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As a teenager, I never did any babysitting. I was an only child, so knew nothing of sibling rivalry, tended to play alone much of the time, and generally was more of a small adult than a child. Small wonder I was terrified of motherhood.

Would I accidentally maim my child the first day it was in my care? How would I know how to feed, bathe, and, yuck, change its diapers? When it was older, how would I keep it amused, teach it to play well with others, help it with school homework? Somehow (and yes, I do know how it ACTUALLY happened!) I ended up with three kids and found myself enrolled suddenly in a DIY crash course in caring for my needy children. After the panic lessened, I learned to cope and, if I do say so myself, adapted to motherhood fairly well.

My lot (Gill, Crazy D and L’il Sis) was a challenging group. They were afflicted with various allergies, were stubborn, had sometimes offbeat personalities, and were highly creative. I learned fast to think on my feet (mainly for my own survival), invent interesting activities that would divert then from their natural tendencies to destruction, mischief, or just plain cussedness. They kept me on my toes.

Having felt fully capable of taking on anything children could throw at me, I soon graduated to the Girl Guide (Girl Scouts in the U.S.) movement and became a Brownie leader for our local group. I excelled, if I may toot my own horn, creating games and nature activities especially, that were way beyond routine or expected. And I loved playing games and doing crafts with the girls, having been expertly tutored by my own three little hellions.

While I enjoyed my time with my Brownie group, I never thought it would come in handy once I passed that stage in my life. But now, while occasionally temporarily ‘borrowing’ the grandkids of The Man In My Life, those early skills have all come back to me and have proven invaluable.

During a recent cottage vacation with them, I was asked by the young boy to ‘play Lego’ with him. Actually, he didn’t so much ‘ask me’ as shout excitedly:”I’ve got a great idea! Let’s go upstairs and make stuff with my Lego!” Who could resist such enthusiasm? I couldn’t be the one to crush his dreams and explain that I flunked math, couldn’t put anything structural together if my life depended on it, and came from a long line of non-DIY relatives. My father barely knew what a hammer was…let alone a screw driver. What he DID know was how to write a check for someone else to use those tools.I was worried that I’d let the child down.

But no, I was SO off the hook. What he really meant was that HE’D ‘design’ and build car ramps, parking garages, and buildings and I’d search through the large box of Lego blocks (his auxiliary supply — his REAL stash is in Australia where he lives)at the cottage to find the necessary pieces. Phew! I was off the hook! It suited me perfectly –I couldn’t build my way out of a paper bag if you paid me. But I am very good at finding impossible pieces…I guess that comes from searching for misplaced toys (or missing shoes or homework) that my own kids ‘lost’ periodically right before bedtime or before school. It was in my best interest to find them if I wanted to get any sleep myself that night or respite the next day and not find myself in the principal’s office explaining once again why my kids didn’t have their homework. (‘The dog ate their homework ‘excuse wore a bit thin–despite the fact that, more often than not, it was true!)

And while the men in our group were actually building cabinets for the cottage kitchen, I played rousing games of Pictionary with the kids. This was not Pictionary as played by the established rules; this was my own version that made allowances for poor drawing skills (mine);sibling arguments about who would get the coveted black pencil and who would get to be in charge of and dole out the playing cards. When this erupted in territorial spats, I became chief negotiator and peace maker…and, it has to be said, in the interest of full disclosure, Chief Bender of Rules In Order To Keep The Peace.One needs experience, not unlike a lawyer, to finesse these debates.

That was when I became very grateful to my own children and later my Brownies for showing me the wiles of children…otherwise I would have been putty in their hands, unable to protect myself against their cunning. Gill will attest to the fact that she and her siblings went to great lengths to test me and prepare me for coping with other children.

As it was, all I suffered at the cottage was great humiliation for being the worst artist of the three of us. My stick people apparently left much to be desired. My only redeeming feature was that I was able to amuse the kids: “That’s a person? It doesn’t look anything like a person!” Gales of laughter ensued…and I kept them engaged and out of everyone’s way during the adults’ construction phase.

Things only went a little pear-shaped at the end of the adult construction project when the little boy moved on from Lego and discovered the leftover bits of wood and cardboard packing materials. He set out building ramps and parking garages on the deck, impeding the adults’ access to the wine and beer that was the greatly needed reward for a long day’s work.