The Baby-Sitters Club & Sex And The City: My Guides To Adulthood

Images courtesy of: HBO and Beacon Communications.
I was the kind of kid who encamped herself in a cushy armchair during slumber parties because — for about a decade — the only thing I really wanted to do was read. Though eventually my literary interests expanded, there was a phase during which one special series captured the majority of my affections: The Baby-Sitters Club. My obsession with these books was legendary among our girl gang. For those not in the know, the BSC chronicles the ongoing adventures of tween (and then teenage) girls in Stoneybrook, Connecticut. Over the course of the 131 books, the club — which began with four best friends, but eventually grew to more — provides the parents of its community with a reliable resource for childcare. But, more than that, the books are about the special bonds between young women and how they help one another celebrate the good times and get through the hard ones, picking up life lessons along the way. I've read all 131, more than once, and kept them in perfectly shelved candy-colored order near my bedside. If a friend wanted to borrow, say, #81: Kristy and Mr. Mom, I made her sign a log and check it out, which in retrospect seems a touch obsessive. Luckily, my BFFAEs were mostly understanding about my neurotic dedication to BSC — perhaps because at least a few of them were equally enthralled. It was hard not to love BSC, if you were a certain type of reader — the type who revels in the simplistic ethos of the series. These are not the complex, wrenching novels of the John Green persuasion: There is a clear morality and sheltered-ness innate to the prose and the characters. It's charming. More than that, it's comforting.

I tried on these personalities, sometimes a few at a time, and along the way the characters helped establish a baseline of who I wanted to be — or, at the very least, who I wanted to be like.

What the books lack in complexity, they make up for with affirmation. In the end, you know that the plot will untangle itself, the girls will be good buddies, and all will be right with the world. As for the characters themselves, each of the core four embodies a simple archetype: Kristy, the plucky tomboy; Mary Anne, the sensitive innocent; Claudia, the unorthodox artist; and Stacey, the ever-enviable cool-chick. These were perfect patterns to model one's burgeoning selfhood upon. During my BSC era, I had days when I channeled Stacey's awesome outfits in real life, and hid candy in weird places like my pencil box, just like Claud. I even tried to get my friends to start our own baby-sitting club, but it didn't work out because no one had their own phone line (or really, the dedication). I tried on these personalities, sometimes a few at a time, and along the way the characters helped establish a baseline of who I wanted to be — or, at the very least, who I wanted to be like. The last BSC books were published in 1999, the same year my girlfriends and I shifted our weekend plans from sleepovers to hanging out in basements with boys. We traded the squeaky-clean novels for adventures of our own, some of them considerably less savory than others, many of which Mary Anne Spier would never have signed off on. My once-treasured books wound up in a garage sale. Kristy and the gang stood still in time, and I moved forward. As BSC retreated into my past, it left a hole that wasn't filled until I discovered another fictional squad. In 1998, I was too young to see the premiere of Sex and The City on HBO, and since we never had cable, it didn't crop up in my life in a meaningful way until college. I spent an unconscionable amount of time my first semester curled up in a student lounge with my hall mates, lost in the drama of a glamorous, cosmopolitan existence I hoped to myself experience one day. Quickly, our watching group slipped back into the slumber-party days.
During the first few SATC episodes, it became clear that the women were cast in familiar molds. Miranda's no-nonsense attitude paired with a penchant for baseball caps, Charlotte's wide-eyed primness, Samantha's constant state of boy-craze, and Carrie's out-of-control closet... They reminded me of something else. Or, rather: Someone else. Turns out, my BSC phase wasn't really over. My fictional childhood friends were all grown up, reincarnated, and — for better or for worse — still supporting one another through life's ups and downs. They were just in a different life phase, with a whole new set of lessons to impart.

Show me a woman who says she isn't sure if she's more of a Carrie than a Miranda, and I'll show you someone who's probably bluffing.

The more I watched, the more ways I saw the show mirror BSC, from the storyline conceits to the mandatory weekly meet-ups. Sure, Carrie and the gals may have been ordering morning French fries at the coffee shop instead of chowing down on pizza in an adolescent bedroom, but the rituals were the same, and the friendship dramas — getting through an illness, struggling with parents, moving across town, breakups and heartbreaks — were variations on the same themes. What's more, the show began to seep into my life in the same way the books did. Suddenly, I was emboldened to wear sequins to lecture halls, and go to frat parties in voluminous taffeta (no kidding, that happened a couple of times). On a more intimate note, Samantha's robust sex life was encouragement to undergo exploratory adventures of my own — curbed, of course, by a few of the Charlotte-approved rules. I'm not alone in this: Show me a woman who says she isn't sure if she's more of a Carrie than a Miranda, and I'll show you someone who's probably bluffing. This isn't to say that women are limited to being Kristy/Miranda, Stacey/Samantha, Mary Anne/Charlotte, or Claudia/Carrie. But, while the characters from the books and the television series — and the archetypes they represent — may be limited, these women are all early sketches of self-definition. With minor exceptions, my slumber-party days are behind me. But I recently came across some old Baby-Sitters Club books at a thrift store, which I bought and am keeping by my bedside again. And sometimes — when I am the sole controller of the remote — I go back and visit the gals somewhere on the Upper East Side of HBO reruns. In the last BSC book — #131: The Fire At Mary Anne's House — the Spier family considers leaving town for good when, as the title suggests, their house burns down. It takes a conversation with one of her best friends to help Mary Anne finally come to terms with the wreckage of her childhood home, and move forward. The final episode of SATC has a similar theme: Carrie, deeply unhappy in Paris, can't admit how she truly feels. Her best friends intervene, and send the love of her life halfway across the world to bring her home. Reliving the endings of both series recently, I was reminded of why I loved them both so much: In a pop culture world filled with stories about women tearing each other down, BSC and SATC were about building one another up. The transition from the girls in the books to the women in the show may not be perfectly seamless, but in certain moments it's absolutely clear where one series left off and the other began.

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