Old Wives' Tales
Radio & TV
Toxin du jour
Legend: Babysitter quiets her charges by gassing them.
Origins: The oldest print sightings of "Gassing the kid to quiet him" tales we know of date to the early 1950s, but folks recollect having heard these stories as far back as the 1920s and 1930s.
Once again, the biggest parental concern about leaving Junior in the care of another is given voice through this legend: Can that other person really be trusted? Absentee parenthood is cautioned against in this tale, lest it lead to one's own children being left in the care of someone who might either callously or just unknowingly endanger them. In this case, while a whiff of gas might not prove fatal to a hardy infant, just a little bit more and Junior won't ever be waking up from his
Early versions of this legend focus on live-in or steady hired help: the maid, nanny, or housekeeper who is charged with the care of the child on a day-to-day basis. More modern tellings have shifted to the most feared childcare provider of them all, the barely-known teenage babysitter who is hired for the evening.
Almost without fail, the damning admission is overheard on public transportation (a bus, a trolley, or a subway car), a venue that makes it impossible for the eavesdropper to determine where these girls live, let alone whom they work for. The gassing sitters appear just the one time, then are never seen again.
This story is often trotted out by those intent upon stressing the need to properly supervise childcare providers.
Barbara "no propane, no gain" Mikkelson
Sightings: In the 1977 Marilyn French novel The Women's Room, the character named Bliss admits to drugging her children with tranquilizers when her married lover is coming over.
Last updated: 27 July 2005
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