(Author’s note: While going through an article on The Baby-Sitters Club Wiki, I realized that Mallory went off to boarding school near the end of the series. This is well past when I stopped reading, so I retconned that nonsense out. You will probably notice I retcon a lot, either because things happened after I stopped reading, or because I just plain forgot.)
“Today’s inspiration,” Misty held her arms up in the air like a televangelist as she said these two words, “I want you to write about your friends from childhood. Think about how to describe their essence.” Her hands turned to fists with the word “essence,” and I thought, once again, if I hadn’t already paid for this damn course, I could have dropped out. “Think about what they looked like, what they smelled like. Make them our friends, too.”
I grit my teeth and doodled a few curse words in the corner of my planner. Usually the writing workshops at the Stamford Public Library weren’t terrible. I’d done a six-week screenwriting class that resulted in half of a screenplay that I never planned to do anything with but really helped me punch up my plotting.
Despite it’s dubious name, Wow-Worthy Writing seemed like it could have potential: Make your stories come alive with better details! But even I, MFA-school dropout, could have taught this class better.
Here is my description of Misty Newberg, teacher of creative writing: she looks like a telephone psychic has decided to lead fiction classes. She was slightly more aggravating than Professor Trelawney from Harry Potter. She showed me that apparently there was a market for pastel tie-dyed mumus. She smelled like Dove soap, which I found surprising because, let’s be honest, I thought she’d smell like an illicit substance, or at LEAST generic patchouli cologne.
The rest of the class bowed their heads towards their notebooks or computers and steadfastly began writing. I sighed, opened a new Word document, and followed suit.
Up until my tweens, my closest friends were my siblings– or, rather, it was hard to avoid them. I’m the oldest of eight, so there was always someone I had to be paying attention to, whether I wanted to or not. Then, at 11, I joined the local babysitting company a girl from my town had started up, called The Baby-Sitters Club (or “BSC” for short). I’d say that was the point when I really had a “set” of friends, and we still see each other to this day– nobody lives farther than downtown Stamford.
My absolute best friend over the years has been Jessi, who moved to Stonybrook from a suburb in New Jersey around the time I joined the BSC.
We bonded over a mutual love of horse books and the fact that we were both oldest siblings. She was one of the only black kids in Stonybrook, but what I thought made her really stand out was the fact that she was such a great dancer that she went all the way to Stamford for ballet lessons. She was what you’d imagine a dancer would look like, even at 11: tall and lithe, moving with an ethereal smoothness that NOBODY has during puberty (or, for some of us, even after). While most of the girls I knew were spraying themselves with sweet and innocuous Cucumber Melon or Sun-Ripened Raspberry Body Splash from Bath and Body Works, she seemed somehow more mature, more elegant, for her dedication to Freesia.
I suppose most of those character traits (minus the Body Splash preference) are still true: She’s slightly taller, similarly lithe (although more muscular), and still exudes a calm steadiness that sets her apart from the rest of our frenetic friends. She ruined her knee in a skiing accident our senior year of high school, which pretty much ended her chances as a professional dancer, but she does own a small dance studio in Stonybrook. She is the only human being who uses the public library more than I do, and has a bit of an addiction to historical fiction. Doesn’t matter how bad the book is– if there is the back of a woman (or women) in period dress walking into the distance on the cover, she will read it. She’s married to a data scientist and has an eighteen month old who, at the moment, seems to be missing all of his mother’s grace, but that seems about par for the course.
My “secondary” best friend is Claudia Kishi, whom I’ve known even longer than Jessi, but we didn’t really become close until college. Not only was she two years older than me (like most of my friends), but she was incredibly cool. Her fashion sense and creativity would have put every Project Runway All Star to shame, even as a teenager: thoughtful layers, playing with color, avant garde jewelry. She had her own phone– with her own phone line– when the rest of us still had to pray that we could stretch our family’s corded handsets to the privacy of our bedrooms. She held her first art show at 13. Needless to say, me, the nerdy redhead who wore a wide-variety of t-shirts with nature scenes on them, was not her best friend.
Then we went to the same small arts college (her for illustration, me for creative writing), and there’s a very strong bond that grows from a shared understanding of what it’s like to go into extensive debt for a degree that only gets you a $30k/year job out of your sheer love for that career path. (Or what you think is your sheer love for that career path, until you discover bills.) As an adult, she still wears funky clothes, like rompers covered in dinosaurs or shark leggings, plus has a full sleeve of Takashi Murakami images tattooed on her left arm and a variation on Utagawa Kunisada II’s The Dragon on her right ribcage (as an homage to her Japanese heritage). She’s seriously lacking in executive functioning abilities– I don’t think she even understands the basic concept of time– but can remember every minute detail from a Nancy Drew novel she read 20 years ago.
Besides Jessi and Claudia, there were four other girls in our main group. Kristy was the leader growing up; when she was 12, she came up with the Baby-Sitters Club, which, essentially, was Uber for babysitters (well, using a landline). Back in those days, it was still okay to call a girl like Kristy “bossy,” although now we stick to words like “assertive.” She eventually graduated from “tomboy” to “New England lesbian,” which meant she’s kept to the same uniform of jeans, sports t-shirts, and baseball caps for three decades and running. Her hair stays in a perpetual ponytail. and I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen her wear make-up. All of this is especially funny, since her mother married a multi-millionaire when Kristy was 13, and, in theory, you’d think that would have resulted in her spending more attention to her appearance in order to fit in with the upper-echelon of society… Instead, she just has a lot of overpriced sneakers.
Kristy’s best friend is Mary Anne. They’ve known each other since they were toddlers. Mary Anne is actually the hardest person for me to describe, I think. As a kid, she always waited to see other people’s reactions, spoke only after others had spoken, cried easily. We said she was sensitive because she lost her mother at a young age, although now, looking back, I imagine she would have been that way regardless. She’s still sweet and quiet and… not somebody I understand particularly well, to be honest. She married her high-school boyfriend, stayed at home with her kids, and became a bit of a Stepford wife, making ridiculous gluten-nut-seed-dairy-free treats for classes and hand-sewing Halloween costumes and whatnot. Her wardrobe is entirely Ann Taylor Loft. She is single-handedly keeping Nora Roberts in business. The high-school boyfriend recently left her and their kids, so it’s anybody’s guess as to what she’ll be like once things settle.
Then there’s Mary Anne’s stepsister, Dawn, who is the only person I can think of who would vote for Marianne Williamson in the 2019 Democratic primary. She’s from California originally, which when we were kids meant she was vegetarian before anyone else was, and her family actually took things to the recycling center in the 80s and 90s, since nobody had recycling pickup at that point and they cared that much about the environment. As kids, Dawn had long, honey-blonde hair and a perpetual tan; she eventually went through a dreds-and-nose-ring phase in her early 20s, and, currently, only washes her hair with apple cider vinegar and baking soda, which, for some reason, makes it look even more shiny and beautiful. She prides herself on getting all her clothes from thrift stores and, when she still had a Facebook, posted plenty of memes about why nature was better for depression than medication. She tends to think that if an idea is counterculture, it must be right, because conspiracy theories. She works full-time as a massage therapist.
(If you can’t tell, I’m not super close to Dawn, although Jessi goes to her regularly for massages and keeps me updated on Dawn’s latest beliefs because Jessi finds it funny to watch me rant.)
Finally, there’s Stacey. We thought she was SO COOL in middle school because she’d moved from New York City, and I still kind of feel that way about her, even though she’s lived in Connecticut for over twenty years, even counting the time she went to college and grad school. She always seemed effortlessly chic with her permed blonde hair, baggy sweatshirts, and leggings. Heck, she even seemed chic when everybody switched over to absurdly baggy pants and flannel in high school, when the rest of us looked like farmers who’d lost their way to the feed store. Stacey’s existence has meant that I’ve never had the good fortune of being able to believe people can be pretty or smart, but not both– she has a PhD in acoustical engineering for architecture, which, from what I understand, means she’s working on making restaurants less loud. She has a lot of money and lives in a beautiful condo in Stamford and has a boyfriend who could be an underwear model and good God why won’t this writing session end?
I looked up. “Well, somebody seems to have been inspired by the writing prompt!” Misty exclaimed, and I realized everyone was staring at me– worse, they were all smiling that I had been so inspired by Misty’s amazing guidance. There was scribbling on the white board that had not been there before, and I wondered exactly how zoned out I’d been.
Eventually, I shrugged and said, “I guess I had a lot of friends as a kid.”
© 2019 Kat Setzer. This page has no affiliation with Ann M. Martin, Scholastic, or any other entity involved with the Baby-Sitters Club Series. Original photo in cover © 2019 contrastwerkstatt from Adobe Stock Images.