The dreaded had happened. I had a face too maternal for my own good. There could be no other reason why I had been enlisted to look after a friend’s children. A 3-year old girl and a 5-year old boy. A note to the uninitiated - looking after children is like playing a dangerous game of poker; irrespective of the innocent face, the child always has the winning hand and you always end up having to pay dearly for your life and sanity. And this is never more evident than when you are looking after someone else’s child. Then the stakes are doubled. Not only does the child win every round but it becomes a game of bribery, cheating, turning a blind eye and lying…and you commit every possible vice with a smile on your face.
There must have been something about my face that made my friend think she could trust me with her two children for the weekend. She was off to Bangkok to celebrate her wedding anniversary and I was her salvation. She came over with a chicken casserole (I am easily bribed) and some wine (I am especially easy to bribe when under the influence of excellent wine – damn you Jacob’s Creek). She told me that it was only for three days. I agreed because I was in an altruistic mood and I genuinely thought some child-free days would do her good. Somehow the issue of my well being during this time never came to mind. There was also the minor problem of not being able to say no to a friend in need and so being the wimp that I was, I agreed with a huge smile plastered on my face.
I had a game plan. It was all down to precision planning, military style. I would let them colour, we would bake a cake, I would fill up the huge plastic water tub for some make-belief swimming, we would read stories…the list was endless and it was tacked up onto the refrigerator. As things got done, they would be ticked off with a large pink marker. Wow, wasn’t planning fun? Simple. Besides the truth of the matter was that I was really great with kids for short periods of time. I could entertain them, make faces, sing funny songs, and play silly games. In that short period of time, most kids were ready to adopt me. I had forgotten one minor point – after that short period of time was done, most kids wanted to get rid of me so bad, they would be ready to exchange me for a packet of soggy chips.
And so Friday morning bright and early, 5 year old boy and 3 year old girl were delivered to my doorstep. I gave them both a huge hug and patted their back in a faux motherly way, but it only made them look at each other suspiciously. I remembered belatedly that children can generally see through bullshit. Oh well, there went my game plan!
The first few hours went very smoothly. He ate cereal, she smashed egg in her hair, he drank juice, she spat it out all over the table. We chatted about school and superheroes and movie stars. All in all I considered breakfast a huge success. Nothing had broken, no one had been mortally wounded and I was still wearing my game face.
I took out some coloring books for them. 5-year old boy got the superman coloring book though he did inform me with some disdain that Power Rangers were so much cooler. 3-year old girl got the Dora coloring book and while she proceeded to stab a large black crayon over Dora’s face, she did comment that Barbie was ‘sexier’! I was obviously in the dark about so many important things. I then stepped out of the room for thirty seconds, but I came back to find that the children had found my old but nonetheless priceless silk carpet a better canvas for their art. 3-year old girl had drawn large black lopsided smileys on my 25-year old pale beige and pink silk carpet while 5-year old boy was tracing the flowers in red crayon.
“Oh shi…,” I screamed, not knowing what to concentrate on more, large black strange smileys on my carpet or my language.
“You said shit,” 5-year old boy says accusingly. “That’s a bad word.”
“No I didn’t,” I quickly refuted, all innocence. “I said shi.”
“There’s no word like shi. You said shit. SHIT SHIT SHIT,” He was thrilled. He had obviously spent way too long being deprived of that glorious word.
“You two spoiled my carpet,” I said through clenched teeth.
“My mom says it’s not good to get angry,” 5-year old boy said. “And you said shit.”
Round one to them.
I went to the next thing on my famed list. Fake swimming. This entailed me exercising my lungs to capacity by blowing huge quantities of air that went into the plastic structure and then just disappeared into it’s mysterious vastness. By the time the tub showed signs of air inside it, I was ready to pass out. But no, the kids were right next to me, egging me on by spewing out air and spittle. I decided that this was not the best time to faint and that I’d ignore the veins on my forehead were threatening to pop. It took me an hour to blow air into the various layers of the tub. I left the bottom un-inflated because I had had it with this inhaling-exhaling business. The deep breathing had left me light headed. Just as I lugged the 5 foot tub into the bathroom, 3-year old girl gently reminded me that I had forgotten about the bottom of the tub. I told her that it was better that way. No it wasn’t, she said in no uncertain terms. And I was back to blowing air into the tub again. Finally the tub was inflated to everyone’s satisfaction (I said a tiny prayer before showing it to my two tiny but lethal visitors). Everyone got into their swimming costumes and ‘dived’ into the ‘pool’ to ‘swim’. We splashed, we put heads underwater (okay to be honest, they put my head underwater which was a good thing because I was the only one who knew how to hold my breath when being held underwater in a death grip), we played with some floating rubber toys and then we all jumped out, ready for lunch. I was thrilled to have occupied them for so long without incident. I was sure we had been ‘swimming’ the entire afternoon. I was a pro. This was easy. A quick look at the clock brought me crashing back to earth. We had spent exactly ten minutes in that tub!
Later, 3-year old girl asked to play ‘mummy mummy’. For those of you blissfully unaware, this entailed the girl dressing up like her mom, giving you (her baby) a list of instructions and then trying to do something that has been done to her, like force feed you some food or put you to sleep or shout at you for bad behavior or something equally as thrilling (for the child, not for you). Whichever the case, it was a game best avoided. 3-year old girl convinced me to get her all dressed up the way her mommy did. Under duress, I put on some lipstick for her, all the while easing my conscience by telling her that little girls should not wear make-up. Mummy does it, she said confidently. Well, if it was good enough for her mother, it was good enough for me. And so I slathered it on. Lipstick (many coats to get the deep red colour), blush, some glitter. 5-year old boy came to investigate what we were upto. He gasped in horror.
“Eeeek, mummy’s going to kill you,” he said in shock.
I wish he was talking to his sister, but then again, he was looking at me.
“She’s not allowed to wear make up at all. Mummy hates it,” he informed me.
“But you said your mom puts it for you all the time,” I looked accusingly to 3-year old girl.
She sighed loudly like she was dealing with an imbecile. “No, I said Mummy puts it all the time. I’m not allowed to wear lipstick,” she said it like she was talking to a one year old without a brain.
I turned for just one second to get the make up remover and her little chubby fingers had snatched my Mac lipstick tube and with super lightening speed, she had pierced her fingers into the soft expensive mass. I wanted to cry. And day 1 was not over yet.
The next day, I was devious. I decided to settle them in front of the tv. A little bit of television never hurt anyone. While I was rummaging through my DVD collection, there was silence in the room. And then I heard some sniggers. I slowly looked up to the screen to see what was on tv and realized that the kids were watching Joey and some girl (from Friends) kissing. The questions came like bullets. What are they doing? Er, displaying affection for each other. Why are they kissing? They like each other a lot. But why are they lying down on the sofa? Er, their backs were paining because of too much sitting up. Why doesn’t mummy let us watch all this kissing? Er, I don’t know but let’s not really mention this to your mom, okay.
Two minutes into the cartoon that I put on for them and the kids were fighting over who would sit where and who would hold the remote. I had the brilliant idea of threatening to switch off the tv if they didn’t settle down. And because they didn’t settle down and because by then I had already said a hundred times – I promise you this tv will go off if you don’t settled down – I finally had to actually switch the movie off. Which basically meant that I had shot myself in the foot. Reminder to self – next time, shut up and let them fight.
Book reading went a bit better, I mean who can screw up reading to a child. But I did make the mistake of telling them that I would read one story. Children take things literally and I mean LITERALLY. I had to read the one story – Jack and the Beanstalk – eleven times.
By day 3, I had given up. I had said shit more times than I cared to count. I told myself it no longer mattered since it was 5-year old boy’s new favorite word anyway. The tub was filled about five times a day just so that the kids could spend copious amounts of time tipping the water out at full speed so that it would spill out of the bathroom and into my bedroom. They were drinking ketchup straight from the bottle (much like an alcoholic does). I had given up hiding the chocolates. Twenty five chocolates in 3 days. That’s what we ate. Though I need to be honest here, about fifteen of those were eaten by me. After all, I needed to keep my energy up.
Finally the moment had arrived. Time for their mother to pick them up. I had spent the better part of the evening washing 3-year old girl’s hair to remove all the dried ketchup from it. I simultaneously tutored 5-year old boy to say ‘shucks’. It only worked when I told him that it was a far worse word than shit! When I opened the door, their mother saw two gleaming children and one bedraggled adult. I think the children were sorry to go (no one else had let them finish up ALL the cake batter before. No wonder I had a special place in their hearts) and surprisingly I was even sorrier to see them go (I know, I know, but they were growing on me. It was especially easy to miss them now that I knew they were going home!) But that was all taken care of when I remembered that I still had to mop all the water from beneath my bed.
As they left my front door, I could hear the kids excitedly tell their mom – we saw lots of kissing and we learned bad words and we held aunty up-side down in the pool (it was during the attempted drowning and no I was not up-side down in 2 feet of water, I was only head down!!!) and we drank so much ketchup and …. My friend did look back at me a little confused and I just shrugged my shoulders as if to say – sheesh, kids you know, what can I say….
My friend called the next day asking why 5-year old boy was saying “shicks” so much. He had obviously gotten his shit and shucks all mixed up but I did not see the need to worry her with trivial details.
Strangely, these kids have never been allowed to visit me again.