It may come as a surprise to many Bison readers that I am a veteran at baby-sitting. I know. That information doesn’t quite match the image you have — the picture of the fussy bachelor who would never risk getting spit-up on his lapel, or the smart-aleck columnist who would be tempted to make fun of the little tykes. But you would be wrong. I earned my stripes in baby-sitting 15 years ago. Yes, it was only one evening. But it was a very long evening.
It all started with a sign-up sheet at church. Over a 12-week period, our minister was taping a video sermon series, one lesson per week. The camera crew consisted of a husband and wife who were members of our congregation. They agreed to do the filming for free, provided the church would send someone to watch their two young boys during each filming session, which usually lasted from 6 p.m. until midnight. When the sign-up sheet for baby-sitting circulated in our Bible class, I clearly was not paying attention.
I now bring a lawyer with me to church to read anything that gets passed around.
But when my turn at bat came up, I thought, “How hard can this be?” I’m told Napoleon said the same thing before invading Russia. In my defense, this couple had a reputation for being easy going, and only one of the two boys was still in diapers. By contrast, I had heard about other parents who were a bit more particular. One of our deacons and his wife once went out of town and left their children in the care of friends who were given a nine-page, single-spaced handout with instructions on dealing with their children. An entire chapter was titled “Simon’s Bowels.”
But I received no such guidelines
when I showed up to this family’s home. Instead I was introduced to the two charming boys, ages 5 and 2. Since it would be indiscreet to tell you their names, let’s just call them Hatfield and McCoy. They started out as perfect angels. Then their parents left.
Since I had no younger siblings, I didn’t have any experience with small children. Hatfield and McCoy sensed this immediately. I could see the look of glee in the older boy’s eye, as if the prison door had been left open and Barney Fife put in charge. The 2-year-old also had a look of zeal, but not according to knowledge. He probably looked giddy all the time. Hey, when you don’t have to pay taxes or wear pants, life is one big picnic.
The next three hours were pure pandemonium. I tried to start off with a board game, but in retrospect, Monopoly may have been a little advanced for these two. After I had carefully set up the board and counted out the money, I saw all my hard work go up in the air. Literally. The children threw the board across the room, and I spent the next half hour picking red hotels out of the carpet. Thank goodness I left my chess set in the car.
Meanwhile, Hatfield went to pour himself a glass of milk. I consented to this, not realizing that a gallon container and a Dixie cup might be more than he could coordinate at one time. I spent the next half hour wiping 2 percent milk off the linoleum.
Which is why I was out of shape for the third event, in which McCoy decided to remove his diaper and run giggling through the house. I grabbed a couple of Dixie cups and took up the chase, trying to get out in front of the little chap before he could hose down the furniture. I did not succeed. On top of that, when I finally seized control, I realized that I had no idea how to reattach the diaper. Out of pure mischief, Hatfield volunteered to get the stapler, laughing like the villain in a Batman movie.
Story time was a disaster. At that time, I had a master’s degree in English literature, but for the life of me, I just could not follow the plot of “Goodnight Moon.” The 5-year-old heckled my timing. The 2-year-old started picking the staples out of his Pampers.
Mercifully, the time came to put the Joker and the Tinkler to bed. I got the boys a cup of water, and Hatfield offered to lead the bedtime prayer. I had no idea how long-winded a 5-year-old could be when he is stalling for time. We prayed for the family. We prayed for the neighbors. We prayed for the dogs. We prayed for the stuffed animals. I can’t remember exactly, but I think we may even have prayed for the ants who were now invading the kitchen floor.
But the kicker came at the ending. As the lad wrapped up his petition, he said — and I quote word for word — “Lord, help Mommy and Daddy to get home soon. And please bless the baby sitter, who doesn’t know what he’s doing.” Amen, Hatfield. Truer words were never said.