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I have occasionally, over the past few years, babysat for the children of friends. I won’t do it for babies since I’m out of date on the latest advice re whether babies are safer sleeping on backs or tummies (although I DO know you should roll a drunk teen on his side to avoid asphyxiation from vomit), what the latest theory is on soothers versus thumbs, when to hold ‘a screamer’ versus putting on your sound-cancelling headphones and ride it out), or even how to put on the new-fangled diapers (although presumably they come with a Siri chip installed to guide you along your way). I prefer to deal with children that can walk and talk and show themselves to the toilet.

However, this past week, a friend of Gill’s from her university days came to visit and brought her 2-year-old daughter. I initially agreed to care for the child myself while the women chatted, perhaps at a nearby coffee shop. But nearing their arrival time, I backed out.

Gill wasn’t impressed. “Ma! You raised three children…and since I haven’t detected too many early signs of dementia in you, you must have retained enough information to tend to a child for an hour.”

“Yeah, you’d think, wouldn’t you? But I’m worried about the state of the house.”

“Ma! This is no time to worry about how clean or well-appointed the house looks.It looks like three (temporarily four) messy adults live here. As I recall, you didn’t worry much about OUR health in the same, uh, less than pristine establishment. As you kept pointing out to us on a daily basis, ‘You haven’t died yet!'”

“But this isn’t about cleanliness or decorating. It’s about safety! This place is in no way, shape or form what one might call ‘baby proofed’. L’il Sis’ pins and needles  are trapped in the carpets, Crazy D’s electronic equipment lies abandoned in the hallways and family room, sharp tools are hidden  (probably under sofa cushions), half-full liquor bottles are on the counter, my meds in cupboards that would make the Surgeon General of the U.S. quiver with terror, poisonous plants at toddler level, exposed light sockets…why, the poor child could choose any of 8 different ways to maim herself and/or destroy the house. My eyes aren’t great so I might not see all the places she’d try to stick her fingers or all the tiny bits that she’d put down her gullet. And she walks — apparently fast. I wouldn’t be able to make my bird legs (with my fallen arches and painful extra ankle bones) work quickly enough to coral her. I’d put a harness on her but that method of ‘discipline’ or ‘persuasion’ apparently isn’t acceptable now…something about child abuse, taking away the rights of the tiny being to kill itself in traffic. No, I’ll happily entertain her but you girls will have to stay close — just in case.”

It turns out that my house is something of a childhood Canada’s Wonderland. Who knew??!! The canaries and Mrs. Beeton provided infinite fascination for the wee girl. By the end of the visit, she could recite all of their names as she pointed out their colours and the order of their placement in the room. She talked endlessly of Mrs. Beeton’s charms and explained the entire avian dynamic to her mother the following day as they drove in the car to the library. The child is smart and has a mind like a steel trap! And she is the proud new owner of a collection of brilliantly-coloured feathers.

And as the day of walking, lunching, swimming, and visiting the birds drew to a close, the piece de resistance was brought forth — Poopadoodle, L’il Sis’ plush, foot-high, yellow toy chicken dressed in a fetching straw hat and neckerchief, the jaunty bird that dances, sings, and then shrieks as she lays a series of colored eggs on the table. I do believe my shouts of glee outdid the girl’s.

And so my faith in my ability to look after a small child was restored…and since I’d just had the pee stains, hound odour and dog hair left by The Pig cleaned from the carpets, I was reasonably confident that she would be none the worse for having encountered my less-than- pristine home.

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