My nephew Colin recently celebrated his fourth birthday, and recently I had the opportunity to baby-sit the little guy. I was looking very forward to it; I adore Colin and love the time I spend with him.
A few months back I got a glimpse of how hyper-vigilant one needs to be around kids. My sister Theresa asked me to watch Colin for half an hour at the mall so she could do some shopping alone. I was amazed that just trying to keep Colin in my line of sight was next to impossible. One moment he’s running off. Glance in another direction, and the little feet are zooming away at warp speed. Daring you to chase him. Always on the go.
To further scare me, Theresa sent me a hilarious email entitled “Things that should be avoided when baby-sitting Colin.” The first line was the most prophetic: “When silence is heard throughout the house, all is NOT well. Find Colin immediately. He will be doing something wrong. Count on it.”
I was amused as I read on: “Colin is what we call a “grazer”. He eats constantly. You will hear, “I want, and I want,” many times.”
Theresa followed these and similar paragraphs with some things I knew well such as, “Colin is not allowed to eat in the living room.” And more standard obvious warnings, such as, “Knifes and matches are not allowed,” (I guessed that one on my own, thank you) and, “Colin has been known to open the door and go outside on his own. Always listen for opening doors.”
The note continued into the second page. Colin had more instructions than my digital answering machine. Any attempt to get Colin into bed at anything approaching normal bedtime would be futile. If all was quiet, I should check on him because he would be a) in the linen closet trying to sleep; b) trying to get me to agree to letting him sleep on the floor near the stairs; c) hiding in another room; d) making up a story explaining why he can’t sleep.
The stories were legendary — I’d witnessed some of them — and were usually along the lines of, “Here Bunny wants to sleep with you… Hi Mommy, can I stay downstairs and watch TV with you… Mmmmmmm I smell popcorn… I don’t have a blanket on… I don’t want a blanket… Can I have your pillow?… Here you can have my pillow… I have to go to the bathroom. I don’t want to stay upstairs by myself… I love you… I don’t love you anymore… I don’t want to talk to you anymore… Can I have a glass of water? Do you have some candy? I am not tired” and a Rolodex of others.
Theresa ended the note with a lists of foods the little guy liked, and said, “If you really want to be his hero spend $5.00 and get take out chicken fingers and French fries at Grumpy whites.”
On my way over to the house that Sunday, instructions in hand, I was thinking about Colin. I’ve tried to be a good role model for Colin; I’ve let him “help me” do home repairs and tried to involve him as much as possible in my life. I love the time I spend with him.
He can be very funny; especially when his temper acts up. That’s led to some hilarious confrontations; one afternoon a few months ago I wouldn’t give him more soda and he shouted, “I am very mad at you!” stormed off and stood in the corner, arms folded.
I gently walked into the room and knelt beside him. “You’re mad at me?”
“Yeah,” he said with scorn.
“I don’t care,” I said, imitating his arm folding. “I’m mad at you, too!” I stomped my foot a little for effect
That brought the big goofy smile. Arms outstretched, he said, “I’m not mad at you anymore!”
Well, that was a relief!
I know he can be a handful; but he’s no brat and has a good heart. The evening would be fun, I decided.
I arrived at the house, got the usual big hug from Colin, last minute instructions from Theresa, and then I was alone.
And suddenly I was terrified. Holy God, I’m solely responsible for this little person.
The terror passed after a moment; it wasn’t like I couldn’t do this. I was just surprised at how scary it suddenly seemed.
I was already hungry, so I suggested we go to Grumpy White’s for his chicken fingers.
Mentioning food had the desired effect, and within minutes I had him bundled up, tiny sneakers back on, little coat and hood securely fastened.
“Where’s your white car?”
“I sold it, Colin.”
“Well, it had a lot of mileage — ” I stop, realizing my audience was a four year old with a twelve second attention span and amended, “it was broken.”
“Oh,” he says. “I need my umbrella,” and with that he races off and picks up a little toy umbrella.
He crawls into the back seat and I start buckling him into the car seat. He has the silly smile on his face.
“Hello!” he chirps.
“Hi Colin,” I mutter, fiddling with the buckles and snaps.
“Hello!” he sings. He starts to laugh. “Hello!”
“Hello, Colin.” Now I’m smiling
“Hello!” he laughs, “Hello! Hello! Hello!”
Finally we’re on our way. We race into Grumpys and pick up the chicken fingers. Colin wants to carry the food to the car, but I decide it’s better I carry the food — and the little man.
“We need Coca-Cola,” I announce. I’ll need energy to chase Colin later. A lot of energy.
Colin is buckled in again, we drive across the street, and he’s unbuckled (I start seeing just how much effort it is to do the most simple errands with a child along) and we get the coke, chips and a bag of candy … He also requests slush, in green, his favorite color.
He says thank you without prompting, and he’s half-finished the slush when we get back to the house. He’s very amused when I add ketchup to his dinner plate in a big smile face.
“Where’s the nose?” he asks.
Oops, I forgot the nose. A quick blot of ketchup between the other blots — instant nose.
Now I’m breaking another rule — don’t let him eat in the living room. But he wants to watch TV, and I want him to eat. A compromise seems in order. I make a small steak and veggies for myself and sit with him.
For over an hour he picks at his food, plays with his trains, watches two minutes of a cartoon, goes to get a toy, eats another French fry … adds candy and potato chips to his slush … a 4 year old perpetual motion machine.
The Brady Bunch is on; it’s the one where Marcia loses her diary and Desi Arnaz Jr. shows up; I remember most of the dialogue.
Note to self: Must get a life.
“Bobby? I want to play trains with you.”
Colin’s a big “Thomas the Tank Engine” fan — and has an elaborate train set with Percy, James, and all the other Thomas characters. It makes me happy that of all the electronic gizmos he has, his favorite toy is a wooden train set. He has a wonderful imagination.
“You can have this one,” he explains.
I reach for another car. “No!” he snaps. “You take THAT one.”
There’s an order to these things, apparently. I tell him about the train set I had when I was little. We crash the trains and I make noises of people dying horribly in the crash. He giggles. “Do it again!”
A half-hour passes; I sit back down on the couch, and he comes ambling over, pointing to his knee. I’m in for a story. I love his stories — they can be hilarious.
A little later, in an insane moment, I pick up the comics from the Sunday paper. They are literally torn from my hand. Little man is wearing that smile.
“Colin,” I explain, “I just want to read the comics!”
“No!” he says, and there’s the smile again. He’s teasing me. Daring me to chase him. Now I get theatrical and say, “I want to read the paper, evil boy!” and I deliberatel
y grab another section of paper and pretend to read it.
His head is now between the paper and me. “You can’t get me,” he taunts.
The TV is now showing a broadcast of N’Sync’s recent concert. I’m actually interested (Note to self: Must get a life) and start watching. Colin stands in front of the TV.
“Colin, it’s N’Sync! When you grow up they’ll be your oldies!”
He gives me the impish smile and snaps off the TV.
“You can’t get me,” he giggles. “You can’t get me.” It’s a song now. He races to the other side of the coffee table.
Now my voice is very booming and theatrical. “That’s it, Colin … I’m going to have to kill you now!”
That elicits a squeal of delight. “You can’t kill me!”
So I start chasing him around the coffee table, finally catching him, letting him get loose, chasing him again, and pretending to kill him, making all sorts of silly comments and quoting stupid movie lines. He thinks it’s hilarious.
For the next twenty minutes, we run, chase, and at the end, I’m exhausted and he’s raring to go.
“Do it again, do it again!” he squeals.
“Colin, Bobby’s very old and tired and has to die now,” I explain between gasps.
The night passes quickly; with little protest he helps me pick up the potato chips he crushed into the rug; the shredded newspaper cleanup takes some coaxing.
Later, Theresa and Mom arrive with Chinese food. Over chicken chow mien and rice, Colin raves about all the fun he had that night.
“Do you want Uncle Bobby to baby sit you again?” Theresa asks him.
“Yeaahhhh!” he answers quickly.
“Was Colin a good boy?” Theresa asks me, obviously for Colin’s benefit.
“Yeah, he was,” I say with a smile. And I mean it.
Despite terrible twos, terrible threes and terrible fours, despite the fact I didn’t have one second to myself that night, I loved it. Baby-sitting the little guy was an eye-opener, but I’m still amazed how much I enjoy my time with Colin. I’m not his dad, but I’ll always see him as a son. Although I’m not raising him, I hope that the time we spend together is a good influence and makes a difference for him. Meanwhile, I hope to watch him again soon, only next time I’ll get more rest beforehand, and leave the Sunday paper at home.