My Apology To Parents Everywhere!
We are a nation divided by kids – those with and those without. It is a big divide, in part because those of us without kids don’t get it. Once babies come on the scene, our friends change forever. Former bar buddies forget what it’s like to be a non-breeder. They won’t come out to play anymore.
I’m part of a demo that says kids are just fine, as long as they’re quiet and belong to someone else. My brother, on the other hand, has two boys and a girl, all under the age of 12. When he called to see if I’d watch them for five days I panicked.
I tried babysitting for only two days, and it was a disaster. On the first night my brother’s beloved beagle ran out in a thunderstorm. Wearing nightgown and slippers, I chased him through the woods, dodging lightning bolts and using all the words that children should not hear.
Then there were the food issues. I often preach about parents letting kids watch too much TV, play too many video games, and eat too much junk food. So I fixed a stir fried chicken dish. Zach looked at my pan of carefully chopped vegetables and cage free organically blessed chicken like it was something from a horror movie. “I want chicken nuggets,” he said. None of them would touch my healthy food.
When at last it was bedtime, I realized 6 year old Ryan planned to sleep with me. I was rather touched, as those of us who don’t have children tend to be when a child seems to adore us. But I woke up mid-morning to the sting of a kick. His entire 45 pound body was sprawled across the pillows with his feet aimed at my head. The dog, that cursed dog, wound up on top of my shins. I could not move, I could not sleep, I could not remember why I had agreed to this.
So now, perhaps, you understand why this latest request for a five day stint put me in a quandary. But how do you say no to your brother? I packed my bags and drove 11 hours to Maryland.
Day 1 my arrival served as a good excuse for everyone to stay up later than normal. The sleeping arrangements were the same as last time: a 6 year old and a beagle in bed with Aunt Sharon. The dog is now too fat to jump onto the bed, so once Ryan was asleep I tried to sneak in. But the Raskal was whining and threatening to bark. So I lifted his tubby, arthritic body onto the mattress, gritted my teeth, and eventually dozed off.
Day 2 started at 6:30 am. Both boys had soccer camp. All three kids began yelling breakfast orders while I stumbled around trying to make coffee. Barbie pancakes, Cinnamon crispy something, frozen waffles, frozen pancakes, chocolate milk with Ovaltine, chocolate milk with syrup. I’m not making this up.
By 7 am the 12 year old was in front of the computer playing an online game with obnoxious background music. Bum, bum, bum, bum, pause, bum, bum, bum, bum, pause, dah, dah. Repeat. For the entire five days I was there, Zach played this game over and over. It never stopped and I couldn’t get that horrible sound out of my head. On the other hand, it kept him occupied.
Here’s the embarrassing part. Despite my holier than thou criticism of parents who let their kids to spend too much time in front of TV or computer screens, in just one day I was allowing non-stop video games and back to back Scooby Doo movies. My pitiful excuse? I just wanted to finish a cup of coffee. It never happened.
Later the two smaller ones were joined by a neighborhood friend. The three of them were everywhere at once. I’d look at the sandbox, they’d be in the kitchen. They were back and forth, in and out. There’s an alarm on all the doors so each time one opened I heard ‘bing-bing’. The house was constant movement and sound. The boom boom background music from Scooby Doo, ‘bing-bing’, bum, bum, bum, bum, pause, bum, bum, bum, bum, pause, dah, dah, ‘bing-bing’, boom boom.
We childless folks don’t truly appreciate the value of silence until it’s gone. I began to feel like the Grinch, “Oh, the noise! noise! noise! noise!” I started dreaming about 5:00 and a glass of wine. Dinner tonight – pizza. I looked at the clock. It was only 2:00 and I was fading.
Day 3 started even earlier. Plans to read the paper died fast. Kids ask a lot of questions. “Um, um, Aunt Sharon, um, Aunt Sharon, um, how fast does your car go?” I said, “It goes more than a hundred miles an hour.” “Um, Aunt Sharon, Aunt Sharon, um, well, well, do you drive that fast?” I said, “No, it’s against the law.” “Well, um, Aunt Sharon, um, how come your car goes a hundred miles an hour if it’s against the law?” I said, “Because God made it so.” Yeah, yeah, I know. I’m a bad aunt. In my defense, I had tried to read the same sentence 15 times and now realized reading was not an option.
At this point I heard Holly whimpering. She wanted Mommy. I realized Aunt Sharon wasn’t exciting anymore as I paced the room and she cried for mom. But I knew what to do. Scooby Doo. Fifteen minutes later she was curled up with her doll, a blanket and the lovely sound of Scooby.
Day 4 was a Saturday and the lack of sleep was getting to me. Their trash can is behind a cabinet door with a childproof latch which I forgot about each of the 100 times I opened it. This morning I came close to ripping it off.
By 7:30am I was in Holly’s room having an imaginary tea party. I was so tired I saw her imaginary friends. Then we watched a cartoon with dancing hippos, or maybe that was a hallucination. Due to the lack of sleep and coffee I was no longer sure.
Day 5 the parents were due home. I gave Holly a bubble bath so they’d think everything went smoothly. In truth, none of the kids had had a bath in five days. What can I say? The boys went swimming which seemed like a suitable cleansing. Holly splashed in her little pool and that qualified for a bath of sorts.
Now the clan was clean but restless. I caught Ryan and Holly using decorative plants to stage a sword fight. I made them to stop. Ryan threw his plant-sword on the ground. I said, “Ryan, you pick that up and put it back where you found it – NOW.” Off he stomped and I felt old and mean. I had just parented. It was harder than I thought. Aunt Sharon was supposed to be fun, not mean.
My brother and his wife returned home around dinner time and I quickly escaped to my little Z3. As I drove, I thought about how long those days had been, and how all consuming the demands of three children can be. Despite the lack of sleep, peace and martinis, I don’t regret a minute. It has turned a relationship based on birthday cards and Christmas gifts into a much more meaningful bond with my nephews and niece. It also knocked me off my soapbox. I get it now.
Just don’t ask me to do it again.