July 28, 2014
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Mr. Adventure: Babysitting? Me?

Seriously inexperienced, our writer aims to keep four kids safe (alive) and orderly (kind of) for one enchanted evening.

Illustration by Gary Hovland

Like an apple or orange tree that bears fruit—but fully expects it to be carried away by a migrant farmer with a basket—I haven’t given much thought to offspring. They will happen someday, of course, but, until Maury Povich has me in his sights, I’ll continue to avoid eye contact and leave my non-organic cleaning supplies blissfully unsecured.

It’s not that I don’t want kids; I just know that when I hear other people talk about their children, it makes me throw up in my mouth a little bit.

They’re like Norwegian houseguests—what on earth are you supposed to do with them?

And yet, I am drawn toward the unknown. So when someone asked recently if I might be interested in babysitting for a night, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to see what all the fuss is about.

The experiment was simple: four kids, ages 6 to 11. Two boys and two girls, who were as excited about me as I had been about the shrubbery leading from the driveway to the front porch. There was little 6-year-old Pauline (an exact one-third-scale replica of Mare Winningham), playing Minecraft on her iPhone; 8-year-old Wilson (who looked like a miniature Christopher Titus), frantically swinging a paper plate in anticipation of pizza; 10-year-old Marilyn, stretching for no apparent reason; and 11-year-old Malcolm, the self-appointed group greeter (and a dead-ringer for Philip Seymour Hoffman—who, I think we all agree, was terrific in Mission: Impossible III).

“I’m the funny one,” said Malcolm, breaking the ice. “Pauline is the shy one. He (Wilson) is the crazy one and she (Marilyn) is the normal one.”

“Well, I’m the adult one (ish),” I said—to a chocolate lab named Montreal. By this point, the gang had gathered around the kitchen table and were devouring delivery pizza. The parents had multiple meetings that evening and left me in charge of their kids, their home and their new luxury SUV. Occasionally, the kids’ heads would pop up to see whose voice was attempting small talk with them. It was like a scene from Meerkat Manor, but without the clever narration.

“So which one of you has to go to cheer practice in a bit?” I asked. Everyone pointed toward Marilyn. Even

Marilyn pointed toward Marilyn.

“Ah, terrific. The normal one is leaving. That’s just great,” I thought.

My window to impart some much-needed wisdom was small. Or is it infuse them with some much needed-wisdom? Oh well, whichever. I planned to cover such sage advice as “buy low, sell high,” “the caged bird’s got to fly,” and “never trust a ‘ho.’” But as soon as they had finished eating, they ran straight for the pool. It seems that 30-minute wait thing is a myth. Apparently their pool was being drained, and the kids found it fascinating because they could stand up in it. Riveting.

“It’s like a skate park,” said Wilson or Titus or whatever his name was, as he leapt in with a boogie board, followed closely by Philip Seymour Hoffman. The girls headed outside to the trampoline for what looked like some very dangerous flips and bouncing in the pouring rain. For a moment it was as though I was watching the Duggars’ version of Cirque du Soleil. “Uhh, please be careful one-third-scale Mare Winningham,” I shouted halfheartedly. (I assured myself if they were my actual kids I would have shouted wholeheartedly.)

A turn back toward the pool found the boys running across its bottom and jumping onto their boards in an effort to skim across the top of the water. It’s a terrific concept on the beach, where there’s soft sand to cushion your fall. In this setting, 8-foot-high walls of solid concrete were dangerously close. The boys were seemingly unaware that they could break their necks or smash their faces in at any moment.

And I was not prepared for that kind of emergency. It was about this time that I realized I probably should have come better prepared. Perhaps a first-aid kit or one of those adrenaline needles that you need to plunge into someone’s heart when they’ve OD’d. At the very least, I could have programmed 9-1-1 into my phone, but it seemed like too much effort for three numbers. (Only later did I learn that their father was a plastic surgeon, so all that worry was for naught.)

Regardless, I had lost control about 20 minutes into this madness.

It was as though I stopped existing just minutes after my arrival. All I was good for was the occasional “Geez,

don’t kill yourself ” when somebody considered jumping off the wall of the pool into shallow water or

attempting death-defying tumbles across the rain-soaked backyard. Even the dog was unresponsive—and wet.

“I’m taking a trip to PoopyLand,” Titus declared as he headed inside. Oh God.

And I still had to get little Marilyn to cheer practice by 7 p.m. So these kids needed to get their act together and dry off so we could all hop in the SUV and head over. Seriously, can’t kids keep a schedule? I hadn’t even been there an hour and I wanted to leave. Not a good sign.

“OK, we really need to get moving or we’re going to be late for cheer practice,” I said (for the first time ever). “And since I have no idea how cheer practice works, we have to stay together because I really doubt I’ll remember what you look like if we get separated. Maybe I should just take a photo of you with my iPhone

just in case. You know what? Never mind. Just get in the car.”

And with the navigational guidance of a 10-year-old (“I don’t know left from right, just go that way”), we were off on our real-life adventure to cheer practice. It was a perfect opportunity for me to learn more about the kids.

“Who here speaks Spanish? I need to hire some day laborers,” I said, only to be shushed by the Hoff.

“Oh, turn it up! Turn it up!”

It was Robin Thicke’s controversial hit song, Blurred Lines. I can now tell you from experience that few things are more precious than listening to small children scream out:

What do they make dreams for

When you got them jeans on

What do we need steam for

You the hottest b*tch in this place!

Yep, adorable.

Luckily, we were able to unload Marilyn and get everyone else back to the house in time to work on Titus’ spelling homework. Who knew “obvious” was such a tough word? The rest of the night was spent in the glow of video game screens illuminating microwave popcorn for the second half of its journey from bag to mouth. Bed was just minutes away.

“Oh my God,” Hoffman said. “We should go out for frozen yogurt!”

Seriously, what are the Jolie-Pitts seeing here that I am not?

 

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