On a New Campus, Adventures in Babysitting

A true clique in the making from the moment we made our sweaty post-FOP introductions, my first-year roommates determined that we would exist as a pack. The four of us synchronized our alarm clocks. Our Annenberg schedule was timed so we would never have a solo meal.

Even our outfits were coordinated nightly. The a cappella jam you'll experience orientation week was deemed "a black tank top" affair. We collectively agreed to wear khakis to a mixer on the Widener steps. When the annual showing of Love Story was giddily dubbed "skirt night," even I went along with it.

I loved--and still love--my roommates from Holworthy 16, clone tendencies and all. But I realized quickly that I was not one of them. I was their babysitter.

This was a very weird role for me. As the youngest child in my family, I have always been the baby, the one who everyone else takes care of. When I was 13, the one time I attempted to be a big girl and watch a child for a night, I fell asleep and the kid nearly killed herself. I concluded that babysitting wasn't really my calling.

But here I was, five years later, slipping into matching black pants in order to spend nights worrying about how to save my roommates from themselves.

I planned our party itineraries. I made sure they didn't hook up with anyone nasty. I guarded them when they were drunk and walked them home whenever possible. All in all, I had a terrible time.

One evening, two nights before our first day of classes I painfully discovered my babysitting skills had not improved at all since middle school.

Earlier that day, a junior guy I knew told me I should check out a party at the "Swamp" that night. As soon as I told my roomies about the two connecting suites in the I entryway of Kirkland House I, apparently infamous as a party spot, they were sold.

Still being new to the whole Harvard social scene, we found ourselves in front of Kirkland House at 10 p.m. exactly, probably a good hour and a half before the party would really get going.

When we walked through the door, the only things in the room were a makeshift bar and a handful of guys--the ones who lived there.

Faced with relatively few options, I thought I would try my hand at mingling a little bit, while my roomies decided it would be a better idea to just take advantage of the stocked bar as quickly as possible.

More people filtered in, I ran into some people I had met and we talked for a while. By the time I decided to check up on my roommates about a half-hour later, they were completely trashed.

When one of them started embracing everyone who smiled at her, I freaked out. Not entirely sure how to deal with this behavior, I thought it was time to leave the party and head home. But it didn't work exactly like that.

We passed by Ma Soba's big windows on the way back to the Yard, and they spied two guys we knew from Canaday. Our crew stumbled over to their table and I agreed to take a little break from dragging the threesome down the street.

I was completely unprepared for them to plunge their fingers into these guys' bowls and begin eating the noodles, which is exactly what they did. When I tried to stop them, my head became a moving target for projectile pan-Asian food.

Already ticked off for not getting to enjoy the "Swamp," the soggy noodles in my hair did little to improve my mood.

And my night continued to deteriorate. We stalled again behind Tommy's, where assorted drunken antics ensued. At this point I broke into my whiny voice, normally an effective tool.

I thought we were going to be okay when we were headed up Plympton Street and the Yard was in sight. But then an older guy popped his head out of an ornate door and said, "You girls wanna come in?" My hopes crumbled.

Before I knew it, the four of us were inside one of the eight all-male final clubs.

Inside, the building was mostly empty. Five guys offered us glasses of beer from their keg; against my protests, my roommates accepted quite willingly. Then two of the guys offered tours--one from the bottom of the club up and another from the top floor down. As quickly as I could, I flitted from one group to the other, fretting all the way. Sketchiness would not occur on my watch.

After an hour and a half of flipping out, I finally convinced them to leave. But just as we were about to finally get some rest, one roommate jumped a pizza delivery guy and got us a free pie. I gave up on trying to stop her.

Sitting on the stoop outside Holworthy munching on bread and grease, I was disgusted with myself and my vision of freshman year. I would pretend to be like these other girls, who were having the time of their lives, but I would never have fun because I was in constant worrywart mode.

And, for a few months, it was just like that.

Looking back, my roommates probably started growing out of first-year girl syndrome, a common virus, sometime in October. When we went out, they were much less naive about how to protect themselves.

Maybe they needed me that first week. And there were certainly other nights when I fortunately managed to pull them out of a sticky situation. But these were grown women who, really, could take care of themselves. My role became unnecessary.

It took me a good three months to figure out, but college can be a lot of fun if you're not the party monitor. Social life can be extremely confusing for first-years, especially for ones that never really drank in high school.

Alcohol introduces a slew of added dangers and it's vital--especially for girls--to watch out for your friends. When you're watching overgrown teenagers instead of adorable tykes, babysitting loses its charm, but it's a fact of college life. Just don't let it become your entire life.

If you're like my roommates were, try not to overdo it. And if you're like me, be a friend but also realize that college is your chance to have a good time too. Don't waste it by fussing over people who don't really need or want your help.

And every now and then, take your turn at being the baby. Just be responsible about it--a few noodles never hurt anybody.

Victoria C. Hallett '02 is a history concentrator in Winthrop House.