Reel them in with your braces and easy blush. Be 17, with sharp elbows and blunt bangs, and the young parents will open up their doors faster than they would for the UPS man with all their packages from Amazon.com. After a three-minute tour of the house, they’ll present you with the blinking baby monitor and run out the door toward restaurants and movie theaters, toward parties and bars, toward local hotels where they will have better sex than they’ve had in years. If you’re good enough, you’ll lock in the entire neighborhood — they’ll pass around your phone number at book club and at the playground, and you’ll get texts every night. _Babe goes to sleep at 7 — be here at 7:15 on Thurs?! LMK! Thx!_
It starts in the kitchen — they always gesture at the fridge and say, their eyes sloping downward like puppies in an ASPCA commercial, to eat whatever you want. They should be able to tell by looking at you that you know what they mean, to eat a granola bar but not the expensive cheese; the tortilla chips and not the Russ & Daughters caviar. You want them to feel like there’s an understanding. Take some fish-oil pills from the freezer and pop them like candy; wash them down with a vodka tonic. Eat an apple before they get home so that your breath is crisp. When they return, apologize for the apple and they’ll love you even more.
You can take pens, even nice ones. Take extra tubes of toothpaste from the closet — no one will miss them. Take loose change from the bottoms of the purses hanging on the coatrack. Sometimes there are dogs who growl and snuff, but slather your palms with peanut butter and they’ll be on your side. Cats are more judgmental, but they keep their mouths shut.
Sometimes the fathers will put their hands on your shoulder and ask about your college plans. Sometimes they’ll pat you too low on your back as they walk you out the door. Open your eyes wide and stare at them from under your bangs and watch the guilt rise up from their groins and enter their throats. Skip down the stoop and away like a little girl, their cash in your pocket. Babysitting is not for the faint of heart.
The families with two children pay more. The families with three have given up and don’t leave the house at all, at least not with you at the wheel. It’s the new parents who call the most, the ones who are the easiest to reassure. They all tell you the same thing — not to do anything. You are a human alarm system. When the babies cry, put on your headphones and listen to music. _Fussing a little,_ you text, _ok stopped :)._ The newer the parents, the more smiley faces. Neither of you wants them to hurry home. Eat an entire sleeve of Oreos — any more or less and it would be too conspicuous.
When the mother is the right size, take the glitziest dress from the back of her closet and pretend you’re Michelle Pfeiffer in _The Fabulous Baker Boys,_ using the dining-room table as your piano. If it’s still light outside, take pictures of the insides of their drawers for future reference. Case the joint. In a future apocalypse, you’ll want to know where to find the extra batteries — and the sex toys to put them in.
The safes are always in the bedroom closets, except when they don’t exist and all the jewelry is laid out like a buffet. Silver is your favorite, but no one cares about silver anymore. The parents prefer gold, and so you wear gold. Take a braided band from the bottom of the tray and carry it around under your tongue, testing it out for any magical properties. If you don’t feel any different, dip it in hummus and try it again.
_Date nite!_ They write you, as if you care. They so badly want you to understand that you are the same. They want approval, but all you want is danger. Sometimes you see how much noise you can make without waking up the baby. Your drum solos are improving. _Free on Friday?_ You better believe it.
*Emma Straub is the* New York Times *bestselling author of* The Vacationers. *Her new novel,* Modern Lovers, *will be out in May.*