03
Feb
14

Adventures in Babysitting (or What Goes Around Comes Around)

A few years ago a good friend of mine asked me if Princess Primrose—who was then 17—would be free to watch her preschool age daughter for a couple of hours so she could attend a meeting the following Saturday afternoon.

“Probably,” I replied. “But I should warn you: She hasn’t done much babysitting.”

“Define much.”

“Any.”

“No problem,” she said with a shrug. Everyone has to start somewhere.”

I thought about what she said and, realizing she must be desperate, thought about it some more.

It really was a bad idea. I said this not because the Princess is psychotic or dangerous in any way, or because she lacks the will or intellect to keep herself or someone else alive. In fact, she is a thoughtful, caring human being with great capacity for planning and problem solving. Plus, she knew how to safely operate a telephone, television, computer, and almost any household appliance with the exception of those used to do laundry. In short, as long as my friend didn’t have need her clothes or sheets washed and dried while she was gone, the Princess was technically up to the task.

But she has no experience taking care of little kids, I reminded myself. Or big kids, for that matter. And while I know it’s hard to get experience when no one will hire you without experience, the child of a friend is hardly the one you want your own kid to practice on. Maybe if the Princess was in beauty school and my friend wanted a trim. Or if she needed her pants hemmed and the Princess was just learning to sew. But hair can grow back and pants can be replaced. Children and limbs cannot.

I decided the best course of action would be for the Princess and me to babysit together. That way she could get the experience she would need if anyone sought her assistance in the future, and I would be there to provide guidance if something came up that she couldn’t handle on her own.

Since it was a nice day, I suggested we spend our time with Maddie, as I’ll call her, in the park. That way, there would be tables on which to have lunch, a playground to keep Maddie occupied, and benches from which I could observe and/or  spring into action the Princess should need assistance.

Things got off to a great start, in no small part because my friend—whom I’ll call Josie—had taken the time to pack a sack lunch that included a pear, one half of a peanut butter sandwich, a bag of juice, and a box of animal crackers, which Maddie wanted to sample immediately upon our arrival at the park. After a few crackers and a couple sips of juice, however, the swings caught her eye, so she and the Princess carefully closed the animal crackers, placed them and the juice bag back in the decorative cloth bag Josie had provided, and set off for the playground.

After several visits to the swings and the monkey bars, and several trip down the slides and through the plastic tunnels, Maddie decided she was hungry again, and so the Princess suggested they go back to the bench and have some more lunch. It was about this time that I noticed a squirrel making his way up a nearby tree with something considerably larger than an acorn in its mouth. I continued to observe the squirrel as I walked over to the bench to join the girls, who were now engaged in a frantic search for Maddie’s lunch sack.

Assuming we’d simply come to the wrong table, I forgot about the squirrel and scanned the area for the correct one, but found no lunch sack. Although its contents seemed too heavy for it to have blown away, we then searched the grass around the picnic area, only to spot it on the ground right below us.

Relieved to have the crisis averted, I opened the sack and began to place its contents before the equally relieved Maddie. As she picked up the pear, I noticed several small teeth marks on the side that hadn’t been there before.

“Can I see your pear, Maddie?” I asked gently. “I don’t want a bite. I just want to look at it.”

As the Princess looked on with confusion, Maddie handed over the pear and asked if she could have her sandwich. “Sure,” I said, reaching into the bag. Finding it empty but not wanting to alarm her, I stealthily scanned the area around our table again—this time in search of the sandwich which I assumed had bounced out of the sack when hit the ground. To my surprise, I found an empty baggie containing some bread crumbs, but not the sandwich. That’s when it hit me: The squirrel.

I looked up, and sure enough the squirrel was sitting the tree munching on what I now recognized as somewhat less than one half of a peanut butter sandwich. “Hey, Maddie,” I said, opening her animal crackers. “Why don’t you have some more animal crackers?”

“I don’t want any more animal crackers. I want my sandwich. Where’s my sandwich?”

“I’m still looking for it, sweetie,” I said, while signaling to the Princess to look up in the tree.

“Fine,” Maddie said, reaching for her pear. “Then I’ll have this.”

“Wait,” I cried, recalling the teeth marks and realizing where they’d come from. “You don’t want that pear.”

“Yes I do.”

“No, honey, you don’t. See?” I then showed her the teeth marks and told her I thought a squirrel had taken some bites out of the pear.

“What squirrel?” she challenged.

Realizing she didn’t believe me, but not wanting the child to eat the possibly contaminated fruit, I pointed up into the tree. Maddy looked up at the squirrel and immediately recognized what was supposed to be her lunch.

“My sandwich!” she screamed before jumping off the bench and running toward the tree. The Princess and I followed.

“Look at him,” I said brightly as she stopped below the tree. “He was so hungry he had to steal your sandwich. Aren’t you lucky you could share it with him?”

“NO!”

“But isn’t he cute?” I offered, trying to put a positive spin on things as the Princess stood by as if in shock.

“NO! He’s a stupid squirrel.”

“But he was hungry.”

“I don’t care. I HATE that squirrel. He stole my sandwich and he ruined my pear!”

“I know, honey. But we can go to the store and get you a new pear.”

“I don’t WANT a new pear!” she insisted as she stormed back to the table. “I want THAT pear!”

I continued my campaign to console Maddie as we made our way back to my car and from there back to her house, but nothing I said was going to change her mind about the squirrel, or about the pear. As I listened to her rant about the animal, his intelligence, and his character, I recalled the many equally futile exchanges I’d had with the Princess in our younger days, and realized how lucky she was to have me along to take the heat. There had been no one around to back me up when she was an obsessive, unreasonable three-year old. With the Jarhead at work and El Noblé in school, it was just her and me, and boy did she put me through the paces.

In any case, I explained what happened with the lunch as we met up with Josie back at her place.

“It’s NOT funny!” Maddie insisted when her mother laughed. “That squirrel was mean and I HATE him.”

So as not to fan the flames, we changed the subject and, after a few minutes, parted company.

“That was so funny,” I said once the Princess and I were back in our car and could safely joke about the situation. “I don’t want a NEW pear! I want THAT pear!”

The Princess smiled, but stopped short of laughing. “Yeah,” she allowed. “Although, I have to wonder if that’s what I was like when I was little.”

I nodded. “You definitely gave me a real run for my money,” I admitted. “But we both survived, and I would happily do it all again.”

“I know,” she said, sighing meaningfully.

So that’s a big N-O on the subject of grandchildren, I observed privately. It’s a good thing I like cats.

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