On Friday night, my husband and I spent the evening babysitting my nephews so that my sister and her husband could enjoy a much needed night out (read as: going somewhere where they can have a few drinks and the shouting is at hockey players instead of kids). D. and K. are ages 4 and 5 (almost 6), and since babysitting is challenging, outside of my usual scope of activities, and requires some level of creativity, I chalk it up to a blog-worthy experience.
This is not technically my first time at this rodeo, but my visits in the capacity of “babysitter” are limited (I don’t know why – they are always clean and in one piece when I leave). Plus, at their age, their rate of development is lightning-fast, so every time is like I’m babysitting different kids. But we’re not idiots. We can do this! Right?
If it won’t kill them, let them do it.
Each boy stands on a chair on opposite sides of the kitchen island, prepared to “make pizza.” They are polite and patient (a testament to my sister’s take-no-crap style of parenting) as I set out the pre-baked crust and cut open and squirt out the packet of sauce.
“Can we have spoons to spread it around?” Good idea, kid. K. gets out the spoons and we have a short discussion about no licking until sauce spreading is complete. I dole out shredded cheese and pepperoni to each little hand after discovering that if I am holding the bag, no one screams. Score 1 for the Aunt, I’m thinking smugly, as I turn around from putting the pizza into the oven and find D. horizontal on the kitchen island. Teetering on the edge, grinning.
My husband whispers, Should he be doing that? Um, “NO,” I state in my calm-but-firm-I-am-not-amused voice. I think I may also raise my eyebrows and purse my lips a little, when I really want to scream “GET THE HELL OFF OF THE COUNTER!” But I was genuinely worried that he might startle, roll off and break his neck. The husband rescues him, and by this time K. has become transfixed by the television. Fine. At least he will be safe while we prepare the brownie mix (hey, he ain’t my kid and if t.v. keeps him out of trouble, then far be it for me to try to get him to solve algorithms instead.)
I take the first turn stirring when I realize that the wooden spoon in D.’s hands is really just a sure way to whip un-blended brownie mix around the kitchen. D. takes his turn, pokes at the bowl for a while, and then suggests that we give Uncle a turn. How cute! This is going well, I think.
Did you know that blended brownie mix looks like poopie? The Husband thinks this is hilarious. He would.
Subtle threats work. The other side of that worthy coin is bribery.
After reminding K. that I have something for his piggy bank AND suggesting that brownies are only for those who eat dinner, we finally all settle down for pizza. Cocoa the chocolate lab stares longingly, but she never gets table food and is consequently quiet and well-behaved at meal times. So when D. offers his pizza covered hand and she licks it, of course, he smiles, saying, “She loves me.” I reply, “She loves pizza fingers, too,” and he looks a little thoughtful, possibly realizing that he just accidentally fed table food to the dog.
An hour later, brownies are eaten, a round of Candy Land is played, and Cocoa the lab has plied me with her knotted rope five or six hundred times. The boys agree to brush their teeth after depositing their golden dollar coins into their respective banks. D. offers me his toothbrush in case I would like to brush, too; I politely decline. K. offers as well, thinking I may prefer his brush. K. then casually and randomly mentions that D. has a new friend who has brown skin. I say, “That’s interesting. What color is your skin, D.?” He pushes up his sleeve and contemplates his forearm. He is a blonde, blue-eyed imp. “My skin is like wood.”
Yes, we turn on the television. Don’t judge.
The t.v. blares something obnoxious and plot-less, but the boys are moving more slowly and finally allowing Cocoa to lie undisturbed for more than 10 seconds. Narcotic t.v. it is.
K. crawls into my lap and is naming all the pro-football team logos emblazoned on his pajama pants. He knows every single one, and can tell the scores of games played months ago. And he is correct. I decide that I must get this kid a periodic table, and that I am exhausted.
I begin to drift and I think the Husband is playing dead. We’re both terrified that we’ll fall asleep and the boys will be wide awake, doing GOD KNOWS WHAT, so we struggle to remain conscious. It is like trying desperately to appear sober while being quite drunk.
Clean and unharmed.
Caring for children is unparalleled hard work. I’m sure there are child psychology textbooks full of methods to maintain order and find teachable moments at every turn. For the inexperienced, the quick and dirty version seems to be this: Expect them to do the unexpected. Keep them alive. Try not to swear. Let them win games. Forget that there is order in the world. Don’t close your eyes.
We baby-sit for free, not counting the meal, but at home I find stuffed into my purse two drawings of sailboats along with a slip of paper scrawled with “Love, K.”, also a rock with my name on it, an arcade token and a special penny. That’s a pretty good haul for one evening of work.
And nobody cried. Not even the kids.