Like most people in their 30’s, I have siblings and friends with children. Generally, I approach children that aren’t mine – or related to me – with a casual indifference. It’s awesome. Kids are life-changing, a blessing, and all those other tangible and intangible effects. I love kids and I would love to be blessed with my own some day, but my feeling is, for the most part, I don’t want to hold yours or look at pictures of them. If this is offensive, sorry.
I am, however, pleased that I have two nephews, ages two and four that adore their Uncle Matt. The four-year-old is my Godson, and I’ve enjoyed watching him grow and figure out the world. The two-year-old, according to my friend Caitlin, is my doppelgänger. He’s almost two, so readers with children will understand the preciousness of a child figuring out the world and his relationship to the things within it. Pretty cool.
Tuesday, I was called into duty to watch them while their parents were at work because of a pipe leakage at their daycare/school. Yes, in the most ironic daycare mishap of all time, a place called “Noah’s Ark” was flooded. I figured I’d be able to write and work while the children played. To some extent, I did so. But, at the end of the day, I found myself with 1,100 words of notes on being a babysitter. For the sake of this story, because I lack the knowledge of etiquette about writing about children, I will refer to them as their ages. I haven’t received proper consent from their parents.
Going into the day, the one thing that truly concerns me is changing diapers. I see the mastery of parents, lifting the baby, smelling their diaper and determining when to change them. I’ve also seen them casually lift and remove and wipe and stitch back up. But you’re talking about a person who gags cleaning up dog pee on the carpet. I’m terrified. Feeding, entertainment, even infant CPR, I got you. Changing diapers. Gross.
However, what I’m not prepared for the most, I’ve learned before 8 a.m., is the noisiness. It’s loud. There are toys running constantly, there’s crying and whining, sounds from Mickey Mouse or SpongeBob on the television, the boys talking to each other and themselves, balls bouncing, sounds made by toys that, after a few seconds, would be torturous to you and I, are like a Beethoven symphony to these children.
All of this is compounded by the fact I brought my one year old dog, who has an almost comparable reserve of energy to the kids. The fact, being that if the roles were reversed, kids at my house, is that they’d both be equally as rambunctious and curious. I’d rather have the children in their natural habitat than my dog, though not even an hour has passed and there is a cut below my brother’s dog’s eye from my dog, who cut her while playing, and was subsequently attacked by the much bigger dog. I’m babysitting at Michael Vick’s house, apparently.
So what do we do? Do I teach them something? They’re missing school. In all these songs by Cat Stevens or 2Pac or whoever, they talk about teaching children important lessons.
It’s 8:14 and I’ve been here less than an hour. The kids are staring at me. The two-year-old says nothing; the four-year-old is making noises like a scat musician. They’re on each side of me. Let’s start a conversation.
“What are you learning about in school?” I ask the four-year-old.
Without missing a beat, he answers, “Splinter.”
“The Ninja Turtle rat?”
“Yes,” he says.
“You learn about Splinter in school?”
“Yes,” he confirms. He’s almost definitely lying.
But what’s odd to me is that there’s not a Splinter or a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle toy or book or movie anywhere around us. It was a completely random answer.
8:33 a.m.: I teach the two year old how to balance a shoe on his head. He’s delighted.
As of now, I’m kind of vacillating between one kid and the other. The two-year-old delightedly wearing footwear on his head runs off, the four-year-old comes back and asks me a question; The four-year-old runs off, the two-year old runs back and stands before me.
8:50 a.m.: My mother lives next door to my brother and my sister-in-law, and shares a backyard. A neighbor comes over to let my mom’s dog outside daily, but today there are two dogs running around the backyard. So, I go out to corral the dogs, so that my mother’s 22-pound beagle can pee in peace. The four-year-old follows. He’s got on a short-sleeve shirt and no shoes. It’s 31 degrees outside. I tell him to go inside. I’m holding the dogs, talking to the neighbor, and look over. The four-year-old is still outside.
“What did I tell you? Go inside,” I reprimand.
“I can’t,” he answers. “(The two-year-old) locked us out.”
And so me and the four-year-old were locked out, the two-year-old smiling inside the sliding door, looking out at us, as proud of himself as if he’d just won a championship.
We get back inside, I sit down at the computer in an attempt to get some writing done. The four year old is looking into the darkened screen of my iPad, which is beside my computer.
“Dude, I can see my face. Dude, I can see my face,” he is chanting. He looks at my screen and wonders “how long” my story is. I explained to him what it is I do for a living. He’s unimpressed. I should just lie.
My dog is needy every day. I sit at the computer and write, or research, and the moment I slid the chair back to get more coffee or go to the bathroom, she jumps from the couch or floor or bed. These kids command roughly 7,000 times the attention my dog does. But I get it. They’re excited. When it’s just them and their parents, I’m sure they aren’t this way. Their uncle is here. They’re not at school. Their parents aren’t home. It’s a field day for them, essentially.
It’s now 9:41 and both of them are standing in front of me, the four-year-old talking to the dog, and just, generally, out loud. The two-year-old, is locking a toy dinosaur into an empty DVD case, then releasing it, smiling and laughing as he does so about 24-inches from my laptop. He presses the home button of my iPad. The screen lights up, as does he. I hit the darken button. He presses the home button. And repeat many times. This is his Woodstock.
Another issue is naps. When do kids take naps? Do they? How do you know when a two year old needs to nap? “Whenever he starts acting like an asshole,” is what Google said. Oh, good, I think. He’s ready.
One of the things I’ve learned about babysitting is that the kids are going to, at a certain age, take complete advantage of you. They’re going to ask for snacks and toys and time outside or inside or upstairs that they would never be granted otherwise. And, like the unproven caretaker I am, I let them do whatever they ask.
“Can I smoke a cigarette in the backyard? I’ll only be a few minutes,” the four year old asks me.
“Make sure you wear a coat,” I answer.
“And after that can we gamble on horses?”
Jesus Christ, nap time goes by quickly! The kid goes down, you’re like, “fuck yea nap time!” I spent a little time writing and editing, looked up at the clock and was like, “fuck that was an hour?”
It’s like if time never goes slower than the minutes winding down on a microwave heating up leftovers, time never goes faster than the hour of a nap.
In this case, it’s actually a much better story though.
Around 10:45, the house was silent. The dogs settled into spots on the floor in the sun. The four-year-old sat quietly reading. The nap was going well, and, just as I began thinking, “Maybe I should let him sleep for extra time if he’s that tired. He’s had a busy, fun morning,” the alarm on the door goes off. It’s my 92-year old grandmother, who lives next door, popping in to say hello and to ask a barrage of questions, a skill for which she is famous. She wants to chat, or, at least, to make as much noise as a 60 pound lady can make. I try to alert her of the silence that surrounds us. For now.
The upstairs, silent just minutes ago, becomes a whimper. The two-year-old begins to cry.
“Oh, he’s a handful, huh?” she asks. She leaves. Thanks, Gram.
After nap time, we do lunch, which takes place over a counter top. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the kids, a staple of lunch times for generations, and a chicken sandwich for me. I take this time to explain to them that there’s two types of chicken meat, white and dark, and that I prefer dark. The four-year-old looks at me, as if to say, “I literally care less about that than anything else in the entire world.” One of the only moments of peace, though, was lunch. The kids are stuffing their face, but only after I promised to give them Halloween candy if they finish.
We’re cleaned up. We had a short dance party. I sit down.
“Uncle Matt, (the two year old) is stuck in the cabinet,” yells the 4-year old, 45 seconds later.
And he was. His sleeve was caught on a nail or a screw and he couldn’t get out.
How about we stop playing the “lock your brother in the cabinet game?”
The kids are relatively calm. They’re self-sufficient, too. My sister-in-law basically told me, “I listen to them to be quiet, then I know something is up.” A good rule of thumb, I supposed. Noise -even screams and moans- are better than deathly silence with two little kids. I sit down to do some work, this time just paperwork that needs to be filled out before we meet with our family’s financial advisor tomorrow afternoon. They’re watching TV, playing in the playroom. Nice and calm. I get two pages into my paperwork.
“Uncle Matt, (the two year old) is behind the TV pulling out wires,” says the four-year old. “And my TV is out.”
Great, now I’m a repairman. And while I try to figure out which cord goes where, the boys will jump on the couch, the two-year-old mimicking the four-year-old, obviously. Let’s add background danger to the indecipherable angst of connecting cords.
Ohhh, first minor casualty, a finger caught in the door. It’s all fun and games until someone breaks a finger. Nothing being held can’t fix, apparently. The two-year-old isn’t truly hurt, he just wants attention. I put him down, he fusses. But I don’t want to hold him all day. I figure he needs, oh no, to be changed.
I settle him down, take off his little pants and diaper and, alas, nothing. A wet diaper, that’s it. No stink bomb waiting for me. I win this round, but he’s still being grouchy. I think a second nap would do him well. He goes right down. Hopefully someone else will come over to wake him up. Maybe we could all jump on his bed.
When the two-year-old is asleep, I thought we could do something fun and silent, like make a puzzle. The four-year-old brings over his Spiderman puzzle and we begin assembling. It’s a pretty challenging puzzle that I get no help on. I try to teach the strategy of flipping and finding the edges and the corners first, but he wants no part in that. He just want to connect every piece, regardless if they go. When I finally get a good grasp on the puzzle, I realize he hasn’t done shit. He’s just standing around, looking at the box, wandering the room.
“We’re almost done, Uncle Matt,” he says.
“We did a good job,” he adds.
“I did a good job,” I answer. “You did nothing.”
“Yes, I did,” he asserts. I’m right, but it’s not worth arguing. I know the real answer. He sucks at puzzles.
My brother came home shortly after this. One finger was caught in the doorway and a bloodied dog were the only casualties of the day. I applaud people who do this every day, and, I’m sure it’s much different when a parent can just push their own child aside and tell them to go away, but I’m the uncle. It’s fun for them. They’re not at school, they’re not with their parents, they’re with Uncle Matt.
By the end of the day, I’m exhausted more because I was on sensory overload the entire day. That is, I was constantly aware of my surroundings. Talk about mindfulness. Watch another person’s kids and you’ll be mindful.