the best friends you’ll never have

One of the major themes of the series is thirteen as a turning point, the age where one is Grown Up. You can baby-sit at night. You can go steady. You don’t ask your parents for help in 95% of the cases where you really, really should. Mallory and Jessi see thirteen as the magic age where they will get sparkly sweatshirts, contacts, and nose jobs. Shannon Kilbourne even titles the essay that frames her portion of the The Baby-Sitters Remember “Thirteen,” which is a sort-of coming of age story.

Apart from the whole “no sitting at night” thing, Mallory and Jessi actually have a fair amount of autonomy for eleven year olds, especially by today’s Helicopter Parents standard. How many eleven year olds do you know, for instance, who go to New York City to visit a boyfriend? How many eleven year olds are allowed to spend a weekend baby-sitting their siblings? (Sorry, Jessi, but I have to agree with Aunt Cecelia on that one. That’s just plain illegal.)

So one would assume that, despite all the whining from Mal and Jessi, that being eleven in Stoneybrook doesn’t really suck that much. Parents are more than lenient. Despite the fact that the Pikes have nixed the nose job idea, Mallory has more independence than would be considered prudent by commentors on parenting blogs, even the “hip” ones. But the same cannot be said for Mallory and Jessi’s peers. It is, in fact, one of the great mysteries of the BSC.

When we are first introduced to their characters, Tiffany Kilbourne is a sitter and Ben Hobart is Mallory’s Australian doppelganger/boyfriend. (Kind of creepy, if you ask me.) Yet somehow, over the course of the series, they are both on the receiving end of maturity downgrades. Rather than being pissed that the BSC has stolen her and Shannon’s sitting “territory,” Tiffany becomes part of the territory and becomes a BSC client. And Ben shows up at events that the BSC are running/involved with, and there is no mention of the fact that Ben and Mallory go out sometimes.

Sometime after December 1994 (Ben and Mallory have a fight about carolling in SS12), Ben and Mal’s relationship fizzles out. Perhaps all of the fighting about carolling and card catalog usage got to him. He shows up at the Greenbrook Club bathing cap contest. He plays an innkeeper in the church Christmas pageant and pisses off Mallory because he adlibs some Faux-stralian flavor into his lines. There is never any mention that hey, at one time, Ben and Mallory might have looked deeply into each other’s glasses and held each other’s sweaty palms. No, all has been forgotten–the scars from those card catalog/carolling fights go too deep. He is excised from Mal’s Chapter Two segments. The first cut is the deepest, indeed.

Ben has a chance to redeem himself after Mal’s Spaz Girl nervous breakdown, however. He is seen saying that he has tried to reach out to Mallory, but she doesn’t seem very receptive. No, Ben, your flames of love died out long ago. It happened while you were decorating your bathing cap to look like a shark attack.

Tiffany Kilbourne never gets a similar shot of redemption. She becomes a client and stays a client. Sometimes, I think, her age is even downgraded to ten. She’s eleven in The Complete Guide, but I swear she’s mentioned as ten in some places. Anyone with a citation, hit me up in the comments.

Then, in Claudia and the Recipe for Danger, we actually have a twelve-year-old pretty much being sat for by the eleven and thirteen-year-old sitters. He is the second Tyler in the Kids Kitchen thing, and no one ever really notes WHY there’s a twelve-year-old there, and he doesn’t do much. But it’s still alarming.

My conclusion is that really, Mal and Jessi seem to be the only eleven-year-olds in Stoneybrook who are afforded such responsibility. Perhaps if Ben had been smart like Logan (never thought I’d type the phrase “smart like Logan,” BUT SEE WHAT YOU’VE DONE TO ME, GHOSTWRITERS?!), and become an associate member, he could have kept his lady and his adult-ish status. It seems like being in the BSC is the ticket to maturity, and will help you avoid all of the potential pitfalls of adolescence, like acne, gum-chewing, trying cigarettes, and hiding those tiny bottles of wine in your flop socks. Look at what happened to Stacey and Dawn once they leave the comforting bosom of the BSC for Bad Girl-ism and California! Would Dawn have gone to a restaurant that served “more than just tea” (AKA HEAD SHOP IN THE BACK, DUDES) if she were still living with Mary Anne? Of course not.

The time warp works in mysterious ways. It can make you age so that you seem ahead of your years (everyone in the BSC). It can make you age backwards (Tiffany and Ben). Stoneybrook, Connecticut. An idyllic suburb of Stamford, a convenient train ride away from New York City straight into the heart of… THE TWILIGHT ZONE.

UPDATE: Not even bodily injury can stop Ashley from sharing her vast BSC knowledge. Thank you, Ashley!:

From #70, Stacey and the Cheerleaders:
Shannon nodded. “She missed the Terrible Twos. Instead she’s having the Terrible Tens. Even her teachers are complaining.” (p.23)
Tiffany is a ten-year-old version of Shannon – physically, at least. (p.60)

But in #112, Kristy and the Sister War, Tiffany is 11 again, though she is still getting sat for.

16 Responses To This Post

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ashley said, June 7th, 2009 at 12:14 am

I damn near killed myself getting the book to quote (I slid on the dog’s blanket on my hardwood floor and possibly broke my write) but NOTHING gets in the way of BSC.

From #70, Stacey and the Cheerleaders:
Shannon nodded. “She missed the Terrible Twos. Instead she’s having the Terrible Tens. Even her teachers are complaining.” (p.23)
Tiffany is a ten-year-old version of Shannon – physically, at least. (p.60)

But in #112, Kristy and the Sister War, Tiffany is 11 again, though she is still getting sat for.

Now to go nurse my wrist.

ashley said, June 7th, 2009 at 12:15 am

**and possibly broke my WRIST

Apparently, I also broke my brain.

greer said, June 7th, 2009 at 1:06 am

Ashley, you are awesome!

corduroy said, June 7th, 2009 at 10:33 am

Greer? I love your posts.

greer said, June 7th, 2009 at 6:15 pm

Thank you, Corduroy!

nikki said, June 8th, 2009 at 8:45 am

When I was a kid, the BSC time warp thing never bothered me. I just enjoyed the books at face-value. Starting eighth grade fifteen times? Fine. Twenty halloweens? Fine. The ONLY thing that bothered me? The whole 11 year old babysitter thing. I hated it then and hate it now. How difficult would it have been to make Mallory and Jessi twelve instead of eleven???

bbb said, June 8th, 2009 at 3:58 pm

Fanfic idea: Mal/Ben/Vanessa love triangle.

sarish said, June 8th, 2009 at 8:43 pm

I see this everyday at this summer camp I work at. Eleven and twelve year old monitors in charge of twelve and thirteen year old campers.

It drives me nuts. Why doesn’t the coordinator put the twelve and thirteen year old campers in the group with the sixteen, seventeen, and twenty-one year old counselors. The world may never know, but hey! it reminds me of the BSC. Everyday.

As always greer, I love reading your posts. They are always very creative! : )

Helsie said, June 9th, 2009 at 8:48 am

There is also Jay, Lou The Worst Kid Ever’s older brother.

I can’t remember if he’s 11 or 12, but I think he’s 11. He features pretty heavily in Abby and the Best Kid Ever, and is generally considered a ‘charge.’

Stoneybrook is pretty crazy.

Laura @ Hungry and Frozen said, June 14th, 2009 at 4:28 am

I don’t have much to add to this but I loved reading it. The eleven year old as baby sitter thing bothers me now – considering the many, many eleven year olds I’ve met in my time – but when I was younger I just accepted it without thinking. Probably because I was 9 and eleven seemed grownup…

charmecia said, February 26th, 2010 at 7:14 pm

gheesh they complain about going to bed early
man i had a curfew at when i was only 9
man did it feel good
and i could also stay up all night when i was that age too
and as for pierced ears
i got mines pierced since i was 5
(it hurted like hell but it was worth it)
basically those girls are trippin
i was even allowed to wear mini skirts when i was 10
cause my granny(i lived with her all my life)
said i looked good in short skirts
i even began wearing suits at 10 too

JemGrrl said, March 14th, 2010 at 12:09 am

I always wished they were at least freshmen in high school…

charmecia said, March 29th, 2010 at 6:45 pm

same here JemGrrl
but i guess that will never happen

caitaintdead said, October 17th, 2010 at 7:57 am

The eleven year old thing bugged me a little bit. When I was 11 I was smoking, snogging boys at the local park, and occasionally being trusted to watch the next door neighbours kid (4 years old) even though he had an older brother (13). The only reason me and my friend (same age) were allowed to baby sit is because they knew that the parents were around if anything went wrong, and it would shut us up about our BSC fantasies. I was pretty devo when I realised most parents weren’t going to pay a strange 11 year old kid to babysit.

In Australia 13 is a huge deal. It’s the year where you leave primary school and enter high school. 13 was always the year I considered myself a grown up. My interests were boys, clothes, makeup, music and soccer though. Not babies and babysitting! Actually by the time I was 13 and in high school, my fear was of getting pregnant!

» Ben Hobart, Man-Boy of Mystery Stoneybrookite: the best friends you’ll never have said, November 8th, 2013 at 8:29 am

[...] course, the death of Ben Hobart’s and Mallory’s relationship. I wrote about it briefly here, but I’d like to go into more detail [...]

playing_horses said, January 6th, 2014 at 6:02 pm

When I was younger, it never bothered me that Mal and Jessi were treated like sixteen year olds rather than eleven year olds. When I was 9-10 years old, I thought 11 was so sophisticated and mature. By 11, I thought they were being treated like normal eleven year olds–I just thought my parents were overprotective. Now their age is bothering me a LOT. I mean, come on, like a “strict and unreasonable” parent would allow their eleven year old babysit two kids, including a baby for an entire weekend.I wasn’t trusted to babysit until I was in high school. And I could only babysit families I knew. I wasn’t trusted with babies until I was sixteen.

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