Monday, April 11, 2011

COLUMN: Girls (Tippy Tippy Tippy HIDE!)

Sometimes I worry about the next generation of society... mostly because it's numbnutzes like me who'll be raising them.

It's no secret that I'm weirded out by kids. As an only child who grew up in the middle of the country, I havent been around kids since I WAS a kid. I don't know how to act, walk, or talk around kids, and the only way I can relate to them is as Slightly Less Skilled Video Game Players Than Myself.

To kids, I'm an ADULT, but I don't feel like an adult. I feel like a college student who's been on one looong paid internship. But the truth is, I'm now 40 years old. I'm a homeowner. I'm supposedly responsible. By the definition of the word, I AM an adult -- and that means children should be able to look to me for guidance, influence, and as a (I can't even type it without laughing) role model. I can barely tie my own shoes, let alone teach children right from wrong. Good thing, then, that I have my practice children.

My girlfriend teaches first grade at a small private school. However, since small private schools tend to issue small private paychecks, she makes ends meet by babysitting a pair of precocious girls four nights a week. One's five and one's six. Or maybe they're six and seven now. Or five and seven. They're TINY, that's all I know. And on many evenings, the four of us get to hang out like a miniature little family.

When I'm with the girls, my goal is simply to get through the night without causing any undue permanent emotional scarring -- to them or myself. Just how easy is it to influence wee children? I found out the other night.

My girlfriend and I had planned a home-cooked dinner date at her place. Usually, the girls' Nana drops them off around 8:30 on the verge of catatonia. Amy puts them into pajamas, kisses them goodnight, and they're out within seconds. This is what initially led me to believe that raising kids is a breeze. But this night was different.

It turns out Nana had a shindig to go to, so she dropped the girls off an hour earlier than usual. And instead of being on the verge of asleep, I think Nana had them hooked to an IV drip of Hawaiian Punch all day, because the girls literally exploded through the door. One of them started screaming, "SHAAANE! AAAAMY!!" while the other just jumped up and down for little to no reason other than it sure looked fun. We looked dumbfounded as they bounced around the house like human pinballs. Uh oh.

We made the mistake of having music playing in the background. That was all it took for one of them to start doing a surprisingly adept take on the Peppermint Twist while yelling, "SHAKE YOUR BOOTY! SHAKE YOUR BOOTY!" The other one, meanwhile, had looked to the table and honed in on the gift I had bought Amy that night. She's a huge fan of all things cute and furry, and I'm a huge fan of all things kitschy, so when I spied a stuffed Easter bunny that sings "Jesus Loves Me" when you push its belly, it was a must-buy. So in less than thirty seconds, our relaxing night turned into a booty-shaking, Peppermint-Twisting jamboree with the dueling soundtrack of Amy's stereo and "Jesus Loves Me" on an endless loop.

As quick as I could, I grabbed the remote and turned on the Disney Channel. Within seconds, the girls were zombiefied in front of "Phineas and Ferb," the two best babysitters a babysitter could ask for. Even I've got to admit, it's a pretty funny show. Five minutes later, both of the girls were snuggled up to me on the couch and I was second-guessing my ineptitude. It's ridiculous to feel intimidated around kids, I told myself. They're just kids, and see, everybody's all cute and cuddly on the couch and there's no reason to feel insecure or awkward or --

"Shane?" one of the girls asked.

"What is it, honey?" I said, newly secure in my role as World's Greatest Temporary Dad.

"I love your fat belly!"

I hate children. Okay, not really. But at that moment, I was pretty much satisfied as a cat owner. I'm pretty sure my cats like my fat belly too, but they're at least mannered enough to keep their mouths shut.

"Why don't you read the girls a story?" said Amy in a perfect subject-changing moment. Ooh, good call. I grabbed the top book from their pile and started to read.

"Tippy-Tippy-Tippy, Hide!" is the heart-warming tale of an innocent man's slow, spiraling descent into madness at the hands of sociopathic bunnies. In the book, the spritely Mr. McGreely gets his house all weather-proofed for winter when three bunnies come tippy-tippy-tippying through his mail slot. Creepy, right? So just as you and I would in such a case, he nails his mail slot shut. That's when they come in through the window. BAM! Nailed shut. The chimney? BAM! Every time poor Mr. McGreely seals one entrance, the bunnies come through another, leaving nose smudges in his tub and, eventually, "bunny drops" on his pillow. Now, I'm a sane and somewhat patient guy, but if I ever woke up to find myself snoring into a pile of rabbit dookie, I'd be killy-killy-killing some bunnies and dippy-dippy-disposing of their bodies. Eventually, poor Mr. McGreely seals up his entire house and likely falls victim to carbon monoxide. At the end of the book (spoiler alert!), he looks out his sealed windows to spring weather and the bunnies eating all his flowers.

Moral of the story? Let's see... Bunnies are evil? It's cool to drive people insane? In MY day, the three little pigs ATE the big bad wolf, Cinderella got Prince Charming, the giant fell down the beanstalk, and Jack and Diane were two American kids doin' the best they can. If the best we can teach kids THESE days is the joy of felony trespassing, I shouldn't care HOW I'm influencing the girls.

That was about the time that I passed by the bathroom. Inside, one of the girls was showering and singing to herself. And, as I caught the lyrics she was loudly belting out, I realized exactly how massive my sphere of influence was. And as I doubled over laughing, I realized just how awesome it is to have kids around in my life. Imagine you were in a vast room full of children and you had to guess which ones I helped babysit. Sounds like an impossible task, no? It turns out you'd figure it out pretty quick. They're the ones singing joyously:

"Shake my booty to and fro! For the Bible tells me so!"

I'm so proud.

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