Job description: Individual needed for adult baby-themed store where clients can purchase adult-sized diapers, bibs, pacifiers, and other products, as well as purchase special-themed events. Duties include, but are not limited to, feeding, burping, playing with adult-aged clients. Hourly rate + bonus. Management reserves the right to make changes as needed without prior notice. Employees will not be asked to perform duties of a sexual nature. Eighteen and over encouraged to apply. Prior babysitting/caretaker experience a plus.
I walk past the adult-sized baby cribs and go into the locker rooms. I punch in the combination to my locker and put my purse inside. Peek-A-Boo Enterprises was the only place offering a hiring bonus. Once my ninety-day probation period is over I’ll get my bonus of $1,000. Only there’s been talk for the past couple of days that Management is changing the bonus because of the extra costs of hiring private security on account of the brick incident.
“Management is changing the rules for the bonus.” Carla grabs one of the juice boxes from the fridge door. “Baby Juni’s been crying for like fifteen whole minutes. I’m up to here.” She puts her hand to her forehead.
“Can they do that?” I turn around and motion Carla to zip me.
“They can do whatever they want.”
“What are they changing?”
“Don’t know. You’ll have to ask Jen. Drops it on me when I go punch in. Then says she can’t say more. Some bullshit about Management needing her to keep it confidential until she’s given the okay to posts it.” Carla walks behind me and squeezes one of the boobs. Milk shoots out all over my locker door.
It’s not a bad job. No one is being asked to do anything they’re not comfortable doing. And there are cameras in every room in case Clients try to get handsy. Only now I’m worried about my bonus because of what Carla said. I pull the navy-blue nursing shirt from the prop closet and put it over the breast vest and go see Jen at the front desk to punch in and ask about the bonus.
“I can only tell you what I told Carla. Management told me to be prepared to receive an email with a memo attached about changes to the bonus. I’m supposed to post tomorrow with the schedule.”
Jen is the cashier. She’s thirty-two years old, divorced, with three pugs from the pug rescue down the street. She’s got two weeks left of her six-week course at the community college to get her human resources specialist certificate. She thinks that if she does everything Management tells her to do she’ll get promoted once she completes her certificate. I punch in on the kiosk next to Jen’s cash register, then I go to the Nursery room where Baby Rocco is waiting for me.
Baby Rocco’s real name is Jeffrey Lemont. He’s the medical assistant at the orthopedic clinic where my dad had shoulder surgery last year. Peek-A-Boo is not to be held liable if Caretakers disclose Client’s identities in public, although Caretakers are terminated on the spot if they do.
“Hey there little fella,” I say. I close the door behind me.
Baby Rocco looks up at me with wide eyes and begins to cry. I spot the skull tattoo on his left calf muscle. On his Client card it says he’s ten months old, so he doesn’t speak. Just makes grunting noises. He puts a balled-up fist in his mouth like hungry babies do. One thing I appreciate about Baby Rocco is that he knows what he wants, and he doesn’t waste time asking for it. Clients get ninety minutes. The shy ones end up wasting the first thirty dancing around what they’ve requested.
“Is Baby Rocco hungry?”
Baby Rocco stops crying and grabs the baby blue blanket next to him. I take the blanket from him and sit down, legs crossed in front of me. Baby Rocco puts his head on my lap. I unzip my nursing shirt and pop a rubber nipple into his mouth. I drape the blanket over his face. I hear the slurps coming from under the blanket.
The first time I fake breast fed one of my Clients, it was Mr. Holt. Mr. Holt was my algebra teacher my freshman year in high school. I hadn’t seen him since he gave me a B+, and I could tell he was as embarrassed about the whole breast-feeding situation as I was. He broke from character to tell me he could reschedule, but being new at the job, I didn’t want Management to think I wasn’t up for it and pushed through. I sat with a large pillow over my legs and Mr. Holt put his bald head on it. I tried to focus my gaze on the large clock over the door to avoid looking at him, but curiosity got the best of me. I dropped my gaze. I looked at him and the only thought that crossed my mind was how pathetic he was. I couldn’t help but to laugh out loud. He didn’t request a refund because I begged him not to, fearing being fired. Now all my Clients have to drape a blanket over their faces.
As I burp Baby Rocco, all I can think of is wanting that bonus.
The next day, Management announces a changed bonus structure. They emailed a memo for Jen to print and tack onto the corkscrew board above the microwave and the coffee maker next to the weekly schedule. It says our bonus will be tied to customer satisfaction survey scores. Only Caretakers with a score of 80% or above qualify for the bonus.
Jen walks into the locker room and hands me a stack of glossy 5×7’s. “Give one to each Client after their appointment. There’s a box to drop them into at the front desk.”
I flip through the cards.
Please score each question below with the appropriate rating. 1 for poor and 5 for amazing.
How attentive was your Caretaker to your needs? 1 2 3 4 5
How satisfied were you with your overall experience? 1 2 3 4 5
How satisfied were you with your Caretaker? 1 2 3 4 5
There’s a space for comments and below that, in pink block letters, it says, We, at Peek-A-Boo Enterprises, strive to make your experience memorable.
Since working here, I’ve had two customer complaints: The first one said I didn’t appear to be enjoying myself playing dolls with her like her mother used to. The second one complained I didn’t wipe well enough after a diaper change and the Client was itchy all the way home. And before anyone says that changing a grown man’s diaper is work of a “sexual nature,” it isn’t – a nurse assistant friend of mine has to do it at the hospital she works at daily, and she’s my age. I just don’t understand what these people want. I’m doing everything they ask for. Only now the bonus I was counting on is tied to these stupid customer satisfaction survey scores, and I need to make sure I get at least an 80%.
I punch in on the kiosk next to Jen’s cash register. I’m with Baby Jack-Jack tonight in the Playroom. This is my second favorite room at Peek-A-Boo; my first is the Park. There’s a colorful round carpet in the Playroom that takes up most of the floor. Baby Jack-Jack is in the center of the rug and he sits up and crosses his legs in front of him when he sees me enter. He clasps his hands together. He’s wearing the camo onesie I saw him take into the dressing room two days ago when I was covering the cash register for Jen. Baby Jack-Jack looks up at me with big blue eyes and a silly smile. There’s drool forming on his bottom lip – a little pool between his front teeth and tongue. The words “Little Tyke” are written in white cursive lettering across his chest, and curly black and gray hairs spring out of his collar.
I mostly get scheduled for the Level I babysitting jobs. Baby Jack-Jack is a Level I. Level I’s involve playing, feeding, and burping, what the other Caretakers call “clean work.” Every now and then when one of the Caretaker II’s are unable to make their shift, they’ll have me cover a Level II job. Level II jobs are more challenging in that the Client gets difficult and does not want to do as told, like “Eat your peas.” Level II jobs also include the occasional diaper change. Clients can also purchase the Tantrum add-on for Level II jobs which come with an extended fifteen minutes. These jobs usually take place in the Mealtime room, where it’s not uncommon to see spaghetti and marinara sauce splattered all over the walls, but they can be purchased as an upgrade in any of the rooms.
There was a dance room when Peek-A-Boo first opened, but the interest was low, and Management said the revenue for that room wasn’t enough to keep it operational. They also gave sports a try with the Activity room, but Clients weren’t interested in physical activities and now the Activity room is used as storage. Caretakers go there to let off some steam in between jobs by kicking the soccer ball around or shooting hoops through the basket that hangs over the door or smoking cigarettes and blowing the air out the vent that goes to the dumpsters.
I sit next to Baby Jack-Jack, and I notice he’s wearing white booties with little bunny ears on the big toe. They’re knitted, and one of his big toenails is poking through crochet holes.
“Jack-Jack wants to play,” he says. “Come play with Jack-Jack.”
I hate people that refer to themselves in the third person. The survey cards pop in my head. “Let’s go play.”
I get down on my knees in front of the giant toy chest against the wall. The Nursery is on the second floor. It’s a little dark in the Nursery now. The windows were recently painted white because some kids in the neighborhood were flying drones up to peek inside. The walls are painted in pastel colors and the only light comes from lamps. There are matching lamps with little brown monkeys painted on the shade on the nightstand next to the crib.
I’ve had Baby Jack-Jack once before and he’d reserved the Mealtime room. That night I washed peas and noodles out of my hair. He gave me a big tip that night to make up for how awful he was, and then turned around the next day and complained I wasn’t playing along and had made him feel ashamed of himself. He seems to have put it all behind him, because he was behaving himself much better. But I can’t count on him for a good satisfaction score.
I bounce a ball toward him, and he pretends to reach for it with clumsy hands. The ball bounces to the other side of the room. We begin building a four-foot castle made of wood blocks that I let him smash down with a swat of one meaty hand. I’ve never run into Baby Jack-Jack outside of Peek-A-Boo Enterprises, but I hear from one of the other Caretakers that he’s a really nice man, a banker at the credit union down the road. Recently his wife of twenty years passed away in a car accident.
The doorbell rings. That’s the cue that the time is up. “Alright Baby Jack-Jack time for me to go.”
Baby Jack-Jack stands up from his crawling position. “Thank you,” he says in a deep voice and starts for the bathroom where he’ll change into a business suit.
I call after him before he closes the bathroom door and I hand him one of the 5×7 cards. “You can turn in at check-out.”
He looks it over, looks at me, and nods. He walks into the bathroom and shuts the door behind him.
“You’ll get to see your scores tomorrow,” Jen says as I approach the checkout counter to punch out for the night. “Management has to process them first.”
“But you saw them didn’t you?”
“Sorry. You’ll find out tomorrow like everyone else.”
The next day my scores are posted in the locker room, tacked on the corkscrew board above the microwave and coffee machine, over the bonus structure memo, next to the schedule.
I look for my name on the score sheet. I’m at the bottom of the list. I only do better than Jen because she’s an employee and all employees are on the list, but she’s a cashier and doesn’t get a customer survey score. Shit. 60.
What kind of bullshit score is that? I punch in the numbers to the combination on my locker door and open it. Inside I find a white envelope with my name printed on it from Management.
Dear Rebecca Jones (Employee #3490), it says. “Management has processed your score for the previous night. Please note that at the start of every shift updated scores will be posted in the locker room announcements area for the previous day’s work. While Management was surprised by the scores you received, we are confident that this was a fluke. Perhaps first score jitters? Management believes in you, and we look forward to seeing scores that reflect your better efforts. Management.
Today I’m scheduled with Baby Ally in the Playground. The Playground is a room painted to look like it’s a sunny day at the park. The ceiling is painted with white puffy clouds and some birds made to look like they are flying in the distance. There is a swing set, a slide, and one of those spinning seats on a pole. The floor is covered with wood chips. There’s a bench opposite the swings next to a water fountain. Sometimes Clients will have Other Kids in Playground (OKIP) add-on which means there are other Caretakers in the room with their Clients and we get to sit on the bench and gossip about the other Caretakers like on real babysitting jobs. Baby Ally has the OKIP add-on checked. She has also selected the hummus snack pack with the apple juice box. I go to the fridge and pull out one of the hummus snack pack and juice box then grab a pink diaper bag from the diaper bag bin in the corner and drop the hummus and juice box inside.
Baby Ally is already in the Playground when I walk in. She is dressed in a pink shirt with a large yellow sunflower on it and blue-jean shorts. She’s tall and stringy with a small pot belly that hangs over her waistband. Blue veins run down like rivers on her shins and calves like my grandmother’s. She’s pushing a doll on the swing.
I run up to her. “Hey there. Want me to swing you?”
Baby Ally nods and runs to the adult-sized baby swings. It’s painful to see her like this. Baby Ally is a personal injury attorney, an ambulance chaser. She has billboards all over town. She’s yelling out yay as I push her on the swing. What would make an adult want to act like a child when all anyone ever wants is to grow up and become an adult?
I walk to the bench and call out her name in baby talk to come eat her snack. She looks at me and runs in the opposite direction toward the slides. I pretend I’m going to chase her, and she climbs up the ladder and slides down the slide. I sit on the bench and open a magazine.
The door to the Playground opens and Carla walks in with her Client, Mr. Allerd, AKA Baby Philip. She’s pushing him in an adult-sized stroller. She gives me a smile and walks to the bench.
“Good to see another Caretaker in here. I’m in need of adult conversation,” she says.
Carla looks at Mr. Allerd and asks if he wants to go play with Baby Ally. Baby Ally looks at him from on top of the slide. He shakes his head and runs over to the sand pit. Baby Ally slides down the slide and walks over to the sand pit.
Carla sits next to me and pulls out her vape and takes a drag. A thick cloud of white vapor floats next to her. “I needed this.”
“Does your mother know you work here?” I ask.
“Fuck no,” she says. “Yours?”
I shake my head no. “I can’t wait to get the hell out of here. I need to get that bonus. So shitty of Management to change the bonus structure now. It’s like they don’t want us to get it.”
“I’m getting it,” Carla lets out a thick cloud of vapor.
“You have an 80?”
“One hundred percent, baby.”
“You have to give them what they want, Becca. Just look at them.” Carla gives Baby Philip a wave.
Baby Phillip takes a toy bucket from Baby Ally’s hands, and she cries. I rush to her side to comfort her. Carla is still on the bench taking another drag from her vape. This is going to affect my score.
The next day, I look at the scorecard. I’m surprised to see I moved into the top 7 scores with a 72%. Baby Ally must not have minded the altercation with Baby Philip. There’s a comment on the survey card. Authentic experience in the playground, it says, enjoyed it very much.
Feeling encouraged I’m determined to ham it up on my next appointment.
On Friday, I find another envelope in my locker. It’s from Management.
Management is excited to notify you that you have qualified for, and therefore earned, the end-of-summer season bonus. Congratulations. Please find included in this envelope the form you will need to complete and file with the bankruptcy court to claim your bonus as well as your payroll check. As per the bankruptcy disclosures all creditors (which you are now one) shall be paid in the order of their filling date. Management suggests filing first thing Monday morning, when the doors of Peek-A-Boo Enterprises will close forever. Management would like you to know that it was your Mayor in the pockets of the Chamber of Commerce and the Concerned Citizens Alliance that drove Peek-A-Boo Enterprises, a wholesome organization catering to the needs of adult clients, out of business due to the large legal fees incurred to defend itself. Good luck. Management.
I look at the schedule. Baby Lou is on the schedule in the Nursery. I unzip the beige breast vest and I walk to the front desk. Clients are at the front desk asking about what the protestors out front are chanting about. Apparently the news of the bankruptcy is out. Protestors are dancing outside.
“What should we do?” I say, but Jen isn’t paying attention. She is frantically answering multiple lines on the phones.
Carla walks out of the Mealtime Room and walks toward me.
“What do we do now?” I say.
“I don’t know. No one has called from corporate. Jen says she’s been trying to get a hold of them to see what this means for us, but they don’t pick up. All she has are instructions for us to finish our shifts and to lock up when we’re done.”
I feel sick to my stomach. I can’t believe I hammed it up for nothing. No bonus, no paycheck. As I considered my future at McDonald’s the door to the Nursery Room opens. Baby Lou stands at the door frame. He’s holding his cell phone and looking at me. He gives me a little smile, the kind that says I know, and he extends his arms toward me.