The ladies of The Baby-Sitters Club are clearly independent, driven, responsible women, and the series is about how much they can accomplish together, but it’s also quite clear that their actions and attitudes are very much shaped by their parents. I mean, whose isn’t, especially at that age? Most kids are either rebelling against or influenced by their parents. Five episodes in and you can see it in how the girls view the world and themselves: Claudia felt less-than because her grades never seemed good enough for her parents. Stacey felt ashamed of her diabetes after seeing her mom try to hide it from others. Kristy is fiercely independent after being raised by a single mother but also has deep wounds from her father’s abandonment. And we all know about Mary Anne and Richard. The show chooses to explore this idea of the parent-child relationship head-on in Dawn’s first narrated episode.
Dawn’s mom Sharon is a little … let’s call her spacey, and it seems like many times Dawn has to be the mature one in the relationship. Case in point: The episode begins with Dawn at home, still trying to unpack boxes from their move, waiting up for Sharon to return from her date with Richard. The date seems to go very well, but that’s beside the point. Dawn’s feeling a little lost and alone in her new home, and her mom’s loose, laid-back attitude isn’t helping.
She’s hoping that getting in with the BSC will help those feelings just a little bit. Unfortunately, Kristy isn’t the most welcoming of presidents. Surprise, surprise, right? Obviously, we know that this is because Kristy’s feeling left out now that Mary Anne has Dawn, but to the girls it simply looks like Kristy’s taking her leadership role a little too seriously. When a call comes in from Natalie Barrett, none of the girls want to take the job. Claudia’s broke after the holidays, but not babysit-for-the-Barretts-broke, you know? Kristy explains that Natalie is “in a newly divorced wrecking-ball stage,” and when Dawn calls that “reductive,” I hollered because bless these children. Oh, and also, Kristy has an idea: Dawn can watch the three Barrett kids as a trial run for membership in the BSC. Kristy clearly wants Dawn to fail, but our Cali girl is optimistic. After all, she knows how to handle messy mothers going through divorce.
Dawn may have overestimated her powers as a messy mother-whisperer because wow, wow, wow, guys, Natalie is a lot to handle. Dawn walks in, and the kids are screaming, the baby is crying, the house is a mess, and Natalie is more worried about being prepared for her commercial audition than anything else. You know what, Nat? Your outfit does look more “my ex has a jet” than “business executive using a travel website to book a last-minute getaway,” so there. Anyway, Dawn won’t say it, because she’s a sweetheart, but this whole situation is a shitshow.
Dawn is the consummate babysitter, however, and by the time Natalie returns, the entire house is cleaned and she is reading a book to the kids. This plan of course backfires, because now Natalie wants her to sit all the time. Natalie and her three monster children consume Dawn’s life. It’s really not healthy. Still, Dawn knows that if she gives up, she’d be giving up a chance to join the club and have a real community here in Stoneybrook. She’ll try her best with the Barretts, but she also has a second phase to her plan to win Kristy over: Butter that girl up. She invites Kristy over to “teach” her the ways of babysitting, which means that Kristy will feel included and needed. The babysitting 101 session, which includes instructions to always make grilled cheese with mayo on the outside, goes well until Dawn gets a video call from her dad and his boyfriend and explains that she and her dad chat almost every day. Kristy gets weird and leaves.
The next time Dawn’s at the Barrett house to babysit, things are even more chaotic than usual, and after Natalie leaves for her cryogenic-freeze facial, Dawn realizes that Buddy, the oldest Barrett, is missing. She is understandably freaking the fuck out. He had mentioned that he wanted to hang out with David Michael Thomas earlier, so Dawn could call Kristy and see if that’s where he went, but doing so might jeopardize her inclusion in the BSC. Dawn knows she needs to make the right choice: She calls Kristy, Buddy isn’t there, but she comes over to help Dawn figure this out. Dawn also knows that despite her mom’s flightiness, she also needs her. By the time the police get involved, who should walk in but Buddy … with his father. It was his dad’s day to take Buddy to swimming, and Natalie just forgot to tell Dawn. For all the griping Natalie does about her ex, he sure seems like a lovely and doting father, and he is beyond sorry for the mixup. This is good news! This should be celebrated! Instead, Dawn finds Kristy in the kitchen punching bags of chips like she’s Hulking out or something.
It takes a little prodding, but Kristy eventually opens up to Dawn: All of these dads want to spend time with their kids — Mr. Barrett, Dawn’s father — but Kristy dad ditched her and hasn’t even called in a year and a half. It’s awful. But Dawn reminds Kristy that there is a long list of people who do want to be in her life, and that includes Dawn. I guess we’re all just crying in a kitchen full of destroyed bags of chips now, aren’t we?
You know what’s not awful? How this show can go from cute and plucky to tackling heavy subject matter in a serious way without missing a beat. It’s not hard to figure out why these tonal shifts never feel muddled or awkward: Because everything done on this show is done with heart. Listen, I know how cheesy that sounds, but it’s the truth, and let’s be honest, a heartfelt show full of people to root for is exactly what my soul needs right now.
Anyway, Dawn becomes an official member of the BSC — she’s the alternate officer — and she and Kristy become actual friends. Can you even believe? Also, after getting a glimpse at how the Barretts function and what Kristy’s parents are like, Dawn has a new perspective on her mom and parents in general. While having fondue on the floor one evening, Dawn gets a call from Natalie — but Sharon picks it up first. She puts the woman in her place, reminding her that Dawn’s just a kid and that she needs to get her life together. When Dawn tells her mother that she could’ve done that for herself, Sharon replies, “I’m your mom, and once in a while I want to take care of you.” Dawn loves her mom, wackiness and all, because as the wise-beyond-her-years tween notes, “Parents are just older weirdos doing the best they can, just like the rest of us.” Dawn, you have no idea.
Unfortunately, not all child-parent relationships are going so well these days. Just when you think Mary Anne and Richard have figured things out, their relationship implodes.
A major part of Mary Anne coming into her own was, yes, her physical makeover — but another part of what she wanted to change was her bedroom. It still looks like it did when she was a child. Well, a much younger child. You get it. All the girls, aside from Kristy (her “helpful” suggestions are to make it navy blue or go with a Broadway musical theme), are super into this remodel project, and even Sharon wants to help. Richard is a bit apprehensive, but he did promise Mary Anne she could make some changes. Unfortunately, when he walks in on Sharon and the girls making those changes — which includes ripping down the wallpaper border and taking the framed Humpty Dumpty painting off the wall — Richard gets upset. He kicks them all out. This has gone too far. He has no words for Sharon as she walks out. Afterward, Mary Anne won’t even speak to her father, which is three thousand times worse than her yelling at him. It’s especially tough to stomach since OBVIOUSLY Richard is sensitive about this stuff because it is all tied to his late wife. And then we find him crying while looking at photos of Mary Anne’s mom hanging up that freaking Humpty Dumpty painting and now I’m going to go smash some bags of chips and sob because Richard is precious and Mary Anne is precious and those two need to COMMUNICATE BETTER.
• So before the bedroom makeover tragedy, Sharon and Richard are really hitting it off. After their great first date, they run into each other at the grocery store and engage in the most awkward yet delightful “flirting” you could hope for. They decide to have dinner together with their daughters and attempt to flirt once again while discussing kitchen aprons. It is a glorious time for all involved!
• Of course, there are some signals that Richard and Sharon aren’t exactly on the same page: During dinner, Dawn is allowed to use her phone but Mary Anne is not. “Different families, different rules.” It seems insignificant at the time, but now we know what it leads to.
• Wow, Liz Thomas coming in hot with the judgements, huh? When she hears Sharon is dating Richard she can barely contain her laughter. Sharon sticks up for Richard — erm, Richie — but dang, Liz. It’s not like Watson is perfect! Remember how excited that dude got over his whispering gallery?
• “Adults flirt by talking about ancient grains.” I mean, yes.