Imagine having three boys and hiring a babysitter. Now, imagine one day offering your babysitter a place to crash and she takes you up on it. Then, imagine that four years later she was calling herself a nanny and still crashing in your basement.
This happened to my friends, Terry and Catherine.
Six years and five months ago, I pulled up into what would become my parking spot to do “photography” for this family. (I put photography in quotes because, well, let’s just say my skills have come a long way since then. In fact, we should talk about a refund.)
The photo session became Tuesday afternoon babysitting for Owen, 2, Evan 4, and Alan, 6. I became Lissa instead of Melissa. Tuesdays turned into occasional date nights for Terry and Catherine and other as-needed help with the boys.
At the end of the school year, I graduated and had no job prospects. I moved home to Wausau and stayed with my elderly grandfather.
Occasionally, I returned to La Crosse for photography gigs, occasional music gigs, and visits with friends and former classmates. Each time I made the trip, Terry and Catherine always had a place for me to stay. They even said I could move in with them, but I blew it off.
After 18 months of living on freelance gigs, I started taking classes in La Crosse to add a certificate to my degree. In October of 2012, I was going to school with an undecided goal and barely scraping by on my $8/hour job. I finally took Terry and Catherine up o the offer and quit commuting 167 miles to class.
After two months, I had my spot on the basement sectional and part of a spare bedroom declared. Then, my 203rd resume post-graduation landed me my current position as a Behavioral Health Specialist. I took this as a sign to find my own place.
By June of 2013, I had two apartments fall through. Both are stories that could have their own blog post, so I’ll spare the details.
As luck would have it, I became very ill at the end of the summer and landed in the hospital twice in three months. Had I been living on my own, I probably wouldn’t have made it into the ER in a timely manner both times, but let’s not talk about this anymore. My eyelid is starting to twitch. (You can read those blog posts if you search back to 2013.)
My apartment search went on hiatus with the health problems. I spent time hanging with the boys and the dogs when I wasn’t working my three shifts each week. The folks would even let me take the boys on road trips to hotels and water parks. Sometimes, the parents would leave us home while they went to far off lands, like Rochester and Madison. (They did go to Vegas once, too.)
Four years ago, I moved into their home and became a hard-to-explain piece of their family. My Facebook statuses erupted in kid quotes. Early on, I quit calling myself the babysitter and would refer to myself as their nanny. I loved Jo on “SuperNanny” and always aspired to be her. But, also because when I pictured a babysitter, I pictured the girl from the 1993 Dennis the Menace movie. Showing up at the door, smacking gum and holding a helmet was never Lissa.
For four years, Terry and Catherine have put up with me going into their beer fridge for an occasional beverage. They’ve put up with me falling asleep on their furniture for hours at a time. I’ve taken their dogs for car rides when they’ve looked too sad. (Something I’ve only recently admitted I do when they leave me unattended.) They even took turns dragging my sickly carcass to the ER and sitting there with me for hours at a time.
The boys and I spend summer days at the Erickson pool, see every new kid movie on $5 Tuesdays at Marcus, and we are well-acquainted with the local ice cream parlors.
I have come to love this family as if I have always been part of it and will forever be grateful to have them in my life.
“So, are you going to live with them forever?”
— Just about everyone I know —
There is a saying that all good things must come to an end. This saying doesn’t belong here, though.
Some good things only get better.
This afternoon, I will be signing a lease and picking up the keys to a cozy downtown apartment. The beginning of a bittersweet new chapter in my life, within a reasonable 4.3 miles of the previous chapters.
I picture epic slumber parties with my boys. A quiet retreat for Catherine during Packer, Viking, and Badger games. And of course, I’ll always have beer ready to offer to make up for all the ones I’ve “borrowed” over the years.
While I have yet to tell the little fellas of my new residence, I told Terry and Catherine last night. They declined my offer to provide a 30 x 40 portrait of myself for above the fireplace. Fortunately, they were agreeable to letting me leave some things for “emergency” sleepovers.
I’m going to miss the boys coming down at random to visit and share stories about their day. Or, the countless times Alan would quietly sneak in and ask, “Could you maybe see if Mom and Dad want to go on a date tonight?” And, of course, Murphy stampeding through my door to leap on the bed and lick my face when he had the chance.
This is why I will be leaving a few of my belongings in a dresser drawer.
My first night in new apartment won’t be the night after my last night with my family. I’ll be back.
And a bunch of other days. I’ll just have a place to hoard my belongings now.