Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club #21: Mallory and the Trouble With Twins

Mallory watches over the Arnold twins at their brithday

My sister and I are only separated by a year and because we are so close in age, sometimes relatives gave us matching gifts, particularly for Christmas. One year we each received a Mighty Morphin Power Rangers stuffed doll, and in a different year, we received matching baskets of goodies. We even had matching furry white coats that made us look like Frosty the Snowman’s illegitimate children with a She-bear. 

However, not all the gifts were so innocuous. One year, my grandmother paid someone in her retirement community to paint our faces on sweatshirts – and she gave him our school pictures. And not just any school picture – the school picture in which I braided my hair into tight curls and wore a cowboy-style shirt with fringe. Utterly mortifying. If only I had the sense of humor I have now. I’d save the sweatshirt and eventually turn it into a throw pillow. 

I imagine this problem would be worse for twins. Not the horrifying picture of my own painted, curled visage smiling awkwardly from my chest – but the identical gifts. It seems to imply that you’re not two separate people but one duplex of a person.

In The Baby-Sitters Club #21: Mallory and the Trouble With Twins, the BSC has a new client who is aggravating the club, but Mallory is up to the challenge. Or is she? (Of course, she is, but let’s pretend to have some suspense, huh? It’s a kids’ book from 1989, calm down, dude. Sheesh.)

Mallory watches over an identical set of twins at their birthday party
What if the secret is that they’re not even twins, but Mrs. Arnold told them they were twins so she could have matching kids?

Mallory Pike, the ginger-est, blindest, and braces-ist of the Baby-Sitters Club, wants to get her ears pierced. This seemed to be a common plot point of late-’80s to early-’90s culture. The sheer act of getting your ears pierced seemed to signal some serious maturing for parents. There’s an episode of Full House wherein Danny Tanner doesn’t want her daughter, Stephanie Tanner, to get her ears pierced, so she lets Kimmy Gibbler do it and it gets infected. And there’s an episode of The Simpsons in which Homer gets angry after Bart gets an earring. Now, as I am doing a rewatch of every Degrassi episode, Ellie comes in with holes all over her body and Sean has both his ears pierced. I remember getting my ears pierced when I was, like, five at the Claire’s. It seems that ear piercing is not the direct stripper pole straight to hell after all.

But I digress. Mallory wants pierced ears and her parents think she’s too young. Or, she assumes her parents won’t allow pierced ears – she hasn’t asked them.

After the obligatory pages describing each babysitter (including referring to Claudia as “exotic” with “almond-shaped eyes” – oof), and pages explaining how the club works, we have a meeting. And surprise! Logan is there. It makes the girls nervous as if they’ve never seen Logan before. I feel like he’s been around enough that they should be used to having him there. I remember the boys I was friends with in middle school – at some point, they’re barely visible.

During the meeting, Mrs. Arnold, the mother of twin girls, Carolyn and Marilyn, needs a steady sitter while she works on a fundraising campaign for Stoneybrook Elementary. Of course, our favorite redhead takes the job.

Mallory arrives at the Arnold household and the twins are dressed in identical outfits – down to the haircuts. They are wearing bracelets with their names on them, but the bracelets match (except the name printed on them). Mrs. Arnold herself is quite a fussy woman, wearing matching bows in her hair, shirt, belt, and shoes. There will be no pattern mixing in her house!

When Mrs. Arnold leaves, Mallory offers the girls her Kid-Kit. Carolyn chooses to play with some puzzles while Marilyn chooses some books, including a book called Baby Island, which is real and not just a bad sitcom with one season from the ‘90s.

Mallory remarks that the twins are cute and “look like bookends.” This prompts the twins to speak to each other in their “twin language,” which is just nonsense and they try to trick Mallory by removing their name bracelets. However, it’s time for Marilyn to practice the piano and Mallory is finally able to tell which one is Marilyn until the end of her job.

It’s another day and Mallory is back at the Arnold residence. This time, Mallory plays hide-and-seek with the girls. When Mallory finds one, she asks for a snack. Mallory obliges and goes to search for the other one. She finds one and Marilyn-or-Carolyn asks for a snack. Mallory obliges again and asks where the other one is. It seems she either hid again or is still hiding. Mallory finds another one and they ask for a snack. Mallory declines.

“There are two of you and I gave out two snacks. That’s it. No more.”

“No more? No fair!”

“It’s very fair. Two twins, two snacks. I think you guys just fooled yourselves.”

Then they go into their twin language. When it’s time for Marilyn to practice the piano, Carolyn reads a Paddington book and they both ignore Mallory until their mother comes home.

Now it’s time for a different sitter to confront the Arnold twins – Claudia. This time, Mrs. Arnold has some special instructions.

“Marilyn’s piano lesson is at eleven-thirty,” Mrs. Arnold told Claud. “Her carpool will arrive at eleven o’clock. She’s going to be in a recital next week, and today is a special rehearsal and lesson. It’ll last an hour and a half. She’ll be dropped off here around one-thirty. While Mariyln’s gone, Carolyn should work on her project for the science fair. Carolyn just loves science, don’t you, dear?”

Claudia can’t tell the difference between the twins, but one of them leaves with the carpool. A few moments later, Claudia gets a phone call. It’s the music teacher and she has “a very tone-deaf Arnold twin” and asks if Claudia can get the other one there. Claudia can’t drive, so Carolyn just has to stay there until the carpool can bring her back.

When Mrs. Arnold comes back, she scolds the girls for playing a prank on their sitter, but she also scolds Claudia and Claudia has to go without pay. Okay, Mrs. Arnold, it was your horrid twins who played a prank – it wasn’t Claudia’s fault. You should have to pay her double. 

The BSC has a meeting, but before they can discuss the twins, Mallory obsesses over everyone’s clothes. Claudia dressed surprisingly toned down – a t-shirt she painted herself and come capris. Dawn is wearing an oversized blue shirt and if a girl from the ‘80s thinks it’s oversized, it must be able to house a small family and guinea pig. Mary Anne is the one whose outfit is, well, quote-worthy.

Mary Anne was wearing a short plum-colored skirt over a plum-and-white-striped body suit. The legs of the body suit stopped just above her ankles, and she’d tucked the bottoms into her socks. I don’t know where her shoes were. She’d taken them off. The neat thing about her outfit was that she was wearing white suspenders with her skirt. 

So a mime, basically. 

After that, they talk about the Arnolds, but nothing that we didn’t already know. They speak in a twin language. They look identical. But Carolyn likes science and Marilyn plays the piano, so they’re not completely the same.

Another day, another adventure with the Arnold twins. This time, whenever the twins speak in their twin language, Mallory responds with Pig Latin, which confounds the twins. Their minds are blown. Mallory promises to teach them if they stop speaking their twin language around her and put their name bracelets on – properly. They strike a deal.

In a moment of verisimilitude, the twins lament that no one can tell them apart. They show Mallory their one key difference: Carolyn has a mole under her left eye. Marilyn’s mole under her right eye. 

At the end of the sitting job, Mrs. Arnold asks if the BSC would be willing to watch over the twins’ birthday party. Mallory promises to bring it up at the next meeting. As she’s leaving, the girls call “Ood-gay eye-bay!” instead of their twin language, and Mallory is pleased with herself.

We switch to Kristy watching over her siblings Karen, David Michael, and Andrew. The chapter starts with a long explanation of what an estate sale is because we couldn’t leave it at “Mrs. Thomas and Watson are gone.” They’re going to an estate sale! Promise! Just a plain ol’ estate sale. What is an estate sale? Let me tell you in excruciating detail. I know all about those sales because I’m going to one. I’m not going to a secret island where we hunt the poors for sport! I’m going to an estate sale, which is something I know all about.

Karen and David Michael invite the Papadakis kids over. Meanwhile, Andrew needs to learn lines for a school play about a circus. However, Andrew doesn’t want to be in this play.

“But I don’t want to be in it,” replied Andrew, and his lower lip began to quiver. “I don’t want everyone looking at me and listening to me.”

“But you know what they’ll probably be thinking while you’re doing that?”

“What?”

“They’ll probably be thinking, What a good bear that Andrew makes. He knows his lines so well. I bet he worked very hard.”

“What if I forget my lines? Then what will they be thinking?”

“They’ll be thinking, Oh, too bad. He forgot his lines. Well, that happens sometimes. He still looks like a very nice, smart boy.”

Sure, Kristy. That’s what they’ll be saying. If you wanted to motivate him, you should have told him the truth: if he remembers his lines and just says them, the second he’s done, they’ll pay attention to the next kid; if he forgets his lines, they’ll remember him and use him as an example of why you should learn your damn lines.

While Andrew works on learning his lines, David Michael reads “Basho-Man” comics with Linny Papadakis. I think it’s lovely that the kids are getting into a comic book series about an Edo period Japanese haiku poet. Instead of reading poetry, which I’m assuming these comics are about, Karen and Hannie dress up identically and say they’re twins because the kids in this town are suspiciously in tune with the A storyline. 

As for the party, of course, the BSC helps with the Arnold twins’ birthday. Although, I guess it’s just Mary Anne, Dawn, and Mallory. When Mallory discovered the mole difference, she started noticing other differences between the twins. Marilyn’s nose is rounder and Carolyn’s cheeks are fuller. She also noticed the personality differences between the two. 

After the games, they open presents and every gift the twins receive comes in a pair. A pair of Raggedy Ann dolls. A pair of stuffed elephants. A pair of the complete second season of Designing Women on DVD. The girls are not particularly happy. That is until they get to Mallory’s gifts.

They were not the same size or shape. They were wrapped in different paper. The twins looked intrigued.

“Is this a mistake?” asked Carolyn.

“Who are they from?” asked Marilyn.

“Me,” I replied. “Go on. Open them.”

So they did. I’d picked out a tiny pin in the shape of a piano for Marilyn, and a book of simple science experiments for Carolyn.

“Boy, thanks!” cried the girls enthusiastically. They absolutely beamed at me.

But the twins are only allowed to be individuals momentarily because the cake has their identical faces on it and they blow out the identical candles at the same time. 

The next time Mallory sits for the twins, they show her some of the other gifts they received. Despite their sets of identical dollhouses, socks, and jumping sticks (I didn’t make up that last one), their favorite gifts were the ones from Mallory because they were different.

Mallory tells them about her triplet brothers. She says that they don’t dress the same, they act differently, and they don’t get three copies of everything. Mallory apologizes for calling the twins cute bookends when they met. The twins apologize for antagonizing Mallory and the other sitters. 

The twins, with the support of Mallory, speak to their mother when she gets home.

“Different,” spoke up Marilyn. “But we look alike and dress alike, so everyone treats us like one person – the same person.”

“And we aren’t one person, Mommy!” said Carolyn desperately. “We’re two. Only no one knows it. At school, the kids call both of us ‘Marilyn-or-Carolyn.”

I cringed, remembering that that was how I used to think of the girls.

“We hate it!” added Marilyn.

“The girls do look sweet in their matching outfits,” I said, “but,” I added quickly as Carolyn poked me in the ribs, “they’ve told me they think they’re old enough to choose their own clothes. They have different tastes.”

“If we went to school looking different,” said Marilyn, “maybe the kids would get to know who we are.”

Their mother agrees to let them use their birthday money to get new clothes and haircuts. Before we get to the shopping montage, bolstered by the twins’ success, Mallory has to speak with her parents.

After a lengthy explanation of negotiation, Mallory asks for a new wardrobe, her ears pierced, a new haircut, and contact lenses. They say she’s not old enough for contacts and they don’t have enough money for a new wardrobe (she didn’t really want those two – they were tokens for negotiation). She can get her ears pierced as long as she pays for it herself and she does the aftercare so they don’t get infected. She can get her hair cut as long as she doesn’t get a “green mohawk” and she has to go to a “salon downtown.” A green mohawk can be adorable, but I guess I’m biased as a member of the blue hair club.

We finally get our shopping montage with the twins and Mallory. They talk about how expensive clothes are and I wondered why they didn’t go to an outlet mall. Too good to be a Maxxinista?

Mallory buys matching book earrings for her and Jessi. I guess we’re not done with the identical gift motif. In the end, the girls show off their new looks to their mother, who is surprised but open-minded.

A few days later, Mallory is back at the mall with the rest of the BSC. Not only is Mallory going to get her ears pierced, but Jessi is going to get pierced ears also, Claudia is getting a third hole, and Dawn is getting a second hole. The lady at Claire’s just puts them on a lazy Susan and shoots their ears as they spin around in a circle. Just kidding. She does it normally. And the book doesn’t explicitly say it’s a Claire’s, but we all know it’s a Claire’s.  So in the end, both the Arnold twins and Mallory get to show off more of their individuality. Every kid has to go through this – when you have to convince your parents to give up some of their autonomy so you can pick out what you want. Even though every kid can relate on some level, being twins exacerbates the situation. If every Christmas my sister and I got the same gifts, I’d go insane also. Especially since her gifts were more of the Barbie variety and all I wanted were books about hostage-level parental negotiations and estate sales.

For a list of every Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street book review I’ve done, go to RereadingMyChildhood.com or follow RereadMyChildhd on Twitter. For more information about me, Amy A. Cowan, visit my website AmyACowan.com or follow my Twitter: amyacowan.

Rereading My Childhood – A Year With the BSC #51: Shaving a Doll

A Year With the BSC is an informal series wherein I explore the 1990’s CD-ROM video game The Baby-sitters Club Friendship Kit. The game is more of a personal organizer; it features with a calendar, an address book, a stationary kit, a flyer maker, and a personality profile. I’m focusing on the more interesting aspect of the game: the personalized letters and the journal entries. The full list of entries can be found at rereadingmychildhood.com.

Previously On A Year With the BSC #50: Self Promotion

We’re in the homestretch, stick with me, people! And this week is easy, as Mallory is the only one who wrote this week.

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That’s what every little girl wants – a Rip Van Winkle Doll. No. They don’t want to cut Barbie’s hair. They want to do a job for a man. A job that a man is perfectly capable of doing his-own-damn-self.

Although to answer Mallory’s question, the craziest toy I’ve seen is that weird “Elsa Is Pregnant” app I saw advertised on other unscrupulous apps. What do you do in those games? Deliver the baby? Look at a growing Elsa? Who would buy this game? Honestly, people paid for a barely working bird app. I’m no better. I give money to a fake butler who is helping spruce up his parents’ infinite-room mansion.

Next Time On A Year With the BSC #52: The Finish Line Is In Sight

Rereading My Childhood – A Year With the BSC #50: Self Promotion

A Year With the BSC is an informal series wherein I explore the 1990’s CD-ROM video game The Baby-sitters Club Friendship Kit. The game is more of a personal organizer; it features with a calendar, an address book, a stationary kit, a flyer maker, and a personality profile. I’m focusing on the more interesting aspect of the game: the personalized letters and the journal entries. The full list of entries can be found at rereadingmychildhood.com.

Previously On A Year With the BSC #49: Neither a Simone Nor a Biles Be

Just a few more weeks before we’ve come full circle and it’s been quite the journey! For right now, let’s focus on our favorite babysitters.

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Maybe you should focus more on your school work than on your Kid Kit. Let’s just move on from that.

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Well, if you can’t find it, you’re in luck, my equinophiliac friend! I have a couple posts about Goosebumps! May I recommend my review of Goosebumps classic Night of the Living Dummy?

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I don’t have a father anymore. Can I go bowling?

Next Time On A Year With the BSC #51: Shaving a Doll

Rereading My Childhood – A Year With the BSC #43: Swing and a Miss

A Year With the BSC is an informal series wherein I explore the 1990’s CD-ROM video game The Baby-sitters Club Friendship Kit. The game is more of a personal organizer; it features with a calendar, an address book, a stationary kit, a flyer maker, and a personality profile. I’m focusing on the more interesting aspect of the game: the personalized letters and the journal entries. The full list of entries can be found at rereadingmychildhood.com.

Previously On A Year With the BSC #42: Steez Chomping

Once again we have a time problem with this game. Since the ’90s, the term “swinger” has taken on a different connotation. We’ll get to that.

First of all, this week was my birthday and I was pleasantly surprised when I logged into the game this week. On the bed was a small blue rectangle. When I clicked on it, the BSC yelled, “Surprise!” and I got this pixelated treat:

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It’s like when you die and go down a long tunnel with your family smiling at you from the end. They’re all there. Staring at me. While I read their card. Complete with a trademark symbol on their logo.

Anyway, the Special Olympics are underway in Stoneybrook, despite Betsy DeVos’s sabotage. They triumphed, like the kids at the end of Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo. They raised enough money to save the youth center, despite what the ’80s style villainry (which is mired in building codes and the need for a brand new mall).

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I don’t know if the team should call themselves the “Stoneybrook Swingers.” It might attract a bad crowd. One with hot tubs, leopard print, and early, regretful marriages. I don’t care what two or more consenting adults do in their free time, but a Special Olympics softball game is not the place to ask twenty-somethings to dance and remark that “they look tense and should relax and a few drinks.”

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I don’t know why we need cheerleaders, but fine. If the kids want to support the team in a very outward and loud manner, then I guess this is fine. It’s fine. It’s a little unnecessary, but it’s fine.

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If you didn’t think that Mary Anne narrated this letter ver-ba-tim, you were wrong. Does she literally say, “Love, Dawn. Mary Anne”? She literally does.

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Yeah, sort of. Unless the “Pitcher, left-fielders, you’ll all fall down” line is about the Swingers. Ugh. Just typing that sentence makes me think of creepy couples who live in hotel rooms. Look, if you want to do that, that’s great and I’m happy you’re living life to the fullest. Just don’t hit on people who aren’t in that lifestyle. Don’t y’all have a chatroom or something to meet each other? Like, I don’t know, Swingtown. or Swingnation, or Hot Tub Summer in the City, or something?

Next Time On A Year With the BSC #44: Vaccinate Your Damn Kids

Rereading My Childhood – A Year With the BSC #40: The Early One!

A Year With the BSC is an informal series wherein I explore the 1990’s CD-ROM video game The Baby-sitters Club Friendship Kit. The game is more of a personal organizer; it features with a calendar, an address book, a stationary kit, a flyer maker, and a personality profile. I’m focusing on the more interesting aspect of the game: the personalized letters and the journal entries. The full list of entries can be found at rereadingmychildhood.com.

Previously On A Year With the BSC #39: Time Travel

Yep, this one is a day early! I’m leaving on a small trip soon and I won’t have time to do all the things I do when the post goes live. It’s fitting because Mary Anne has an entry about trips later, but first, Abby has something to say about the Papadakis kids, or as she calls them, the “Pya-pa-dyaa-kis” kids.

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Ouch, Hannie. You know what adults also have? Feelings. And you hurt them.

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I don’t care how responsible Mary Anne is, you can’t leave a child by herself for an undisclosed amount of time.

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Good one, Mallory. And Cokie Mason doesn’t want to date Logan. She’s a Teen Repoman and he missing some payment on his Huffy.

Next Time On A Year With the BSC #41: A Lot to Unpack

Rereading My Childhood – A Year With the BSC #39: Time Travel

A Year With the BSC is an informal series wherein I explore the 1990’s CD-ROM video game The Baby-sitters Club Friendship Kit. The game is more of a personal organizer; it features with a calendar, an address book, a stationary kit, a flyer maker, and a personality profile. I’m focusing on the more interesting aspect of the game: the personalized letters and the journal entries. The full list of entries can be found at rereadingmychildhood.com.

Previously On A Year With the BSC #38: Zip Codes and Tickets

I’m back in class and it looks like the BSC is busy with classes also.

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How did Cokie Mason find out about the party? Who fucking blabbed?! Was it you? Yeah, I’m talking to you! Back there! With the face! Did you fucking tell her?!

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That is cute, but it seems like you’re rewarding her for throwing tantrums.

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I hope you talked about this with the parents first, Mallory. Otherwise, even if you know the kids, it’s still kidnapping.

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Oh no! The Teddy Bear Picnic can’t be canceled! I have a teddy bear-costumed character coming and if I cancel, I still have to pay half of the appearance fee. Where is that money going to come from, Kristy? From my baby-sitting dues? The $1.50 an hour I charge for babysitting in the ’90s? I should up my fee. I’m an adult, and that’s better than a child, and every time I time travel I come back . . . wrong. It’s taking its toll, Kristy.

Next Time On A Year With the BSC #40: The Early One!

Rereading My Childhood – A Year With the BSC #37: The Kid Sucks

A Year With the BSC is an informal series wherein I explore the 1990’s CD-ROM video game The Baby-sitters Club Friendship Kit. The game is more of a personal organizer; it features with a calendar, an address book, a stationary kit, a flyer maker, and a personality profile. I’m focusing on the more interesting aspect of the game: the personalized letters and the journal entries. The full list of entries can be found at rereadingmychildhood.com.

<—Previously on “Rereading My Childhood – A Year With the BSC”

It’s Midterms for me, so I’m happy to announce that there are only three entries this week.

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Suzi Barrett sounds like a nightmare. There, I said it. The kid sucks. She’s no Gabby “Gabbers” Perkins. Don’t @ me – the Perkins kids are the best kids in Stoneybrook and the rest are just terrible.

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I like to ignore Claire as a character, also.

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I don’t know how Claudia used that BSC Card Maker. I still think my card is the epitome of perfection.

Next Time On A Year With the BSC #38: Zip Codes and Tickets

Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club #14: Hello, Mallory

Previously On Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club #13: Good-bye Stacey, Good-bye

Bring a kid sucks. There. I said it. No “Cult of the Child” Victorian bullshit here. You don’t get to do all the great things that adults get to do: stay up late, eat whatever you want, drive, go shopping, pay bills, get insurance, look at stock options, cut down on your cholesterol. Kids just sit around watching television, loading up on sugar, all while your parents force you to go to school to learn new and interesting things. Wait? What was I going on about?

That’s Mallory’s problem: she wants to be treated more grown-up at the advanced age of eleven. She wants to be older and join the BSC because that’s what you do when you’re a kid: you wish you were older and you try to impress older kids, who are practically adults as far as you were concerned. You try to impress them so much you give them all your money without much coercion. That’s not based on anything true or anything. It’s not like the girl down the street asked me for money and I gave it all to her because she was so cool and tall and as big as a real adult and she could ride her bike with her hands off the handles and she had all these cool friends who said neat stuff like “as if” and I wanted to be just like them. That never happened . . .

SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!

The Baby-Sitters Club #14: Hello, Mallory
My copy of The Baby-Sitters Club #14: Hello, Mallory – Really, kids? You care about her hair? Not her distended torso and little legs?

Spectacles. Eyeglasses. Bifocals. Trifocals. No matter what you call them, glasses are glasses and I have to wear them.

Hello. I’m Mallory Pike. I’m eleven.

This is what we are greeted with. Synonyms for glasses. A greeting. A name. An age. Then she talks about her family: all seven younger brothers and sisters and their quirks. There are the triplets who are mean. The brother who wants to be like the mean triplets. The one who wants to be a poet and it annoying. The one who is “silly.” The one who is “etc.” She continues with her parents, who are fascinating.

My mom doesn’t have a job. I mean, a job outside of the house, like being a doctor or an insurance salesperson or something. She says us kids are her job, and that with eight of us it’s a big job.

Yeah, I imagine it would be a big job. However, if she doesn’t have a job, why does she always need a babysitter? Later in the book, Kristy refers to the Pikes as “their best clients.” That means they have enough money to live in suburban Connecticut, hire babysitters, have a house in Beach City, New Jersey, can actually go on vacation, have a woman who comes to clean, and raise this ten person family. How about Dad, Mal?

My dad is a lawyer, but not the kid you see on TV, making wild speeches ina  crowded courtroom. He’s what’s called a corporate lawyer. He’s the lawyer for a big company in Stamford, Connecticut. (We live in Stoneybrook, Connecticut, which isn’t far away.) Mostly, he sits at a desk or attends meetings. Once in while, though, he does go to court, but I bet he doesn’t make speeches. I think he just stands up a lot and say, “Objection!” and things like that.

She doesn’t go into detail but a company that can pay a lawyer enough to maintain this level of lifestyle is one of two things: a corrupt company that provides an essential service but is destroying the world, akin to Amazon or BP, or, more likely, a front for the mob. Mallory Pike’s dad works for the mob. Say it with claps between each word. Louder for those in the back. MALLORY PIKE’S DAD WORKS FOR THE MOB.

Anyway, Mallory is excited because the BSC asked her if she was interested in joining the BSC. This an opportunity for growth. She thinks this will be her stepping stone to semi-adulthood as well as an opportunity to learn more about kids and baby-sitting from Stoneybrook’s premier baby-sitters.

Before her first BSC meeting, Mallory wants to look sophisticated, so she chooses to wear her “red jumper that said Mallory across the front, a short sleeved white blouse, and white tights with little red hearts all over them.” To which her little sister, Vanessa, remarks, “You look like a Valentine.” I don’t know if Martin intended this to be hilarious, but Mallory’s outfit is Hilarious, capital H. However, the funniest thing about the outfit is that Mallory has the word “Mallory” on her jumper. As if she was going to forget her name. Or it was just to establish that this red jumper is hers and there is no debate about it. I’m surprised Claudia hasn’t worn a shirt that says “Claudia” on it, but there are still more than a hundred books to go.

But before her first BSC meeting, Mallory has to sit through school. That’s when we meet Jessi (or rather, Jessica) Ramsey – the new girl. She’s tall and has long legs and is awfully composed for a sixth grader. Later, during lunch, Mallory sits near some girls from her class.

“Can you believe that new girl?” Rachel sounded aghast.

“Who, Jessica Ramsey?” I replied.

“What do you mean ‘who’? Of course I mean Jessica Ramsey. Who else?”

I shrugged. “What about her?”

“What about her?” cried Sally, this girl I’ve never really liked. “Are you blind? She’s black.

I nearly chocked. “So?”

“Well, she doesn’t, you know, belong here.”

“Where?” I challenged them. “She doesn’t belong where?”

Sally shrugged uncomfortably. “Oh, I don’t know . . .”

You get ’em, Mallory. I was lukewarm on the eponymous jumper wearer but she does something that we should all be doing to bullshit racism. She challenges them. She makes them say what they mean to say. She puts horrible men who say nothing when their friend is gross to a waitress to shame and she’s in sixth-fucking-grade.

Also, wow, Stoneybrook. I thought this place was welcoming. Now I see you for what you really are. When I read this passage, I honestly thought they were going to have a problem with Jessi because they think she’s stuck up. I did not expect the blatant racism. Ann M. Martin is not fucking around.

During Mallory’s first BSC meeting, her “grown-up” outfit does not go over well. Also, Kristy sends Mallory on a trial baby-sitting job with Claudia at her Perkins’. Mallory also reveals that the Ramseys moved into Stacey’s old house. On the next meeting day, Mallory tones down the outfit (a sweatshirt that says “I’d rather be writing my novel” – something I would have killed for when I was a kid) and leaves for Claudia’s residence entirely too early. On the way there, she passes by Stacey’s old house to find Jessi and her siblings outside.

“Hi,” I said. “I’m Mallory Pike . . . You probably know that. I mean, but I wasn’t sure. You must have met an awful lot of kids yesterday and today.”

“I have. But I remember your name.”

“I remember yours, too. Jessica. Jessica Ramsey.”

“Right.” Jessica grinned. “Call me Jessi, though.”

She has a little sister named Becca and a baby brother named Squirt (his real name is John Philip – they didn’t actually name their kid “Squirt”). Mallory and Jessi hit it off and Jessi tells her a joke:

“A farmer is driving down a highway and he sees a truck by the side of the road. It’s got a flat tire, and the driver, who is holding a penguin, looks really upset, so the farmer pulls up and says, ‘Can I help you?’ And the driver says, ‘Oh yes, please. I’m taking this penguin to the zoo. It’s right down the road. Could you take him there for me while I wait for the tow truck?’ The farmer says, ‘Sure,’ takes the penguin, and drives off. The next day the driver is going down a street and he sees the farmer with the penguin. ‘What are you doing?’ he cries. ‘You were supposed to take that penguin to the zoo!’ The farmer smiles. ‘I did,’ he answers, ‘and he had so much fun that today I’m taking him to the circus!'”

Okay, Jessi. Not a bad goof, especially for a sixth grader. And definitely funnier than Louis C.K. Sorry, it’s true.

Jessi invites Mallory up to her room and they bond over horse books and more jokes. It’s sweet and Jessi is cool. I was always ambivalent about both Mallory and Jessi when I was a kid, but I think I was just forced to be selective in my book buying. I couldn’t get every book, so I clung to specific baby-sitters (Mary Anne, mostly) so I could easily choose which books to get. Now that I’m an adult and I can buy as many as my budget allows, I can see the merit of Mallory and Jessi.

Later Mallory shows up to the next meeting and is greeted with a bit of news: she is going to have to take a test administered by the BSC. You know, totally normal things that all babysitters have to go through with questions like, “At what age does a baby cut its first tooth?” Mallory answers, “Eight months,” but Kristy says she’s wrong. The age when a baby cuts its first tooth is seven months. Because that one month is so different. Also, “What is the difference between creeping and crawling?” What I’m getting at is that the test they administer is unfair, especially when the other babysitters didn’t have to take such a test. Did Dawn take this test when she joined? No. They only administer this test to Mallory. She (rightfully) becomes frustrated with them, but there’s still hope: her trial baby-sitting job with Claudia.

Did you actually think that would go perfectly? There would be no book if everything went well. The first thing Mallory does wrong is ask Perkins’ what they want to eat. Claudia says, “Just give them something – something healthy. That way, there won’t be any arguments.” Which is fine advice but Claudia didn’t have to sound go haughtily about it, Miss I-Hide-Candy-In-A-Bag-Behind-My-Dresser. Then Mallory drops a glass and it breaks. Lastly, Mallory lets the dog in and he causes a raucous. After each minor infraction, Claudia chastises her.

During the next meeting, they agree to let Mallory join the BSC . . . if she goes through yet another test. Mallory refuses to take another test, as she should, and storms out of the club, bringing us to the second act.

Mallory and Jessi bond over more books the next day at school. Then Jessi says that no one at school has talked to her. Her sister is also having trouble making friends. In fact, the whole town isn’t talking to the Ramseys. Jessi can’t even join a ballet troupe in Stoneybrook for fear of making everyone mad.

“I’m even thinking of not taking dancing lessons here. I don’t know if it’s worth it. Can’t you just imagine it? They’d hold auditions for a ballet, but they’d never give me the lead, even if I was as good as Pavlova.”

“Who’s Pavlova?”

“This famous ballerina. You know what would happen if they did give me the lead?”

“What?” I asked.

“Everyone would be upset that a black girl got it instead of a white girl.”

That’s absolute bullshit, but it’s absolutely true. Remember when they cast Amandla Stenberg as Rue? And they were great! And that character was actually black! Remember the bullshit when Zazie Beetz was cast as Domino? That was perfect casting, and she was great, also, and people still got pissed that she got the part. Jessi is right. Jessi tells it like it is. Jessi also has horses and jokes. Nowadays, she’d have a popular horse comedy podcast.

But it’s the late ’80s and podcasts haven’t been invented yet and so Mallory and Jessi decide to start their own babysitters’ club because that’s what keeps happening in Stoneybrook.

It’s called Kids Incorporated and the idea is that you get two babysitters for the price of one. They only get one job – for the Pikes. While Dawn is on another babysitting job, she sees Mallory and a girl she doesn’t know (Jessi) babysitting the Pikes and tells Kristy. Kristy calls the Pikes “their best customers” and sees Kids Incorporated as a threat.

Meanwhile, Jessi is accepted into an advanced ballet class in Stamford so that’s nice. What’s not nice is how no one has welcomed the Ramseys into Stoneybrook. Mallory remembers that Stacey’s family had people over every day welcoming them into the neighborhood, but not the Ramseys. That’s some stone-cold racism right there.

While Mallory and Jessi babysit Becca, they blow bubbles on their front porch.

Becca made another bubble, and another.

At the house across the street, the door opened and a face looked out.

Becca made a fourth bubble.

A little girl stepped onto the porch.

Becca made a fifth bubble.

The girl tiptoed down her front stoop and halfway across the lawn to watch Becca and her bubbles.

“Look,” I said, nudging Jessi.

“I know,” she whispered.

The girl reached the street, crossed it carefully, and ran to Becca. “How do you do that?” she asked. “Those are the biggest-“

“Amy!’ called a sharp voice. An angry looking woman was standing on the porch across the street.

Amy turned around. “Mom?”

“Come here this instant,” said her mother stiffly. Then she went back in the house, slamming the door behind her.

It’s this simple scene that shows that racism is learned not inherited. It’s a powerful message to kids: you don’t have to share the same prejudices as your parents. And we see the direct result of that woman’s racism when Becca is crestfallen.

She thought she was going to make a new friend in a town that has been nothing but cold to her. Let’s hope that the mother didn’t want young Amy to play with Becca because a bubble killed her father or something. “Don’t play with bubbles! You know what happened to your father and I can’t have that happen to you, too!”

Or we could just face the fact that Stoneybrook has a dark underbelly. We only see glimpses into the city’s connections with the mob, the orgies that all the parents go to that warrant competing babysitting companies, and the racism, but the clues are there – Stoneybrook, the epitome of American suburbia, is a synecdoche that reflects the problems endemic with American culture.

Or I’m reading too much into the book series aimed at the tween set.

Eventually, the BSC realizes that they were being silly and invite Mallory to officially join the BSC – no more tests. To Mallory’s credit, she insists they take all of Kids Incorporated – including Jessi. Like Michael Scott in The Office when Dunder-Mifflin wanted to buy out The Michael Scott Paper Company and he insisted they take Ryan and Pam as well. The BSC accepts a full takeover and Kids Incorporated is dissolved into the BSC. Good thing since Kids Incorporated wasn’t doing very well. Again, just like that Office episode. Before she accepts, Jessi brings up an important concern.

“But a lot of families around here don’t seem, um, they don’t seem to like me. Because I’m black. So I’m wondering – what if your clients don’t want me to sit for them? I mean, that’s not going to help you at all. It might even hurt the club.”

Oh, god, Jessi! My sweet Jessi!

Kristy says that basically, if they don’t want Jessi to sit for them because she’s black, then Kristy doesn’t want to sit for them. The BSC has two new members, Jessi has some new friends, and even Becca becomes friends with Charlotte Johannsen.

As a kid, I was so lukewarm on Mallory while reading these but this introduction to both Jessi and Mallory is a good book. Martin does a good job confronting racism in this kids’ book without sugar coating it or making it too hard for kids to understand. I like how Mallory doesn’t take any shit from her “friends” about Jessi’s skin color and she helps her even when the BSC sound a little ignorant about how Jessi has been treated. (There is a brief scene where Mary Anne can’t believe that Jessi has been treated poorly, but Mallory tells them about the bubble-fearing woman and how no one has welcomed the Ramseys into Stoneybrook.) As far as I’m concerned, Mallory is cooler than me when I was eleven and she probably wouldn’t have given random older girls all their money, unlike this other person I know. You don’t know her. She lives in Canada. I mean, it’s just a story I came up with. A story about a girl who lives in Canada. I swear I’m not talking about me. Her name was . . . Blamy.

Next Time On Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club Super Special #1: Baby-sitters on Board

For a list of every Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street book review I’ve done, go to RereadingMyChildhood.com or follow RereadMyChildhd on Twitter. For more information about me, Amy A. Cowan, visit my website AmyACowan.com or follow my Twitter: amyacowan.

Rereading My Childhood – A Year With the BSC #32: Get Out Dat Hole!

A Year With the BSC is an informal series wherein I explore the 1990’s CD-ROM video game The Baby-sitters Club Friendship Kit. The game is more of a personal organizer; it features with a calendar, an address book, a stationary kit, a flyer maker, and a personality profile. I’m focusing on the more interesting aspect of the game: the personalized letters and the journal entries. The full list of entries can be found at rereadingmychildhood.com.

This week, Jessi asked an important question regarding meteorology.

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Yeah, furry rodent, we gonna have more winter? You are our only source for weather prediction and I demand answers! The government shutdown is over, so you have to go back to work and tell us the weather.

Turns out the groundhog didn’t see his shadow and we are going to have an early summer. Which is either a nice change, especially for the people in the midwest or is a stark reminder that we’re destroying the planet with our gas and we’re going to get used to hotter temperatures . . . hotter temperatures than we’re used to.

And to answer Jessi’s question: dogs.

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What the fuck is a “birthday tree” and why haven’t they told me?

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Oh! It’s an actual tree! That’s a sweet gift, actually. If only they had said something. They could have in the journal. It’s not like Dawn is here to read it while she’s out there in California. It does suck that Dawn doesn’t get to be a part of the BSC during her birthday and we couldn’t hear from here on this day. Dawn-o-philes have the short straw, don’t they? I wonder if Ann M. Martin couldn’t write for someone from California and that’s why she unceremoniously left the series. I’ll cross that bridge when I get there.

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I don’t know, Abby. Maybe she is bonkers and you don’t realize it because you’re bonkers too.

 

Rereading My Childhood – A Year With the BSC #30: The Late One

A Year With the BSC is an informal series wherein I explore the 1990’s CD-ROM video game The Baby-sitters Club Friendship Kit. The game is more of a personal organizer; it features with a calendar, an address book, a stationary kit, a flyer maker, and a personality profile. I’m focusing on the more interesting aspect of the game: the personalized letters and the journal entries. The full list of entries can be found at rereadingmychildhood.com.

It was bound to happen eventually, folks! I forgot to do this on Tuesday, so it’s late. So let’s get this started with a letter from Jessi.

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Controversial opinion, I know. I don’t care much for Italian food. There are too many carbohydrates and I’m always hungry two hours later.

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Cool story, Kristy? Like, do I need to know this? Is it still down there? Isn’t it your job, as the babysitter, to fix the toilet?

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Uniforms are fine. Ask me this question when I was twelve and I’d probably call this fascism, completely ignoring the fact that uniforms help reduce school violence and come with many other benefits. Maybe not for high school, but middle schoolers should absolutely have uniforms. They’re monsters.

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First of all, you can’t “say whatever you want.” And there are other ways of expressing yourself. Clothes are great and all, but calm down. You’re in middle school. You’re not making a statement on the Senate floor. Y’all could do with some uniforms.

On a side note, I wonder why everyone was so concerned with school uniforms when I was a kid. It was, like, the biggest threat to our expression. I conjecture that it was a concern of the white, male Baby Boomers who wrote these stories and games. School uniforms were their biggest concern because their economy was bustling, they could go to school without putting themselves in tremendous debt, they weren’t getting shot during health class, and healthcare was a buck a month. Of course school uniforms would be a concern – they had no other concerns.

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That’s very close-minded of you, Mallory.