Backseat Bait-and-Switch

This weekend my aunts told me a story about the unorthodox parenting strategies of their friend Jessie, who grew up in Melbourne with them. When she was in her twenties Jessie found herself single-handedly raising two school-age daughters and an infant son, and rather than trying to get all of them ready every morning she found it was easier if she drove her daughters to school and just left the baby at home until she got back. Melbourne is tiny and the school was close enough that she wasn’t gone more than 10 minutes, so what could possibly go wrong?

This went smoothly for a while until her next-door neighbor, peering out her kitchen window every morning to count the offspring in Jessie’s backseat, became concerned about the fate of this neglected infant and went to Jessie to offer her services as a babysitter. She was properly trained in Southern manners and thus did not openly accuse Jessie of reckless child endangerment, but she explained that she knew how busy Jessie must be and tactfully offered to come over every morning to help the girls get ready for school and sit with the baby “so that you won’t have to take him with you.”

This left Jessie with a dilemma. She did not want her prim and proper neighbor coming over every morning to cast her disapproving gaze over Jessie’s lackluster housekeeping, but nor could she continue to leave the baby at home alone after having been confronted.

Most people, in this situation, would have given in and either allowed the neighbor into the house or packed the baby up for school. But the people of Melbourne are both stubborn and shameless, and they take a more creative approach to problem solving. After giving the problem much thought, Jessie had a brainwave: she swaddled one of her daughters’ baby dolls and carried it out to the car every morning, where she buckled it into her son’s car seat in full view of her neighbor and drove merrily off to school, leaving her son at home as always. As he got bigger and began to toddle, she got a bigger doll.

I have been pondering this for the past two days and I’m still not sure whether it qualifies as genius or madness. It’s a fine line indeed.


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