Monday, October 11, 2010
COLUMN: Parenting 101
Four nights a week, my girlfriend earns extra cash looking after two precocious siblings, ages 6 and 7. It's gotta be easy, right? Just put them to bed, and once those girls are asleep, you could parade a marching band through the house performing Concerto for Air Horn and Jackhammer #2 and they still wouldn't blink an eye. So my version of "come help babysit" usually involves watching a movie while listening to wee snores from the bedroom.
Not so much last week.
The 7 year old -- I'll out her because I don't really think her classmates are big fans of the Arts and Living section -- has a bit of a bladder control problem. That's why Nana always sends them with pull-up diapers for the latest in fashionable moisture-absorbing eveningwear.
On this particular night, my girlfriend had already put the 6-year-old to bed when the other one came sheepishly out of the bathroom with a big UH-OH plastered all over her face.
"Amy?" she said in her most timid voice. "I don't have a pull-up in my bag. Don't worry, I won't pee, I promise!" Uh huh. It's probably not best to trust a new mattress and sheet set to the positive thinking of a seven-year-old.
"Are you sure you don't have one?" asked Amy. "Hand me your backpack." When I heard my girlfriend gasp, I knew it couldn't be good.
"WHAT... IS... THIS?!?!"
Amy was holding a pull-up in her hands that she'd fished out of the backpack. Huzzah! Problem solved! That's when I realized that the pull-up was -- how to put this delicately -- not un-used?
I've come to learn exactly what the family dynamic will be should Amy and I ever procreate. She will be the authoritarian, disciplinarian, teacher, and mother. I will be the guy who it's fun to play video games with. This is not to say that I'm entirely incapable of parenting, but Amy is a zen master at the craft.
"WHY DO YOU HAVE A PULL-UP FILLED WITH URINE IN YOUR BAG?"
"I didn't put it there!"
"DO YOU EXPECT ME TO BELIEVE THAT THE URINE FAIRY CAME DOWN AND PEED IN YOUR PULL-UP?"
"So you need to be honest with me. Did you put this in your bag?"
"DID YOU PUT THIS IN YOUR BAG?"
"GROSS! We're running to the store to buy pull-ups BECAUSE ONE OF US IS GROSS. Can you stay here and watch the other one? Don't let her come out of the bedroom. You'll be fine. I'll be right back."
And before I could even gulp, I was Shane Brown, Temporary Child Care Provider. Amy wasn't even out of the driveway when the crying started.
Crud! I'm already lousy at this. "Don't let her come out of the bedroom." But it's not cool to just ignore a crying child, is it? Maybe I should just be quiet and she'll fall asleep... drat.
"What's wrong, kiddo? Come out and talk to me."
"I... (sniffle)... can't... Amy would be mad!" Wow, that girlfriend of mine IS good. She can lay down the law without even being here.
"Well, umm, Amy's not here and I'm the adult, so what I say goes. And I say you can come out for a minute and tell me what's wrong."
No dice. I got up and headed into the bedroom. I'm an adult and I'm smart and I can handle a sad kid. And there she was, all puppy-eyed and sobbing.
"What's wrong?" I asked. "Amy and your sister will be right back."
"I wanna go home and my sister hates me and she punches me and kicks me and pinches me and she won't play with me and I tell her I want to play and she says NO! and she has all the Barbies and she even has the new Barbie and I said can I play with the new Barbie and she says NO! and I don't know why she hates me and I hate myself."
Urgh. Think, Shane, think. You've seen pretty much every bad family sitcom. You've witnessed the Keatons, Seavers, Huxtables and Bradys handle worse messes. There has to BE some kind of sagely advice you could offer right now. Let's see...
"Well, I know that big sisters can be mean sometimes, but how would you like it if you didn't have a sister? I bet it'd be lonely, huh? I didn't have a brother OR a sister when I grew up and I was lonely all the time."
Huge lie. I LOVED being an only child. I got all the presents, all the attention, and didn't have to worry about being punched or kicked or pinched or having my Barbies stolen.
"But why does she h-h-h-hate me? I like her and I just want to play and she's always so m-m-m-mean!"
Oh man, kid, can't you cut a newbie some slack? Okay, I can do this.
"You know why some people are mean? Because they're scared that people won't like them for who they really are. Just be yourself and be proud of the girl you are, because you're really cool. If your sister's mean to you, just walk away and don't be her friend and see how she likes it when she gets lonely."
Wow. That was, like, Mr. Miyagi good, right? This parenting stuff is EASY. Any second now, she's gonna look up at me and say, "Shane, you're the best babysitter ever, and when I grow up to win the Nobel Prize, I shall thank you for being my inspiration!"
"Shane?" See, told ya. "I just wanna come out there and watch a movie."
This was pretty much the time that Amy got back. with a couple stern words, she had the girls in bed like magic.
"Let me guess," she said, "she did the crying?" Yep. "And the everyone's-mean-to-me?" Umm, yep. "I-hate-myself?" Yeah. "So-let-me-get-up- and-watch-TV?" Gulp.
"Congratulations," said Amy, "you just got played by a six-year-old con artist. Welcome to parenting."
Okay, so maybe I'm not Mr. Miyagi. And maybe I learned some newfound respect for Amy's skills and learned that 6-year-olds will say just about anything to stay up late and watch TV. But I bet with some practice, I'd be good at the dad thing. The weird thing is, I kinda wanna try.