Punishment by Babysitting
I have come to believe that during a woman’s pregnancy a special “Mommy” hormone is activated. This hormone contains the genes of extreme patience and the ability to translate baby talk, crying, whining and shrilling noises into English. Moreover, this hormone also contains a homing device that disallows the mommy from running away from home out of pure frustration.
For those of us who do not have children and have not spent an enormous amount of time around them, we are at a loss regarding how to speak to and entertain them. We erroneously think that we can handle anything they have to dish out. After all, we deal will all types of people, personalities, and situations everyday. How difficult could it be?
Nancy, a good friend of mine, ran into a bind regarding babysitting arrangements and asked me to “sit” with her kids for a few hours. My afternoon was free and I wanted to be helpful, so I said, “Sure.” After all, how difficult could it be? I quickly learned the answer to that question.
On Saturday afternoon, Nancy dropped off Nick, age five, and Samantha, age two and a half, along with a bag filled with toys, videos, books, crayons and assorted Disney underwear. Nancy told Nick and Samantha to be good and listen to my instructions. Nancy assured me that she would return in two hours and rambled on with instructions. How difficult could this be? I laughed to myself. I assured Nancy not to worry as I walked her to the door and said good-bye.
Through the window, the kids watched their mommy drive away, abandoning them for the afternoon. When Nancy’s minivan was out of sight, Nick and Samantha turned around and looked at me with pouting expressions that said, “Now what? Entertain me!” Samantha crossed her arms across her little body. Nick started fingering an expensive crystal figurine. They stared at me. It was eerie.
Now what? I thought to myself. I remembered reading somewhere that it is important to get down to the children’s level. Eye to eye. So, with a big smile, I leaned over, put my hands on my knees and asked, “So, what would you like to do?”
They looked at one another and shrugged their little shoulders. Soon Samantha’s eyes started welling up with tears and she started that cranky, pre-tantrum, bouncing move. Her lower lip began to protrude and then quiver. I feared what came next. It wasn’t long before a crying tantrum ensued. Samantha started first. Nick observed his sister and then told me that I was a mean lady for making her cry. He raised his little fist and swung it at me and then, within seconds, began to cry himself. Now what? It had only been five minutes since Nancy left. This was going to be a long afternoon.
At first, I tried being reasonable “C’mon guys, give me a break. I understand that you miss your mommy but she’ll be back soon.” Then, I pleaded. “Please stop crying. We’ll do anything you want to do.” I tried bribery. “I’ve got ice cream in the kitchen.” Finally, I gave up. “If you want to cry, go right ahead. I’ve got other things to do. Let me know when you’re done.”
Suddenly the crying stopped. I wasn’t sure if it was my clever unintentional use of reverse psychology or if they just had become dehydrated. Whatever the reason, I wasn’t going to analyze it. I was just hopeful that the crying portion of our afternoon was over. Besides, I had suddenly and miraculously become their best friend. They wanted me to sit on the floor and play with them.
Nick and Samantha unloaded the bag of crafts, toys and videos that Nancy had brought with them. They insisted on playing with everything all at one time. I read a book about a caterpillar to them as they watched a video, drew on my antique coffee table and played with plastic action figurines. As quickly as it had begun, it was over. Within five minutes they were bored. They stared at me again. When I suggested that they clean up their toys, they looked at me in utter disbelief. It was as if I had asked them to give up snacks and all of their toys for the sake of world peace.
I noticed that Nick was cupping and squeezing his crotch. “What’s the matter?” I asked.
He informed me, “I have to go to the potty.”
“Do you need help?” I asked.
“No, I’m a big boy.”
What did I know? I said fine and pointed him in the direction of the bathroom. I later found that Nick may be a big boy but not big enough to reach to toilet. He had managed to pee all over the bathroom, the guest towels, the bath mat and cabinets. I wasn’t sure if his aim was really bad or…really good.
Nancy told me that Samantha was doing well with her potty training. So I asked Samantha if she had to use the potty also. She looked up at me with her big blue eyes and shook her head no. No, of course not, she had already relieved herself in her pants. I asked her if she made number one or number two. She held up four fingers. The permeating smell provided the answer. Oh my God! I wondered. “What does Nancy feed these kids? Limburger cheese? Does Kraft have a toxic waste flavored macaroni and cheese recipe?” I suggested that I change her underpants. She refused. I begged. Nick called her “stinky” until she cried. Only then did she agree to a fresh pair of Little Mermaid panties.
Nick announced, “We want a snack.”
“Did you have lunch?” I asked.
“No.” Nick said. “We haven’t eaten all day. Mommy didn’t give us any food.”
“What would you like?” The second that question came out of my mouth, I knew it was the wrong thing to ask.
“Candy!” Samantha shouted.
Nick chimed in, “Chips and cookies.”
“Does your mommy let you eat that?”
“All of the time,” Nick tried to convince me, “Everyday.”
I looked in the refrigerator in an effort to find something to serve as a snack to Nick and Samantha. My refrigerator is full of restaurant leftovers, wine and the food that is served with wine. Humm. Brie? No. French cheese would be lost on them. I pulled out a container of hummus. Nick informed me that it looks like “throw-up.” Mediterranean olive mix? Nope, too salty and they had pits. How would I explain the bloating and choking to Nancy? Well, I had a box of chocolates from Christmas which I had put freezer in an attempt to keep myself from devouring the whole thing in one sitting. No, too hard. Peanut butter, yes. That was the answer. Peanut butter and crackers. Kids like that. Another tragedy averted.
While eating her snack, Samantha looked up at me and asked, “Do you have any babies?”
Before I could answer, Nick told his sister, “No silly, she’s too old to have babies.”
How old do these kids think I am? I thought of launching into an informative discussion about how women are having children well into their forties. But then I realized that young children believe that anyone older than twelve is old.
I noticed that there was a lot of eye rubbing and ear pulling going on. Not to mention, the whining. I recognized this ritual. “Isn’t it time for a nap?” I asked. I begged. Quite frankly, I was exhausted. I wondered, “How do mothers do this all day everyday?” It must be that Mommy Hormone.
“No!” Nick announced, “We don’t need a nap.”
Samantha started to cry and in a shrilling voice that only dogs can hear, she whined, “I don’t want to take a nap!”
Now what? We had been through tantrums, played games, read a book, watched a video, changed underpants, and ate a snack. The only thing left to do was to help them study for their college preparatory tests.
Nick announced, “We’re bored.”
“Well, what would you like to do?”
Nick lit up, “Let’s play hide and seek.” Then he proceeded to explain the rules. “We’ll hide and you find us. Count to a hundred.”
Before I knew it, Nick and Samantha ran out of the room. I could hear them giggling as they made their way through the house. Every couple of seconds I shouted out a number. “Twenty!” “Fifty!” “Eighty!” “Ready or not, here I come!” This was my chance. I sat down on the couch.
I heard Nancy’s minivan pull into my driveway. I stood up and called out, “Nick and Samantha, your mommy is here!”
When Nancy walked in, she looked around and asked me, “Where are they?”
I wasn’t sure. “We’re playing hide and seek and they’re hiding.”
Nancy smirked, “You needed a break, huh?”
Nancy called out for Nick and Samantha. They ran out to greet her as if they were being reunited after ten years of forced separation.
As Nancy was gathering all of their toys, she told them to thank me. In unison, Nick and Samantha recited a well-practiced, “thank you” and ran out the door toward Nancy’s car.
“So,” Nancy joked. “Same time next week?”
“Next week? Sure.” I said. “That will give me just enough time to recover from today.”