What ‘The Baby-Sitters Club’ taught me about growing up and making friends

When I moved from bustling, culture-saturated New Orleans to Daytona Beach, Fla. in 1995, I was 10 years old. I was just getting over having chicken pox, and was going into my last year of elementary school. This meant I not only had to make entirely new friends, but I’d potentially only go to the same school as them for a year – which is what actually ended up happening, since the middle school I ended up going to was across town. As a fairly shy kid, I had to get creative if I wanted to make new friends. History told me that my impressive collection of pogs, ability to rap the entire bridge of TLC’s “Waterfalls,” and mad skills in Donkey Kong Country on the SNES could only get me so far.

Luckily, I already had seven mobile best friends courtesy of a monthly subscription to The Baby-Sitters Club, which came with a newsletter and four books. And on August 18, 1995, 20 years ago today, Kristy, Claudia, Mary Anne, Stacey, Dawn, Jessi, and Mallory made their big-screen debut, giving me something to look forward to that summer as I was settling into my new life in Florida and preparing to open myself up to a totally unfamiliar environment. Twenty years later, I’m still in Florida (albeit Orlando) and will still preach my love for the BSC to anyone who will listen.

Though it’s been two decades since the movie was released, I still carry so many lessons from these girls with me today. So in honor of the 20th anniversary of The Baby-Sitters Club being released in theaters, here are the top 20 things I learned by being an honorary member of the club (even if only in my mind).

Being a preteen/teenager is hard

The BSC members are 13 years old, with the exception of the junior members Jessi and Mallory, who are 11. These seven girls’ stories spawned 131 regular novels, 15 Super Specials, 40 mysteries, and even more companion novels, each with their own unique problem for the girls to solve. And this was in a small town in Connecticut. Take notes, parents: being a teenager means hundreds of serious issues and apparently also a lot of ghosts and other creepiness.

There are two sides to every story (or in this case, seven sides)

Each book is written from the point of view of one of the girls (or, in the case of the Super Specials, the chapters switch among the girls, which is really cool). This was one of my favorite parts of the series, because you get to see events unfold in such a different way based on the personality of the character the book is primarily about. Talk about sneakily setting young girls up to be able to see problems from other people’s points of view. You sly dog, Ann M. Martin.

Mean girls having feelings too

One of my favorite quotes is from Plato, and it’s, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.” The Cokie Masons and Shannon Kilbournes of the world are people, too – and most of the time, their less-than-savory words and behavior are a reflection of how they feel about themselves, not about you. So remember that, be kind, and who knows? Some of those people may end up being your best friends (like Shannon Kilbourne).

Kids are more grown-up than they seem 

Sometimes it’s hard for me, as an impatient adult, to remember that kids are people too – especially when I’m feeling brave enough to venture out into Walt Disney World during high tourist season and their vocabulary seems to consists of only the words “Want!”, “No!”, and loud shrieks. But really, they’re just excited, and they’re being kids. Toddlers don’t understand why using Fork A instead of Fork B to eat their breakfast is not temper-tantrum worthy. Be patient, and you’ll see that even the klutziest kids like Jackie Rodowsky have something to say.

Animals are so rad

The day I devoured the book in which Mary Anne gets her kitten Tigger was the day I knew I could never live without a cat. Kristy’s loss of her dog Louie made me feel just how terrible losing a pet could be – and how it’s OK to grieve over it. Pets are family too.

Fashion sense is relative

Claudia rocks earrings shaped like food and wears the most fluorescent, bold colors just because it’s Tuesday. Stacey is much more chic and NYC in her fashion choices. Dawn is constantly referred to as “California Casual.” Each girl has her own style that works for her, which taught me the only person I had to answer to with my style choices was myself.

Maturity comes to different people at different stages

Not all 11-year-olds are mature enough to baby-sit, but Mallory and Jessi are. This said to me that, at 10, I could choose to be responsible if I wanted to – and that I deserved to be treated as such and not a kid who didn’t know how to handle anything, as long as I acted accordingly and understood the world existed beyond my personal bubble. Empowering!

You don’t have to pretend to be someone you aren’t for someone to like you

While today I’d consider myself a pretty decent mix of Kristy, Dawn, and Mary Anne, in the ’90s I was a solid Mary Anne. My girl has a hard time with social interaction and isn’t the most fashion-forward eight-grader at Stoneybrook Middle School. She’s considered smart and quiet, and though she’s soft-spoken, she refuses to change herself for anyone. But the cute new guy from Kentucky, Logan Bruno, notices her anyway. This taught me that boys who were worth my time would notice me for who I was, and not for someone I tried to pretend to be.

It’s OK to take risks, even if you’re not a risky person.

One of Mary Anne’s biggest coming-out-of-her-shell moments is when she cuts her braided pigtails into a bob, and is one of the things that pushed me to try this for my own hair when I was in ninth grade. While for me it didn’t turn out as well as it did for Mary Anne, it was a risk I probably wouldn’t have taken without her guidance and leading jump. Thanks, Mary Anne!

Hard work is rewarding – but failing is OK, and necessary for growth.

The books don’t skate over the fact that these girls have to work hard for what they want, even though sometimes they still fall flat on their faces. Claudia has to study her butt off to pass her classes, since she isn’t the most academically adept. But when she gets a good grade, it’s worth it, even though it doesn’t always happen. Jessi is always at dance class and has to put in a lot of time and effort to be taken seriously as a dancer, and she eventually gets into an amazing dance program in NYC (though she turns it down). Hard work does pay off.

You never know what challenges other people are facing

Stacey, the most chic and arguably mature BSC member, has diabetes. This is touched on a lot throughout the series, and shows that even people who seem to be perfect on the outside may have things going on that you may not know or understand. The important thing is to be kind to everyone, no matter what, because again – their life has difficulties, too. And absolutely NO ONE is perfect.

Jealousy is normal, but learning to control it is super important

The other girls look up to BSC Vice President Claudia because she always has a stash of junk food (much to health-food nut Dawn’s dismay), the coolest fashions, a huge talent for art, and her own private phone line. But too-cool-for-school Claudia is also prone to jealousy – namely, over Stacey’s NYC best friend Laine and Mallory’s own artistic talent. The books do a great job of touching on the importance of recognizing these feelings and dealing with them with kindness and an open mind instead of letting them fester and make you bitter.

Chocolate = amazing, duh

Speaking of Claudia’s junk-food obsession, she knows what’s up when it comes to making problems seem smaller: Just bust open a bag of Snickers minis from one of your 39287 hiding places throughout your bedroom and pass that baby around. Even Dawn breaks down in the New York Super Special and has a piece of gourmet chocolate, admitting it’s the greatest thing ever. Chocolate will always fix everything for a limited time, ladies – whether you’re 13 or 33. I wonder how Claudia feels today about Nutella.

It’s easy to make the most of a situation if you look at it in the right way

I’m going to use this opportunity to mention the Little Sister books, which I actually started reading before the BSC books when I was bit younger. These books star Karen Brewer, Kristy’s younger half-sister, and chronicle the adventures of Karen and her younger brother Andrew as they spend time between their mom and dad’s vastly different houses and lives.

And while her parents’ divorce could be the worst thing to ever happen, Karen literally rips her security blanket in two pieces to keep one piece at the “big house” and one piece at the “little house.” She has two pairs of glasses – one pink, one blue – that she wears depending on which house she’s at. “Karen Two-Two,” as she affectionately calls herself, taught me to look on the bright side of life and make the best out of situations – especially those you have no control over. Pretty amazing level of maturity for a seven-year-old.

Vacationing with your friends is the most fun 

The BSC takes trips to Sea City, New Jersey (which I think is the fictional version of Atlantic City); New York; California; and more throughout the series, and they do it together. What kind of shenanigans are fun to get into without your best friends by your side? Not many. And even if they are, having your best friends there to live them with you is much better than telling them a story about it later. Yearly girls’ trips should be a staple for everyone.

Running a business isn’t easy (but it’s rewarding and worth the work)

I tried to start a baby-sitting business countless times when I was a kid, but no one wants to hire an 11-year-old to baby-sit their kids in real life. Also, I think I was expecting a few marker-written flyers to do the trick and it just didn’t.

Starting a business isn’t easy, y’all. But when I try to open my own LLC within the next few years, you bet your butt I’ll be channeling my inner Kristy Thomas to make it happen – complete with my own private phone line a la Claudia Kishi.

Siblings will drive you crazy and make you better at the same time

Mallory Pike has all my sympathy. She is the eldest of eight children, with the next-eldest being triplet boys. I couldn’t do it, but this girl does it AND baby-sits them all on the regular. And while the books from Mallory’s point of view make no secret of how difficult it is to rally seven siblings at 11 years old, Mallory also takes time to talk about how her siblings inspire her – like her nine-year-old sister Vanessa, who is an aspiring poet. A few of the girls even aside from Mallory (mostly Claudia and Kristy) taught me that having a sibling is a blessing, even when sometimes it might feel like a curse. He/she is a built-in best friend for life who’ll always be there for you.

Hanging around people who are vastly different from you will give you a whole new look at life

Each girl has something to give the others: Stacey is great with math and fashion. Dawn brings a little bit of a laid-back atmosphere. Mary Anne is constantly armed with patience to rival Kristy’s insanely competitive nature. Claudia is always bringing the fun, while Mallory and Jessi are ambitious sponges to carry on the knowledge of the five older members to the next generation of babysitters. Letting your friends in and listening to what they have to say is the best way to ensure you’ll grow into a unique human to contribute something meaningful to the world.

The goofy/awkward one is usually a keeper

A guy (or gal!) who isn’t afraid to be silly in front of you and make a fool of himself to earn your affection is someone you don’t want to let go of. I wonder if Dawn ever figured that out. I hope they’re married now. I need a BSC reunion series, stat.

Real friends will always have your back

Growing up and apart is difficult. But I’m lucky enough now to have girlfriends outside of the BSC girls whom I can talk to like nothing has changed after we’ve been apart for a long time. These are my real friends – and I wouldn’t change that for the world.

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