I could dramatically declare, “It happened again,” but my name isn’t Phil, I’m not calling from Thailand, and there’s no Hangover from 2 hours with my nephews K. and D. Our zany adventure in babysitting this past February was a night confined indoors at my sister’s home; this time, the boys were delivered to our home on a gorgeous Friday evening, bikes in tow.
They arrive and get right to work on coloring animal pictures with crayola markers. Typical of a 4 and 6 year old whirlwind, I’m not even sure how they found the coloring materials as our child-free home generally doesn’t have that kind of thing lying around, but their sixth sense for playthings (and for off-limits situations) is strong.
D. has completely saturated a picture of a dog with brown crayola marker (really, the paper is damp), not to mention the smudgy brown fingers and forearms. I remember one of my survival rules from prior experience – If it won’t kill them let them do it. Crayola is non-toxic, right? No worries. K. puts the finishing touches on a perfectly colored green alligator, signing his name as well as addressing the work of art to me. Brown pools of crayola on one side, colorist perfection on the other. This seems about right.
Take it Outside
We take the boys outside for pre-dinner playtime. Our backyard is smallish, fenced and landscaped without children in mind, but we have room for “Pitching,” (i.e.: I pitch a wiffle ball and they hopefully will not hit it too far). Game on.
K. is actually a pretty good ball player for six years old. Organized T-Ball this spring has been, well, child’s play for him. While many of the other tiny players are rolling around in the grass, K. is routinely hitting the ball out of the infield, running the bases like Jeter, and is on his way to winning the Golden Glove of his T-Ball league (if they kept score. As a side note, I’m not sure I agree with this whole “no keeping score, everyone bats every inning” school of thought. Yes, they are just small kids. But I know one small kid who can tell you the “un-kept” score if you ask him.)
Swing for the Fences
Fortunately, there is not a lot of fielding to do thanks to this Aunt’s bad-ish pitching. K. connects enough times to be happy, while D. has to be extricated from the picket fence over and over again. No wonder he isn’t wailing for a turn at bat. But then wait, what’s this? Do kids multiply?? Oh, that’s just the three neighbor kids, sensing children at play only one yard away. They are a boy aged 9, two girls aged 7 and 5, and are led by the spunky five year old baby sister. She prepares to scale the fence (D.’s kindred spirit), but from the “pitcher’s mound” I am able to extol the safety and virtue of walking around the front of the house to the gate.
Through all of this, the Uncle is taking his turn with an adult beverage, enjoying the patio and occasionally advancing on D. to hasten his disengagement from the fence. Hmmm. “Who’s thirsty?” I shout. They all are, of course. Good thing I have chilled an arm-load of Capri Sun.
I have pitched and fielded the wiffle ball about a thousand times. Luckily, my little neighbor friends love the game of “retrieve the ball hit into the other neighbor’s yard;” no crying or squabbling, unless you count the debate between me and D. over, yes, fence climbing. Everyone gets a turn at-bat, except for me because this game is “for the kids.” I don’t bother pointing out to my oppressor, K., that his beloved Yankees are all grown ups, because really I’m exhausted, hungry and it’s my turn to have an adult beverage.
The Uncle opted for dinner preparation with the other choice being “watch the kids.” Our neighbor friends go home with the promise of return (joy), and we head indoors for a kid-friendly dinner of hot dogs, strawberries and pretzels. Within seconds D. has made his way into the dining room and dragged our $200 arts & crafts-style handmade bowl centerpiece to the edge of the table looking for the strawberries. I can’t herd them to the porch fast enough, where they stay still for a few minutes (thank you tiny porch t.v. and Disney channel).
K. opts for no bun while D. requests a bun and that his hot dog be cut up. Huh? When I ask for clarification, he leaves out a few details (“cut it, please, with a knife”), so I call in his brother for a translation. K. shows us that the hot dog goes into the bun, with ketchup, and the whole thing is sliced into 2 inch pieces – essentially creating mini-hot dogs. Why not.
I have never seen D. eat an entire meal, so while skeptical I am willing to try anything to encourage him, as I assume my sister would do. He declares that I make the best hot dogs (er, thanks Uncle). [Later, when I proudly tell my sister that D. ate his whole dinner because Uncle cut up his hot dog the way he likes it, she looks at me like I’m crazy, saying, “we’ve never done it that way, I don’t know where he got that from.” Indeed.]
Hit the Road
These good boys clean their plates, so we take them for a bike ride up and down our sidewalks. Uncle rides along on his bike and I take up the rear on foot (adult beverage + bicycle = probably not a good idea). When D.’s front tire enters the street, I experience the terrifying irrational assumption that a speeding car is imminent, even though we are safely at the far-end of our dead-end street. My own mother’s power of suggestion on the dangers of riding your bike in the street clearly endures after 30 years.
After a couple laps, we go back to the house to pack it in when the boys notice the tandem bike in our shed, our fifty year old Schwinn garage sale treasure. Riding a tandem bicycle is not easy, particularly since it’s been 2 years since I’ve been on any bike, and especially since I’ve had my turn with an adult beverage. But they are adamant. We must ride that bike alongside them.
The Aunt and Uncle locate bike helmets while D. rings the doorbell a few dozen times. We mount up – I am Goose to Uncle’s Maverick. I suspect a ride in an F-14 Tomcat is smoother and less dangerous than our tandem bike voyage. The pavement seems so close and gravelly, I am completely reliant on the Husband to steer us true, and I’m trying to keep an eye on the boys. Bike rides are FUN.
Mommy returns just as dusk settles. We get in two more marker-colored drawings for the road, load up the bicycles (D. is still wearing his helmet), and start the goodbyes. The boys had a great night and made new friends. I got hibachi leftovers and a ball stuck in my tree. The husband and I chow down a bowl of popcorn and pass out. That was a hot Friday night!
Next week: More Letterpress!