I have raised three children so one would think I’d be capable of looking after one six-year-old for a few hours. My neighbours asked me to look after their daughter– a very bright, articulate, well-mannered girl. Initially, I was puzzled…after all, they’ve met the three products of my child-rearing capabilities. Not that my three grown children aren’t delightful, it’s just that they are a bit uh, weird? Unique? Definitely not cookie-cutter. The parents , however, seemed comfortable with the idea so who was I to doubt their wisdom?
Gill and I both had occasion during the summer to watch the child for a morning, so I knew what to expect. But a few days before the event, I began to realize how out of touch I am when it comes to the care and feeding of the younger generation .
Security for school pick-up is an issue that wasn’t front and centre years ago. Ours was a close knit community, so children would often hitch rides with random parents, grandparents, etc., no questions asked. In fact, some days I almost wished that someone WOULD take my three little hooligans. But now, especially in large cities, it is protocol to have a special password that the person picking up a child must know. Was this the case for me this day?
“Not a problem,” the dad assured me. “You’ll have our dog with you and everyone knows Jewel.”
“Great, the dog is my password,” I thought. I’ll just point and say, “I’m with her!” Well, at least nobody will argue with her. She’s the size of a small horse.
Dinner presented another potential problem. My kids had allergies and so many foods were forbidden. That didn’t stop them from lying through their teeth when at a friend’s house. “Oh, no. We can totally eat cotton candy, ice cream and peanut butter for dinner!” they would declare, childish innocence oozing from every duplicitous pore.
My charge for the day was honest about what she could and could not eat, what she did and did not like. She did not like my homemade mac and cheese. “Too cheesy,” was her verdict. At first I was crushed, but then realized that all kids have picky moments. And so, road weary mother of three that I am, I adopted my time-honored tradition of giving her a weird assortment of foods, hopefully providing her with enough substance and nourishment to get her through to the morning. When you’ve had three kids, that’s the low bar you work with on a daily basis.
Bath and bedtime was the most daunting time for me. I had memories of Crazy D, supposedly tucked into bed, stealthily collecting all his favorite toys and tip-toeing across the hall to the bathroom (The Annex as we called it) to play until someone found him and ratted him out. But this little girl was easy. She played nicely in the tub, calmed down with her one story, and hit the pillow when told. Amazing!
It took me until the following day to realize the difference with the children. Mine ran in a pack of three, always in cahoots, planning against the authority figure, plotting great schemes, then often turning on each other at the hint of discovery. This child was an only child, as was I. An only child, generally speaking, obeys rules, is mature since he or she spends most time with adults, and knows that there is no point to bad behaviour because he or she is the only one to blame. Takes the fun out of it.
Many times Gill, Crazy D and L’il Sis, ‘the three amigos’, were lined up, questioned, and found wanting when the toilet was mysteriously covered with Vaseline, the back step –and consequently the dog – painted purple, or the entire pack covered with a hideous rash, an allergic reaction to some forbidden food recently eaten.
My young neighbour will never experience the thrill of executing a devious plot with her rebellious siblings, will never know the evil pleasure of tattling on an accomplice, never experience the heady pleasure of outwitting unsuspecting parents. Pity. But a dream babysitting experience!