to be fun.
The Baby-sitters Club. I didn’t start it and I don’t run it, but I am its newest member. I’m Dawn Schafer, baby-sitter number five. The other girls in the club have titles, like Mary Anne Spier, secretary, or Claudia Kishi, vice president. But I’m just me.
I love you, Dawn.
Much like Stacey, Dawn is grateful that the BSC (and the subsequent baby-sitting jobs) give her the chance to get to know people in Stoneybrook, because she is another transplant and has only lived there a few months. Back in January, she moved from southern California to Connecticut.
Wait. That means that at most it is March now, and I can’t image Connecticut is having very warm weather, but I don’t remember there being terrible winter weather in Mary Anne Saves the Day! [Necromommycon: No, you’re right. In fact I didn’t get any sense of weather at all from that book, which was a missed opportunity. I mean at the very least Mary Anne could have mentioned the chill that had fallen over their friendships being like the cold air outside.] [Wing: Well THAT would be delightfully dramatic.]
Much like with Sweet Valley, now that Dawn’s joined the series, the books perpetuate the idea that California (or at least southern California, though that’s not specified just yet) has only one season: summer. Which is bullshit.
Dawn’s off to a baby-sitting job at the Pike house. The Pikes have eight children, including three triplets (who are friends with Dawn’s younger brother, Jeff), but she’s only baby-sitting Mallory (10), Nicky (7) (though he starts out at a friend’s house), Margo (6), and Claire (4). Keep in mind that Dawn is only a couple years older than Mallory at most.
Mrs Pike is off to a library trustees meeting and will be back a little after five, because god forbid a job run until 530 or later, what with that whole BSC meeting schedule. (I stand by my claim that 530 to 6 during the week is a terrible time to have a meeting.) [Dove: I agree with this. Most people I know are on the bus on the way home during that time.]
Dawn does a quick rundown of how the club is run (“very professionally”) and a little about the other girls. Basically one line for Kristy (just that she’s president) and more information for the others.
Claudia: Japanese (not Japanese-American here), hates school, loves art and mysteries, a little bit hard to get to know. (That last part is interesting and not something we usually see about Claudia.)
Stacey: Newcomer from NYC, having trouble adjusting to small-town life, Dawn and Stacey bond sometimes over being new and stuck in a small town.
Mary Anne: Dawn’s new BFF. (Her old BFF is Sunny Winslow back in California.) Lives next door to Kristy, for the first time has two BFFs, Mary Anne’s dad and Dawn’s mom used to be in love back when they were in high school and have now started dating each other again, even though Mr Spier is a stern, lonely guy and Mrs Schafer is a light-hearted, unorganised, fun woman.
Back to the job. Mrs Pike tells Dawn that Nicky might bring Buddy Barrett over and that’s fine, Mrs Barrett is very chill and they let the kids run back and forth all the time. The Barretts are the titular Impossible Three, just so you know.
Margo and Claire entertain Dawn with music, Mallory does her homework, all is well. They have a granola bar snack (Dawn will come to be known as the health food evangelist, but this early, granola bars are fine for her. [Later, my guess is that the ones the Pikes buy would have far too much sugar for her.])
Mallory asks about Dawn’s “new-old house”, a phrase that entertains her sisters to no end, and is true enough. It’s new to Dawn and her family, but it’s old; it was built in 1795 and is narrow and dark and short inside, but Dawn loves it and all its history. She’s certain that there is a secret passage somewhere, maybe even one that was a part of the Underground Railroad.
Mallory also wants to know about Sharon and Richard (Mrs Schafer and Mr Spier), because for some reason she’s in on all the gossip and loves to hear about how they were in love in high school. Dawn doesn’t know the whole story about why they split up, and Sharon hasn’t told her everything, but at least part of it had to do with Sharon’s family not approving of Richard because his family didn’t have much money while Sharon’s family was rich.
(Ugh, Dawn, why would you say this: And Mom is a crazy person — not nasty crazy, just an absent-minded professor type.)
(Also, it seems Sharon has a type, because Dawn’s dad is super organized and so is Richard.) [Necromommycon: Ha. I don’t know how I didn’t pick up on this sooner, because I am mildly disorganized about boring things like houseowrk and whether the car has gas (okay…more than mildly), and I apparently ALSO have a type. Sharon is my secret twin. ]
Their gossip about adults (surely they have something better to talk about) is interrupted by a thud and a wail: Nicky has returned with Buddy and Suzi Barrett. Suzi fell on the steps and skinned her knee. Dawn’s super chill about it, calms her down and puts a dinosaur bandage on it, which is great and I want one. [Dove: I loved that Suzi was so proud she kept her jeans rolled up so everyone could see her band-aid.]
Mrs Pike shows up right at 515, so Dawn has to book it to get to Claudia’s on time; she rides her bike fast enough that she has time to catch up with Mary Anne first, and Mary Anne rushes out of her house to tell Dawn her great news. That is the chapter break. This is R. L. Stine levels of Needlessly Dramatic Cliffhanger Chapter Endings.
Her great news? Richard is taking Sharon out again and won’t be home for dinner. Since it is nearly 530, you’d think someone as organised as he allegedly is would have let Mary Anne know about that far before now, but cool.
Oh, look at that, it is far too spur of the moment for what he’d usually do, but Sharon is getting him to chill out — and this last minute date was his idea. You know what, I take it back, that’s pretty cool. Rock his world, Sharon.
Oooooh, clothing talk!
Claudia and Stacey “wear these really wild outfits such as tight black pants and Day-Glo shirts” while Mary Anne, who can finally branch out and make her own clothing choices after the last book, is wearing her first ever sweatshirt and pair of jeans. (And looks terrific, per Dawn.) She’s twelve, and these are her first pair of jeans?! Richard, you suck. [Dove: I didn’t own a pair of jeans until I was 16. I didn’t actually wear jeans until I was 23. But that was just because I really hated how jeans looked to me – the material looked stiff and uncomfortable. Thanks to this feeling, I totally missed out the stonewash of the 80s and the mom-jeans cut of the 90s. #humblebrag] [Wing: Since I think jeans are the greatest piece of fashion everywhere (including jean skirts in this), my mind, it boggles.]
ALSO, she’s getting ready to redecorate her room, because he’s finally loosened up thanks to Sharon. She’s going to take all the “babyish” stuff off her walls and put up posters and photographs, which is all she can afford to do until she talks Richard into helping her buy some other stuff. Everything in her room is pink, and she hates pink.
Janine answers the door at Claudia’s. Hi, Janine! I love you, Janine!
Mary Anne is not thrilled, because she and Kristy don’t like Janine due to Janine being such a fucking genius (oh, okay, and correcting what people say, which can be pretty obnoxious, especially if you don’t actually want to learn the correct way to do things), but Dawn likes her. Good going, Dawn. [Dove: Dawn is growing on me a lot!]
Up in Claudia’s room, they find Mimi brushing Claudia’s hair. Claudia and Stacey have “suddenly” taken a great interest in their hair. I thought that went along with all their fashionable things in the past few books, but apparently they’ve kicked it up a notch or two: once a week they use an egg rinse, on Wednesdays and Sundays they squeeze lemon juice (“from real lemons”) on it. (… okay, I can see Stacey doing that, what with her blonde hair, but what exactly does Claudia think that is doing to her hair? In general, lemon juice [especially + sunlight] can be used to put highlights in light hair, but Claudia’s is jet black.)
They want Dawn to use eggs and lemons on her hair, too (which is long [almost down to her ass], thin, fine, and white blonde), but she plans to use an avocado paste because California girl.
The second Kristy shows up, she sets to work, demanding they pay their dues and questioning whether Stacey brought the treasury. Dude, the reason you have officers is so that one person doesn’t have to do everything, Kristy. Chill.
Before dues, they have $7.50 in the treasury, and Kristy thinks they should buy some stuff for their kid-kits, which are boxes filled with their old toys and picture books, along with coloring books, stickers, etc., which have to be replaced sometimes.
The first job that comes in is for the Prezziosos, and though they’re all free, they start backing out immediately, because Jenny is a 4-year-old spoiled brat. Mary Anne ends up with the job, which makes sense because she’s the only one who really likes Jenny. (I guess saving the kid’s life last book bonded them, though Dawn doesn’t mention that adventure here.)
Later, Dawn takes a call from Mrs Barrett, which is mighty convenient considering she just met Buddy and Suzi earlier. Mrs Barrett is going through a divorce, she’s not terribly organised, and she needs some help. Dawn is sympathetic to this, understandably, and thrilled when she gets the job.
Dawn gets home just in time to see Sharon off on her date with Richard; also just in time to catch that Sharon is wearing only one earring, has a rubber band around her wrist, and left the price tag on her skirt.
Sharon left leftover stew for dinner, but neither Dawn nor Jeff want to eat it, so instead they have an all-natural frozen meatless pizza. Mary Anne calls just as Dawn is sitting down to eat, and Dawn realises that they should have had dinner together. Yeah, fail, Dawn. Mary Anne’s calling to ask Dawn to help her redo her room, and they’re both excited about the project, and Dawn says they probably have some things Mary Anne can use, because they brought stuff from California that doesn’t really fit in the new home.
Saturday, Dawn takes a bunch of stuff over to Mary Anne’s house, so much that Sharon has to drive her, which serves three of Dawn’s purposes: she got a ride, Mary Anne would know that Sharon was okay with giving away the stuff, and Sharon and Richard could see each other — except Richard isn’t home.
Some of the things Dawn brings: a poster of London (which hung in the kitchen of the California house), an astronomy chart (which Mary Anne doesn’t really want but I do!), lamps and stuff.
Kristy sees them through the window (she lives next door still, and their bedrooms face each other), and after checking with Dawn, Mary Anne invites her over. Kristy’s pretty hurt when she learns that Mary Anne is redecorating her room but hasn’t mentioned it to Kristy at all, and I do find that kind of weird, considering she told Dawn about it back on Monday. Because she’s in her feelings, Kristy starts bringing up old things that she and Mary Anne made and talking about new projects they could do and intentionally leaving Dawn out.
Dawn starts to worry, not only because it is awkward, but because it could be a problem if the BSC president doesn’t like her.
Mary Anne and Kristy still eat lunch with the Shillaber twins and Claudia and Stacey eat with that mixed group of girls and boys. Dawn goes back and forth between the two groups. (We get this delightful bit: Kristy and Mary Anne think boys are dumb. Stacey and Claudia love them. I’m deciding.)
Example of lunches: Shillaber twins bought the hot lunch (grayish tuna salad, potato chips, limp green beans, a popsicle, and milk); Kristy and Mary Anne each brought peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, apples, Doritos, and fruit juice boxes; Dawn brought tofu salad, dried apple rings, a granola bar, and some grapefruit. Kristy and the twins judge that hard. Mary Anne just shrugs it, and their reaction, off.
The Shillaber twins are super into gossip about Sharon and Richard. Do — do these kids not have anything else to talk about?! And they point out that Mary Anne and Dawn could end up stepsisters, which blows everyone’s mind. Ridiculously, since at the very least, Kristy is about to get her own stepsister. (Well, Kristy admits she’s thought of it, but neither Mary Anne nor Dawn have, and I’m surprised that Mary Anne didn’t think of it, really.)
During this conversation, Dawn figures out that Kristy isn’t mad at her, she’s jealous of her and how important she’s become to Mary Anne. This is super smart of Dawn, and sad at the same time. She tries to make Kristy feel better by turning the talk to Kristy’s new family and the wedding that will probably happen that fall. Kristy’s continued to grow to adore the Brewer family and it’s really sweet to see such growth.
Dawn’s attempt backfires, though, because the twins haven’t yet heard that Kristy is moving across town to Watson’s mansion, and all they want to talk about is what it will be like. Kristy is not looking forward to moving, though, and ends up grumpy and lashes out at Dawn, because of course.
In chapter five, we finally get a date; it is April 28, which is far more than a couple of months since January, but also makes this recap fairly timely. Dawn is excited because the temperature has finally risen to 78 degrees F. We’ve had a couple of days of that in April, but they’re always followed by a severe temperature drop (sometimes 50 degrees or more), and I could use some steady warm weather. Winter needs to end. It doesn’t usually last this long here.
None of that is important, I’m just cold. [Necromommycon: I had SNOW in my back yard until LAST WEEK. This winter has been endless and ridiculous.]
Dawn has her first job sitting for the Barretts that day, and she takes the nice weather as a good sign. Buddy’s playing with a toy gun, and Dawn shuts that down right away, because she doesn’t like guns and they can’t play with them while she’s baby-sitting for them. It’s interesting that there was this message so many years ago (this was first published in May 1987) and yet 31 years later, there’s still a lot of friction about gun ownership and access and control in the USA. [Dove: Dawn for president?]
The kids are kind of a mess: none of them have their hair brushed, Buddy has a grubby bandage on one of his fingers, Marine’s diaper is drooping and the hem is falling out of her overalls, and Suzi’s jumper is coming unbuttoned. The house is also a mess, toys and newspapers and dirty plates everywhere.
Mrs Barrett, though, is gorgeous and immaculately put together. Completely unorganised, though; she rushes out of the house without giving Dawn any instructions, and even as Dawn chases her down trying to find out information, she doles it out in small chunks only and doesn’t really give solid answers.
Dawn plays a cleaning game with the kids, trying to set records for how fast they can clean, starting with the living room; she does tell them to be careful, because anything they break adds time to their score. It takes them 6 minutes and 17 seconds to turn the messy, gross living room into one clean enough for a TV commercial. Not sure I believe that completely, but also, one of the things some friends and I are working on is taking note of how little time it takes to do some tasks. They often feel daunting but when we sit down to do them, they take less than 10 minutes. (One recent one took me less than 60 seconds, and I am embarrassed that I put it off for so long.) [Dove: Damn, now I’m considering timing myself on tasks.] [Wing: It is seriously mind-blowing and sometimes embarrassing. I put stuff off so long for HOW LITTLE TIME?!]
(In all this, we learn that they have a sleep dog named Pow, and that Marnie scrunches up her face and wrinkles her nose when she’s happy. They call that her ham face, for some reason that is not explained. Anyone have any theories? [Dove: Either she looks like a pig (in a cute, non-body/face-shaming way) when she scrinshes up her nose; or she looks like her dad, named Hamilton? Other than that, I got nothing.])
Kitchen is next, and it is harder than the living room, because it takes a ton of time to rinse the dishes and put them in the dishwasher. They’re sad it takes 11 minutes and 48 seconds, but are still eager to try another room, so they head to the playroom. (No record breaking there.)
This peace and fun disappear after they’re done cleaning, because Buddy starts playing guns again (using his fingers); Dawn gives him a quick lecture about how real guns are very dangerous and are not toys, and she doesn’t believe that they should ever pretend that they are toys. She distracts them with a game of hairdresser + house (so Dawn can fix the girls’ hair and Buddy gets to play at being in charge as the parent).
Eventually they talk about divorce and missing their fathers and the kids are sad and angry and bonding with Dawn all at the same time. This is actually very sweet and emotional, and I bet young readers going through similar situations got a ton out of this.
Mrs Barrett is pleased when she gets home, the kids love Dawn, and Dawn agrees to come back anytime. Then, in an aside to the reader, she says that if she’d known how often “anytime” would be, she would have rethought that.
BSC notebook entry (and I still miss the handwriting fonts from the print versions) about Kristy sitting for Karen and Andrew Brewer, her soon to be stepsiblings.
Dawn thinks Kristy is super lucky to have Karen and Andrew be her stepsiblings, because they are fun and cute. Aww, Dawn. You and Kristy could get married and then they’ll be your in-laws.
Anyway, quick rundown of the job: They play Let’s All Come In, a game that Karen made up which involves guests arriving at an old-fashioned hotel so that Karen and friends can be different guests and use all their costumes. They invite Karen’s friend Hannie Papadakis to come join them; she leaves across the street and “two mansion down” from the Brewers. That made me LOL.
There are some GREAT fashion moments in this game.
Andrew dresses as the bellhop: red cap, blue jacket with gold braid.
Hannie first plays Mrs Noswimple (THAT NAME): floor-length skirt, large sparkly open-toed high heels, fur stole, and a hat with a veil; she carries a pair of spectacles attached to a diamond-studded stick (…you know, normally I would assume those were fake stones, but considering all the emphasis on mansion and millionaire, it is quite possible that Watson Brewer has given his kids real diamond-studded sticks to play with oh my god).
Karen first plays Mrs Mysterious (I love you, Karen — sometimes): all black, including a black eye patch and a black fright wig.
Okay, Hannie’s fashion moment is the best, but still.
(Kristy makes an emperor’s new clothes joke that, of course, Hannie doesn’t understand.)
The game is interrupted when they see Mrs Porter standing in front of the window; Karen thinks she’s a witch named Morbidda Destiny, and apparently all of the baby-sitters also think that now, too, because they are susceptible to the whims of a six-year-old child.
Mrs Porter has come to borrow fennel and coriander, which the kids think are spell ingredients and not, you know, herbs. Kristy tells Mrs Porter that Watson isn’t much of a cook and doesn’t have those things, and Mrs Porter dashes away abruptly. Which is pretty weird, and also she has no real reason to do it, so it seems weird just to support their belief that she’s a witch. [Necromommycon: Maybe she’s enjoying the witch thing? Like, maybe she finds it amusing that they’re all half-afraid of her, or she just likes weirdly imaginative kids and has started playing it up deliberately. ] [Wing: I love this theory.]
Karen tells Kristy another story, too, which is that the third floor is haunted by the ghost of Ben Brewer, her great-great-grandfather — but Kristy doesn’t let her finish why he’s haunting the attic. Damn it, I want to know, Kristy!
Dawn tries really hard to become friends with Kristy and make her feel better, which is damn amazing. Most people, even adults, would look at how Kristy was treating them and write her off, but Dawn goes out of her way to make things better. This is one of the reason I love Dawn.
The next step in this plan is to invite Kristy over to her house after school; they’re both surprised that she asks and even more surprised when Kristy agrees. They walk together in silence for awhile, but eventually Dawn gets uncomfortable with that, so she starts talking about the old farmhouse. Things are up and down for awhile (really down when Dawn accidentally mentions Mary Anne and serious, these girls act more like old girlfriend and new girlfriend), but Kristy is super interested in the house and the barn, particularly swinging off the hayloft so they can land in the hay. Kristy thinks that sounds like a great adventure, and I do, too.
They manage to have a snack, though Kristy refuses to eat most of the things Dawn has (to be fair, TOFU, so I don’t blame her); Kristy has a peanut butter and honey sandwich (sugar-free, unsalted, organic peanut butter, raw honey, and high-fiber wheat-and-bran bread, all of which sounds delicious, actually), and Dawn has yogurt with wheat germ (that does not sound delicious, though I like Greek yogurt).
They hang out in the barn for awhile, reading the nameplates that have been left on the old stalls (Dobbs, Grey Boy, Cornflower), and they swing on the rope awhile (they have to climb to a beam that is 12 feet above the hayloft which is, of course, already up at least one level anyway. I’d forgotten how damn badass this setup is — and, okay, dangerous, but none of us care about that, right?)
Kristy is terrified and determined and has a blast, and I love this scene, especially when they end up lying on the hay in the loft for awhile, talking about divorces and moving and the BSC and Mary Anne and shit, I ship them so hard, y’all. SO HARD. They are sweet and snarky and adventurous and I think they’d have a great time. (I normally ship Dawn with Stacey, Shannon, or Abby, so this is a weird change for me. It’s amazing the different things I pick up and find interesting when recapping versus rereading or even rereading with an eye to writing fic.)
This sweetness ends with Kristy making Dawn the alternate officer of the BSC. UGH MY HEART. (Basically, someone who fills in if one of the others can’t make a meeting.)
Back to the Barretts. We’ve not seen a ton of them at this point, halfway through the book that is supposed to be all about them. Dawn has a job with them, and Stacey and Claudia are sitting for all eight Pikes, so they’re all going to get together since it is a long Saturday with great weather.
Apparently this is only two days after Dawn’s last job there, even though it feels much, much longer, and she’s shocked to see that the house is trashed again, and the kids are still in their pajamas when she arrives. Now, the trashed house in just a couple days, that sucks, but it’s not even 830 a.m. yet. Still being in their pajamas is fine, as is the fact that their beds aren’t made and their hair hasn’t been brushed. (Marnie’s overful diaper is shit, though, pun intended. Also, they sound like an ISBI Sim family.)
Dawn starts making plans for how they can get through the day, but despite the fact that about a page ago, she mentioned meeting up with Stacey, Claudia, and the Pikes, they do not feature in her plans at all — and just when I complain about this, Dawn actually notes that she’s forgotten to figure that in. Well good lord, that’s actual continuity. Amazing.
Also, Dawn, your schedule is super fucking optimistic considering how young those kids are and how messy that house.
When Claudia calls to invite them to lunch and remind them about playing, Dawn has to change the schedule up again because now she’s losing the afternoon naps and needs to bake brownies and make sandwiches, all while cleaning the house. Dawn! Leave the house alone! You’re the baby-sitter, not the housekeeper.
They get everything done and have a great time — right up until Dawn does a count and comes up with 15 kids instead of 14. So at least they didn’t lose a kid, but that’s still weird, right?
(Stacey’s looking “fabulous as always” Dawn says: simple pink t-shirt under a baggy jumpsuit with big pink and red flowers on it, shiny hair loose at her shoulders; meanwhile, Dawn wears blue jean shorts and a white t-shirt that says GENIUS INSIDE.)
Oh, look, the extra is Jenny Prezzioso. You know, the kid none of them but Mary Anne like. (It’s pretty normal at this stage, but it gets weird how much people dislike her later.) [Dove: Also, why dislike Jenny herself? I didn’t think she was that weird, considering her mum treats her like an expensive doll.]
(Jenny outfit: Pink pinafore over a spotless white dress, white tights, pink Mary Janes, braids with pink ribbons at the ends.)
They call the Prezziosos — wait, isn’t Jenny like 4? Quick research shows me that she is. That, coupled with the fact that Mrs Prezzioso dotes over her obsessively (she helicopter parented before it was cool), means that I do not at all believe they don’t know their daughter is gone WHAT THE EVER LOVING FUCK. SHE’S FOUR.
First Bizzer Sign! (Aim your index fingers at someone and say bzzzzz.) The Pike kids use it when they want to annoy each other and their friends, and when Jordan (one of the triplets) uses it on Nicky (younger brother), Nicky freaks out no matter how hard the baby-sitters try to calm him. And then the boys make Jenny and Suzi cry — and Mallory, who normally doesn’t join in when her siblings do these things, gives Byron (another triplet) the Bizzer sign and makes him cry, so they end up with 7 crying kids and 7 grinning kids.
Dawn thinks this might be how wars get started, one world leader picking on another childishly, and when I first read this, I would have vehemently disagreed, but, you know, considering USA politics — yeah. That’s probably how the country’s going to end.
Dawn distracts everyone with the promise of brownies. This works well until Mallory snatches a brownie away from Marnie; Dawn thinks she’s stealing it because she wants it, but Mallory (super hurt by that accusation, understandably) explains that Marnie is allergic to chocolate.
(I can’t decide if this allergy or Ostrich’s pork allergy is worse.)
Dawn is embarrassed and apologises to Mallory and then furious at Mrs Barrett for not telling her something so important (and for not paying her for doing the housework — look, the allergy thing, super valid reason to be angry; the housework thing, NOT VALID BECAUSE YOU HAVE NOT DISCUSSED PAYMENT WITH HER YOU JUST STARTED DOING IT). Dawn plans to talk to Mrs Barrett that afternoon, but when Mrs B arrives home, she immediately starts praising Dawn for being so amazing and all of Dawn’s complaints flew out of her head. NO DAWN NO HAVE A SPINE.
(Also, she kisses the kids good-bye before she leaves, and I find that incredibly weird from a baby-sitter.)
Another notebook entry, this one from Claudia who is baby-sitting for Jeff (Dawn’s little brother); she notes that Dawn is sitting for the Barretts a lot and maybe she is overdoing it. She also says she’s telling her that as a friend, and I think it is true (and Dawn takes it that way), but putting it into the notebook really does more for wanting to include entries in the format of the book than it does for characterisation, because it looks super passive aggressive to do it that way. (And also off topic for how they are supposed to use the notebook.)
Dawn listens to this as a friend, too, because she knows Claudia isn’t jealous of how many sitting jobs she has but is instead worried about her. (Far cry from how the girls were dealing with baby-sitting woes in the last book and definitely baby-sitting jealousy; god, I love how chill Dawn is here, and how she trusts her friends to be coming from a good place without assuming negative intent.)
Dawn is practically living at the Barretts’ at this point, and it is flattering that they love her so much, but she’s too busy. She’s even missed a BSC meeting because Mrs Barrett came home more than half an hour late. And it’s not that she was at an interview or something else important, which Dawn wouldn’t have minded so much, she was just out shopping with a friend.
When Dawn finally asks to talk to Mrs Barrett (about Marnie’s chocolate allergy, but Mrs B doesn’t know that at the time), she sees a strange look pass over her, fear maybe, or annoyance, and that is super fucking awkward. Mrs B doesn’t even really apologise for not telling her and putting her baby in danger, and when Dawn asks if there’s anything she should know about the other kids, Mrs B only tells her that if her ex ever calls, she shouldn’t let him talk to the children and should never tell him that Mrs B isn’t home. (Dawn should say she’s a mother’s helper and Mrs B is home but busy.)
This conversation is cut short when Buddy and Suzi make a mess of water and food coloring in the living room — and Buddy poured pink water over Suzi’s head. An accident, he claims, but she doesn’t believe them. Mrs B looks like she’s going to fall apart when she sees it, and since Dawn is used to that look from her own mother, she offers to take care of cleanup while Mrs B gets Suzi dry.
Mrs B does tip her well for this and as Dawn’s leaving, she admits that she used to be a super organised person, but everything is overwhelming since the divorce. She also calls Dawn the glue that’s holding them together, which makes Dawn uncomfortable, because that’s a scary, huge responsibility to put on her. She’s right! That’s a lot to put on a fucking adult, much less a twelve-year-old kid. [Necromommycon: Yes, that is super out of line, and so is the being late home when you’re just shopping with friends. I get that divorce is stressful and horrible, but you don’t get to pass that stress along to your twelve year old baby-sitter. Yeesh. ]
Mr B calls because Mrs B is late to drop the kids off at his place (well, Buddy and Suzi, because apparently Marnie doesn’t count? WTF Mr B).
Dawn keeps sitting for the Barretts and things keep getting weird: Suzi is sick one day and when Dawn tries to get ahold of Mrs B at the place where she has a temp job, Mrs B left her the wrong number; Mrs B ignores Buddy when he asks for help on a family tree — Dawn helps him as best she can, and when he gets a gold star on it, he comes to show Dawn instead of taking it to his mother.
Another notebook entry, this one from Stacey while she sits for David Michael (Kristy’s younger brother). He’s getting very worried about moving to Watson’s house, and he wants to talk to Stacey about her experience moving because he watched the movers unload her furniture when she first moved to Stoneybrook. She reassures him about the move and particularly about the fact the movers won’t take Louie (their sweet old dog), but he will ride with them across town.
But then he gets to his real worries, which is about whether he’ll ever see his friends again and who will be his new friends and where will he sleep and where will Louie sleep and what happens if Louie tries to go back to the old house and on and on and on. That poor kid. Watson and Elizabeth need to step up the amount of information they’re giving the kids, goddamn.
At the next meeting, Stacey brings this up (and Dawn is eating junk food! Or at least saltwater taffy. That’s unusual for her later in the series), and Kristy says that they do talk about the move sometimes (too often, in her mind, because she doesn’t want to hear about it every day since she’s not happy either).
Kristy brings up that she’ll still be at SMS, because it’s the only public middle school, but she’s not sure what she’s going to do about BSC meetings and baby-sitting jobs in the area, because she’ll be too far away to walk. Claudia tries to cheer her up with the idea of new clients in her new neighborhood, and this works, which is cool — but then Kristy circles back to the BSC meetings.
They try to brainstorm solutions, but none of them work out. When Kristy starts blaming Watson for all of this, Dawn gently reminds her it’s not his fault and Kristy lashes out at her. Now, I think Kristy is out of line with that, but Dawn’s wrong, too. Kristy needs to vent and feel her feelings, and her friends should be supporting her. It’s clear she’s not in a place to hear things yet, and you have to keep that in mind, especially when you don’t yet have the kind of relationship where you can push through that. (Mary Anne could, but of course wouldn’t, because she’s so worried about hurting people’s feelings.)
They have a long weekend for Memorial Day (which is at the end of May) and it is 70 degrees. Dawn swears that’s too cold and that people will show up at their outdoor picnic wearing down jackets. I am dying. I also think 70s is chilly, especially with a good wind, but not chilly enough for down jackets and certainly warm enough to go outside with layers.
(ALSO, 70 is warm for parts of California.)
They invite a ton of people, but since it’s pretty last minute, only Dawn’s grandparents, the Spiers, the Barretts, and Kristy and David Michael are able to attend. Dawn convinces her mother to buy food that everyone will enjoy rather than just the tofu and dried fruit that they love.
The picnic (which is really a bbq at this point) is supposed to start at 1 p.m. Dawn says in California that would mean 2 or 230. MY PEOPLE. In Connecticut, that means everyone is there no later than 115. [Dove: I would do better in Connecticut than California, clearly.]
Richard and Sharon spend time being lovebirds, Sharon’s parents (who didn’t approve of Richard’s family back in the day) keep watching them, and Dawn, Mary Anne, and Kristy watch the adults because again they don’t have better things to do than gossip about them. Good lord. (It’s a pretty cute scene, though.)
We do get a great bit from Dawn about how adults complicate things, because they have several faces, like they own masks, and kids know they own masks, but they can’t always tell their masks from their real expressions. And that’s a fucking astute observation.
While everyone eats, the Porters (Sharon’s parents) really grill Richard over things. He impresses them because he started his own firm about 4 years ago (god, why?!) and then about where he lives now and then Mr Porter and Richard have a long talk about banking laws, because god, boring. (I say despite the fact that I’ve had rollicking conversations about legal things, the most recent being the idea of an internet commons not governed by one country’s government and how access to the internet should be treated as a public utility like electricity now — Brother Raptor and I had this conversation at Sister Canary’s housewarming party while she was flitting around talking to all her different groups of people and making everyone happy. This tells you a lot about all three of us.)
Dawn is satisfied and the girls head to the barn. Mary Anne won’t go inside after Sharon called it dangerous, so they drag out a bale of hay for her to sit on outside and Dawn and Kristy take turns swinging through the loft on that rope. Dawn decides it’s been a good day despite being chilly.
Notebook entry! Mary Anne sits for the Barretts and they are a mess in a new way, wild and grumpy, and Mary Anne’s not sure if it’s the weather or the divorce or just that they only wanted Dawn as a baby-sitter or what, but she did not have a good time with them and doesn’t know how Dawn handles them so often. (…I meant that less dirty than it now sounds.)
There was also a strange call where someone asked where Buddy was; when she tells Mrs B about it, of course it turns out to be from Mr B and things are brewing there. Nothing else super interesting happens during the job, except that Mary Anne takes them on a puddle walk (bathing suits, rain gear, leaping through puddles, which is super exciting for the kids because usually they’re told to stay out of the puddles — this is super clever) and then takes them indoor camping and picnicking (make a tent with old blankets thrown over chairs, which is adorable).
Mr Barrett calls, Mary Anne introduces herself as the baby-sitter despite specifically remembering the instructions Mrs B gave Dawn about not letting the kids talk to him, lies badly about the kids not being home, and has to punish Buddy for giving her the Bizzer Sign because she didn’t let him answer the phone.
There’s a scene when Mrs B gets home; she’s angry that Mr B called because it’s not his day to talk to them per the custody agreement and that Buddy keeps getting into trouble, at school, with his baby-sitters, with Mrs B herself, etc.
The rain continues for a few days, and when it finally breaks, Dawn is sitting for the Barretts. They’re antsy and she decides to take them outside to play even though it’s pretty chilly. Buddy’s ready to go out before his sisters (because he’s already dressed warm enough when Dawn suggests they play outside), so Dawn lets him go play in the yard while she helps his sisters get ready.
But by the time they get outside, Buddy is gone. Dawn tries to stay calm for the girls and checks with the Pikes first, but he’s not there, nor is he at home when Dawn searches the house and yard. None of the other neighbours have seen him, either.
Mrs Pike helps put together a search party of adults and kids in the neighbourhood; Mrs Pike and Dawn stay by the phone in case Buddy calls. Dawn’s been trying to reach Mrs Barrett, who apparently has a cell phone that is turned off here despite the fact that earlier, when Dawn tried to reach her at work, she didn’t have one at all. This is an awkward update to the book. [Dove: I found it weird too. It really didn’t fit with all the “Let’s call her at work”, “Let’s try calling the restaurant” conversations earlier in the book. Publishers: unless you update everything, little updates like this are really eye-poking and they don’t work!]
Dawn understandably freaks out (though, considering how chill she was last book when she came to help Mary Anne when Jenny got so sick, it’s a little strange to see her freaking out here), and Mrs Pike keeps her calm.
Jordan Pike comes home from a piano lesson and says that he saw Buddy leave for his lesson at the same time Jordan left for his. So, basically, Buddy got in a car with someone and no one knows whom.
Mrs Pike calls the cops then sends Suzi, Claire, and Margo back to the Pike house with Mallory (the oldest Pike) so they can nap because Suzi can’t stop crying. A neighbour finds a muddy, rain-soaked red sneaker that she found near the sewer, but it is far too small to be Buddy’s and he’s wearing boots. Lots of relief from them all over this, no worry for whatever little kid lost that shoe by the sewer. (So, Dove, are you inspired to write an It crossover here? I hope so!) [Dove: Yep. That’s exactly where I went when I read it.] [Necromommycon: Oh. My. God. Please actually write that. I need this in my life. ]
When the police arrive, they of course ask a ton of questions of everyone, and it’s clear that their first person of interest is Mr Barrett. Logical leap, though. Sharon shows up while Dawn is talking to the police (… shouldn’t she have a parent with her for that no matter what?), and it’s quite sweet how much better Dawn feels after that.
Hours go by and then Buddy calls from a gas station. Dawn answers the phone and even though there’s a MISSING KID, no adult or cop seems to care to be right there when the phone rings nor have they tapped it or anything. He says that he’s with his dad, but he has trouble with the pay phone (so, Mrs B has a cell phone, but Buddy doesn’t borrow his dad’s cell phone and has to track down a [rare] pay phone? Logical updates right here) and can’t give her much information.
A cop takes the phone from her and though she’s shouting at him that it’s Buddy, he’s confused when he finds no one on the line. HOW IS THAT FUCKING CONFUSING IN THIS SITUATION? HOW?!
These cops are as useless as the ones in Point Horror books. [Necromommycon: I…I kind of want a BSC/Point Horror crossover now too. Help. ] [Wing: I do too. And may, uh, be writing the outline. Even though I try to only write fic twice a year, for Trick or Treat and Yuletide. Which reminds me, I wrote something similar to a BSC/PH crossover for Trick or Treat last year. Originally, I didn’t plan to connect this name with my fic name, but since Dove and I want to post our Making Out fic once we finish recapping that series, it is only a matter of time anyway. So here’s a fic, set after the series, minor spoilers: Kristy and the Haunted Camp Adventure.]
Mrs Barrett comes home in the middle of all this. She’s shaken and confused and worried and swears that it’s not Mr B’s weekend with the kids — except, when she checks the calendar, it totally is. She’s very chill about this, considering the search party and police presence and freaked out baby-sitter. Goddamn, Mrs B, you are kind of a shit in this book.
Mr B and Buddy show up, the cops grill Mr B quite a bit. Long story short, Mr B was annoyed that Mrs B fucked up the dates again and came by to get the kids, but because Buddy was the only one outside, he only took Buddy and headed to an amusement park and to lunch. That’s super fucked up, too, for so many reasons (kidnapping the kid, taking him to an amusement park without his sisters, and that’s just to start), and it wasn’t until Buddy said he was worried about Dawn that Mr B realised there was a baby-sitter and not his wife at home. [Dove: There are no adults in this relationship, as far as I can tell. Dawn really is holding everything together.] [Necromommycon: Seriously though. Both the Barrett parents have achieved STUNNING levels of uselessness here. ]
Mr B gets off with a warning, Mr B and Mrs B are supposed to talk to their lawyers about the custody arrangements, and Dawn tells Mrs B they need to talk the next day.
We skip straight to that conversation next, Dawn and Mrs B sitting on the porch drinking sweet tea together (I zero percent believe Dawn adds sugar to her tea, particularly to her iced tea). (Also, since Mrs B adds sugar to her tea, why didn’t she just make sweet tea in the first place? Adding sugar once the tea is cold means the sugar doesn’t dissolve well.)
Dawn tells Mrs B that even though she really likes the kids, she can’t baby-sit for them anymore, because she’s had so much trouble due to mistakes that Mrs B has made. Dawn really struggles to say all this, and kudos to her for politely confronting an adult and talking to her so calmly even though she’s freaked out and nervous.
Mrs B hears her out but then asks her to reconsider as long as Mrs B starts doing things like giving her more information and answering her questions before she leaves and trying to keep the house in better shape and if she does ask Dawn to do specific chores, paying her extra for them. Dawn agrees to give it a trial run (three more jobs), and they end the conversation happy.
At the next BSC meeting, Dawn tells them what she did, and they think she’s brave and smart about how she’s dealing with it. There’s a little talk about how Mallory Pike will make a good baby-sitter one day and Dawn dreamily tells them that maybe the BSC will be a huge organisation one day and Mallory will be a part of it. I always knew the BSC wanted to take over the world.
They also talk about how freaky the idea of one parent kidnapping their own children is, and Kristy and Dawn, the only two divorced kids, are particularly shaken by this idea, of course.
We finish with Kristy finally coming up with a solution to her moving across town: she’s going to raise the club dues a little so they can pay someone to drive her to and from club meetings. Someone who has just learned to drive and won’t need a ton of money. Someone like her oldest brother, Charlie! How convenient.
Kristy is worried that they won’t want to pay for this out of the dues, but they’re all cool with it. I’m not sure I’d be cool with it; everyone else has to figure out their own ways to get to and from meetings and jobs, but whatever.
A couple days later, Jeff comes to a meeting to take a photo of them all together. It’s a surprise gift for Mary Anne, who is almost done redecorating her room — her dad even paid for her to have updated paint on the walls, a new rug, and a new bedspread — but is missing a group photo. This is a super sweet gift and a cute ending to the book.
Dawn is still one of my favourite baby-sitters to this day, and this book reminds me of some of the different reasons I love her so. She’s friendly and calm and smart and self-aware and she cares deeply about other people without sacrificing herself and her own beliefs.
This book is entertaining and the characters are great. The tension around Mr and Mrs Barrett is realistic and tense, particularly around her spectacular failures at being organised and taking care of her kids and his passive-aggressive response to her.
[Dove: Again, enjoyed it. These books are starting to get my attention now. ]
“Back in January, she moved from southern California to Connecticut.”
That is just cruel. Moving to snow in the coldest month…
“the books perpetuate the idea that California (or at least southern California, though that’s not specified just yet) has only one season: summer. Which is bullshit.”
Correct. I freeze annually, but that’s mostly because I don’t own/buy winter clothing. I layer all of my (thin) clothes and look like a cartoon character.
“She’s certain that there is a secret passage somewhere, maybe even one that was a part of the Underground Railroad.”
This is a super edition, isn’t it? At least a future book.
“They want Dawn to use eggs and lemons on her hair, too (which is long [almost down to her ass], thin, fine, and white blonde), but she plans to use an avocado paste because California girl.”
I call bullshit because 1) a lemon rinse on Claudia’s hair would leave an orangish tint 2) long hair on a blonde is mid-back because it’s nearly impossible for fine hair to grow that long 3) no California girl would waste an avocado on haircare. Those are for eating!
I too think 70 degrees is cold. I don’t own a down jacket, but I would definitely have something thicker as a top layer.
Aww Dawn is my fave <3