Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Parenthood-ish


It’s quiet here now. No more messy faces to clean. No more chasing around the house. And while I relish it on many levels, I have to admit, I kind of miss the squeals, the stories, the barrage of questions, even the unintelligible gibberish. Not the poopy diapers though. I don’t miss those.

Last weekend I was treated to a little dose of parenthood when I agreed to take care of two children for three nights and four days. The one-year-old boy and nearly four-year-old girl in question are the offspring of two very good friends, who for all intents and purposes fall squarely into my “family” category. Meaning, of course I said, “Yes, I’ll take them! Go to Mexico. Scuba dive. Chill on the beach. Don’t eat raw fruits or vegetables.” Also meaning, they would do it for me too. I hope. And in all fairness, I didn’t have to go it alone, single parent style. My mom was on hand to help corral the little ones. It was a full, busy and mildly sleep-deprived four days and three nights. And other than successfully taking care of two kids, I got absolutely nothing accomplished. Which is okay, because I didn’t really expect to. But I did learn a few things during my temporary custody.

Kids are funny, really funny.

No need for a stint in front of a half hour sitcom to get a few laughs with Edie and Gray around. Seriously, these kids are funny. And they aren’t even trying, which makes it the kind of natural-born humor that is far more hysterical than even the best comedian’s ten-minute set. I spent a good twenty minutes completely amused at the dinner table one evening watching Gray attempt to eat grilled cheese with a spoon. I know it’s probably a little mean to laugh at the expense of a one-year-old. But in my defense, it was his idea to try and eat it with a spoon in the first place. And he would not let me help him. While he understood the general mechanics – food goes on spoon, spoon goes in mouth, the finer details were totally escaping him. Instead of turning the spoon upright so the sandwich bits would stay in on the trip to his mouth, he opted for the lick and stick method. Doesn’t work very well. But it’s damn funny to watch. Oh, and Edie, who is almost four and says the funniest things, had me and my mother doubled over in laughter when she explained to us, after a slightly messy trip to the bathroom, in a very serious voice, that “diarrhea just means excited poopers.” Comedians can’t make this stuff up. Nor can they deliver it with the genuine sincerity needed for a real laugh.

It’s both easier and harder when they don’t belong to you.

Taking over parenting someone else’s children can be a double-edged sword. There’s a lot that’s great about being Auntie Kii instead of Mommy. Hanging out with me is novel, special. At least for the one old enough to appreciate that she’s at a different house and that means doing some things she doesn’t normally get to do, like have a slumber party with me instead of sleeping alone in her own room. And of course, the obvious – I only had them for a few days, not an endless stretch through the formative years of their lives. Kind of takes the pressure off. And when you’re not the parent, I’ve also noticed that sometimes kids behave a little better. Oh, Edie definitely tested the waters with me, but when I was firm on boundaries, she backed down pretty quickly. I suspect she works a little harder to chip away at her mom’s resolve than she did with mine. You aren’t the parent. Yay! You can grant special dispensations, you can use a little fear of the unkown to your advantage, you can get away with sneaking them a treat or two that aren’t part of the normal repertoire. But there’s a flip side. You aren’t the parent. Which means, somewhere off in Mexico, or wherever they happen to be, there are parents of the little ones you are watching. And you have a responsibility to them too. To take care of their children the way they would, not the way you would if they were your own. You answer to those parents, at the end of the day. Heavy responsibility if you think about it. You might let your own kids stay up all night, swing from the chandeliers and eat Jello out of a shoe (this is a purely hypothetical example), but if that’s not how your friends’ roll, then when you take care of their kiddos, neither should you.

I think I’ll be pretty okay at this when it’s my turn.
I know it’s a tough and often thankless job. And it involves basically a lifetime commitment and a lot of time wiping something off of somewhere. But to be honest, I really do think it’s all worth it for the treasured moments. I spent a long weekend with Edie and Gray. And between the diaper changes, the messy meals and a few minor and thankfully short-lived temper tantrums, I got so much love and laughter. And sweet moments. With Gray, first thing in the morning, when he would nestle his little head down against me as I carried him from his crib, and just before bed, when I would rock him as he quietly sucked his thumb. And all the smiles and giggles and baby joy. With Edie, when she would curl up against me as I read to her before bed, and when she would sweetly and generously offer to help me clean up a mess or share her chicken nuggets. All the questions and fantasies of a little girl growing up. When they’re my own kids, I won’t be perfect at it, though I don’t think anyone is. But for four days and three nights with two little ones who only temporarily belonged to me, I did good. So when the time comes, I got this.

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