Last weekend I watched four children under the age of 10 from early Friday morning until Sunday evening. All by myself. It has taken nearly a week to find the right words to articulate this experience. Not really. That was just a dramatic set-up to excuse not writing this on Monday and also, if I can portray a scenario that earns me a few “How do you do it! I couldn’t do it!” sentiments from my peers, I tend to do so. It seems to be my nature. I imagine this is a result of being an out of work former assistant with a theatre background who has been told countless times “Look how well you talk in front of an audience! People admire that! Companies need that!”, when in reality what companies need is someone who can create a budget using Excel without having to Google “how to add numbers when they’re all in a row.” So yeah, sometimes it’s nice to think that while many people are a few steps/miles ahead of me in the career race, I have the upper hand in a few small life areas. What I know is kids. And one day when we all have them I can be like, “Oh, you’ve never done this before? See, the key to getting four children out of a locker room efficiently after swimming lessons is to make the two who were not swimming that morning sit on a bench stewing in their own misery and ignore their pleas to wander around the gym alone, while turning a blind eye to the other two standing in the showers peeing on each other so you can get swimsuits dried in those weird little machines, bags packed, and out the door in no less than 2o minutes.” It’s not experience I relish, but experience I have nonetheless. And while my nearly 15 years of experience as a babysitter I imagine qualifies me for some kind of adult Girl Scout child rearing badge, I am here to tell you that, holy shit, kids are a nightmare.
At this point, I have spent more hours taking care of children than I have on all other professional ventures combined and honestly it amazes me sometimes that so many young people (myself included) look at our wonderfully simple, independent lives, where every dollar we earn can be spent on ourselves and think, “Yep, I’d like to add a bunch of kids to this situation.”
“But it’s different when they’re your own!” Blah, blah, blah. Whatever, you guys. Yes, motherhood and fatherhood and parenting in general are very special experiences and your heart walks outside your body, and you learn what it is to love something more than yourself, and if a car fell on top of your crying baby, you would suddenly develop super human strength and lift that car up to save your most precious cargo’s life and when Oprah asks how you did it you’d say, “I don’t know, I’m just a mom.” But you know what? Ten years later you are going to ask that car baby what he has for homework and he is going to say, “UGH WHY DO YOU ALWAYS HAVE TO ASK ME THAT! IT’S NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS!” and you will have to call on patience you didn’t even know you had to prevent yourself from flipping that kid the bird and leaving the house for a week. My weekend as sole caregiver to these kids, twin nine year olds, an eight year old, and a four year old to be exact, was basically a 60 hour seminar in how to talk nicely to one another. And everyone failed. Do you know what it feels like to tell a kid to stop calling his brother a jerk and then out of the corner of your eye you see him MOUTH IT? Oh my God. Never.
I’ve known this family for six years, which means I have known the four year old since conception. I distinctly remember unloading the dishwasher in the summer of 2008 and thinking it had been weeks since I put a wine glass away and then realizing, “Oh God. Another one. It’s coming.” I remember all of them at that adorable age when they still couldn’t lift the milk out of the fridge. Now I find them with ten pieces of gum in their mouth and when I make a dinner suggestion I get, “No I don’t want SOUP. I’ll make my own dinner.” (For the record, I also think soup sounds like the worst dinner suggestion I’ve ever heard, but I know how to communicate that sentiment politely.) As kids get older they start becoming more confident with what they know about the world and more confident that everything they know, you don’t. I actually really enjoy talking to kids about what they’re learning in school or having thoughtful conversations with them about stories they’ve heard in the news. At dinner on Friday night I heard a really exciting interpretation of Hurricane Katrina. On our drive home from swimming lessons on Saturday morning, it was explained to me that none of them would attend a Justin Bieber concert because “he is not a good person” and “wears his pants too low.” I love hearing how kids respond to the adult world, how pop culture influences their preferences, what commonalities may lie between us. What I am less fond of is this: “Catherine why are you going this way? Why are you turning? That’s not the way to the movie theater! You were supposed to park back there!” Oh really?! Well let me turn around, drop you back off at that parking garage that leads to Von Maur and you can go ask the lady at the Clinique counter where the 1:45 pm showing of The Croods is! I am the adult! You know nothing! Maybe this is karma for when I was 14 and told my dad he was wrong, there was a middle seatbelt in the Honda Prelude, and so can you please now drive all of my friends over to some boy’s house. You know who turned out to be wrong in that story? I shiver at the memory. Either way, there is nothing quite like being bossed around by kids whose only area of expertise that might best your own is in multiplying fractions because they learned it, like, on Thursday. In every other situation you know more and you know better, and yet, to convey this simple truth to a child is next to impossible.
Also, teeth brushing! You mean to tell me that I arrived at the second floor approximately 20 seconds after you did and you managed to get your pajamas on, brush your teeth, and climb into bed? Yeah the fuck right. Why do kids lie about brushing their teeth? In a kid’s world, teeth brushing is probably the easiest thing they are asked to do in their daily routine, maybe only second to, “Here, eat this food I cooked for you.” I know that explaining in a wary tone that if they don’t brush their teeth, their teeth will rot and they’ll spend the rest of their lives eating apple sauce with their gums is the kind of long term consequence children can’t really wrap their heads around. So when it comes time to actually doing it, all they see is this wench lady standing before them, suddenly mandating a chore. Let me go get my violin, kid. I think I left it in the laundry room where I’m washing the eight different shirts you decided to wear today.
To quickly summarize, my weekend went something like this: “Talk nicely. Can you ask nicely? Don’t talk to each other like that. Did you hear me? Can you say ‘Yes, Catherine I heard you.’ Can you say, ‘Thank you Catherine for the movie?’ Can you say, ‘Thank you Catherine for lunch?’ How about a thank you? Please put Candy Land away. You can dribble that ball in the basement or outside. Where’s your sock? Do you need help zipping your coat? Finish your milk. Why is Candy Land still out? Sit up. Because I asked you to. Have three more bites. No you cannot have candy before breakfast. Buckle your seat belt. Why is the car moving and your seat belt is not on? Put a coat on. It’s 35 degrees outside, you cannot wear flip flops. If he says no you need to stop. Be patient. Be nice. Go outside! Talk nicely! Seat belts!”
Is it sometimes fun? Of course it is. If you’re up for enjoying the company of a kid, you probably will because they love you and they are just happy to have your attention and hear that the origami frog they made at school is the coolest fucking thing you have ever seen. What I take from my experience with children is an important reminder for young women that there should be absolutely no rush to get any of these life goals checked off our to-do list quite so quickly. Marriage. Buying a house. The perfect career. Kids. At this age, we see it happening to so many around us and confuse those gains in someone else’s life as a loss in ours. For anyone to feel behind or envious of their friends who appear to be a few steps ahead is wasting energy when there is so much fun to be had with what we’re given. Do you know what I did last night? I sat around my living room with three of my favorite girlfriends, drank lots of red wine, at one point my hair got curled, and then I went to bed at 2 am and now it’s 11 am on Saturday morning and I think I’m going to nap soon. That’s my life. And it’s so perfect. Do you know what the parents of those children probably did last night? Scrubbed a macaroni and cheese pot clean, watched an hour or two of basketball and went to bed at 11 pm because it all starts again at 6 am. No, as a 26 year old, I cannot say I am envious. In a hundred years (I don’t like to pressure myself with a timeline), kids may very well be a part of the equation and I will love them more than anything on this enormous planet and it will be so great. But that’s for later. For now, I am perfectly content dating guys who aren’t looking for a commitment, working in a theater company for the love not the money, embarrassing myself at an exercise class, and learning how to make better scrambled eggs. It’s the exact kind of life experience I need right now.