I frantically got the kids dressed, brushed their hair and headed out the door.
“But we haven’t had breakfast yet.”
“What…” I spluttered, “have… you… been… doing all morning?”
“But I told you we were going to the movies today.” I had even called and reconfirmed with their mum the day before.
Okay, maybe I had slightly unrealistic expectations from a six-year-old girl and three-year-old boy.
However, it was a bewildering assault to my logical, organized and highly planned corporate mind which until then had meticulously planned my holiday itineraries: days, departure/arrival times, prices, bus numbers…
Forward planning and time management were my forte. After all, it’s in my Capricorn genes.
However, my precise, controlled life began to unravel unexpectedly when I started babysitting 14 years ago.
Even after our tenth play date, Jen and Nick were never ready - ever. I mean, these kids were up at 6am!
“What have you been doing all morning?” became our in-joke every time the kids’ mum greeted me at the door, still in her pyjamas, looking frazzled and slightly delirious.
“Shut up. The kids are in the lounge room,” she’d say, “I need to have a shower.”
“What’s that for?” I asked, as the kids’ mum handed me a day pack.
“Spare undies, clothes, snacks and water.”
“We’re just going to the movies!” I protested, “We’ll be back in two hours.”
Okay, I admit, the day pack came in handy: one of the kids needed a change of clothes after spilling their drink, while the other one had a toilet accident.
And yes, they ate all the snacks their mum had packed for us. I just couldn’t understand why I was the one carrying the bag when it was packed with Jen and Nick’s clothes!
Despite my attempts, though, we never managed to leave the house on time. We were always running late, or had to change plans at the last minute. Unlike me, Jen and Nick weren’t clock watchers. The fact that they couldn’t actually tell the time was irrelevant.
As the kids drew me closer into their young, carefree world, my life systematically fell apart.
Five side effects of babysitting
1. My hold on time unraveled
I reluctantly let go of my rigid timeframes: I discovered that it took hours just to get to the park and back. If we missed the 10am movie session, we simply went to the next one.
2. I stopped making forward plans
I rescheduled my appointments with the tax accountant, dentist and hairdresser to another day. See point #1.
3. I began to dress down
“Why do you always wear those clothes?” asked Jen, disapprovingly looking at my 'play' clothes.
“Because you and Nick are always sneezing, throwing up and spilling food on me.”
“Well, my clothes are prettier than yours,” she insisted.
4. I started using my imagination
“Can you make up a story,” Nick asked one night as we prepared for our bedtime story ritual.
Er…how about Goldilocks, the three bears, three pigs, three sheep, three goats, three llamas, the Hairy Coo and the three wee Hairy Coo children, the wolf, and the Kung Fu Fighting Bunny with the super deluxe Nimbus 2004 numchuckers…
Our epic Goldilocks saga reached approximately 80 chapters over five years.
5. I started having fun
I drew, painted, sang, played in the park, built cubby houses on the couch and camped out in the back yard with the kids. We laughed a lot. We got into trouble all the time. And we had lots of great adventures together.
Advanced Babysitting 501
My professional resume doesn’t adequately cover my broad range of skills and abilities gained through my extensive babysitting experience. The list below is a more accurate and relevant description of my attributes:
· Resourceful interior decorator, specializing in indoor cubby houses, using chairs, quilts and clothes pegs
· Ability to prevent serious accidents through finely-tuned reflexes
· Excellent bedtime story presentation techniques
· Exceptional tummy rubbing skills
· Ability to administer timely and effective first aid/TLC for aches, pains, scrapes and all major illnesses
· Intuitive capacity to identify and prevent potential hazards around the home
· Ability to act silly
· Well developed cheerleading skills
· Ability to maintain enthusiasm in all weather conditions
· Consistent provider of unconditional love in extreme and testing circumstances
Four residual effects of babysitting
1. I’m perpetually running late
I’m still not able to get out of the house on time and am challenged to arrive promptly for appointments.
2. I make minimal plans
I avoid forward planning and take each day as it comes.
3. I’m flexible
I deal with unexpected circumstances easily and with minimal fuss.
4. I don’t take myself seriously
I’m not as uptight as I used to be and can laugh at myself most of the time.
During those 12 years I changed real jobs six times, travelled overseas five times and moved houses at least a dozen times.
Jen and Nick - and our increasingly outrageous bedtime story saga - have provided much laughter, crazy adventures and lasting memories.
I look forward to their post-teenage years when our conversations can again involve more than just monosyllabic text messages.