Adventures in Babysitting

On Saturday, we watched our friends’ almost-2-year old little boy. We love the kid, of course, and we knew how much our friends needed a night off, but we were a little apprehensive.

Our home isn’t well equipped for kids. Our vintage Danish furniture isn’t designed to moonlight as a jungle-gym, although it had survived his previous visits. We have neighbors above and below us who had also survived his prior visits, particularly the day he discovered the percussion of his feet on our hardwood floors.

We couldn’t blame the kid for using our floors and furniture as toys since we didn’t have any real toys for him to play with.

What few toys we own aren’t really for children. We have a plastic sheep, for example, that wears a Santa hat and a frown. When you press down on the sheep, it poops brown jellybeans.

We didn’t buy the sheep to entertain a child. We bought it because Mr. WholeHog and I are both still childish enough to think that a sheep that poops brown jellybeans is hysterical.

To our relief, our friends’ child likes to play with the sheep instead of, say, our DVD player. (He triumphantly calls out “poo poo!” at the appearance of each brown jellybean). But I worry that the sheep sets a bad example for a child who will be potty trained in the near future.

The sheep poops wherever it wants to: on the coffee table, for example, or off the edge of the coffee table and on to the rug. Not the places you hope a child will poop. And when the sheep has released its beans, we turn the sheep over and pack the jellybean “poops” back inside. Again, not something you want a child to attempt. At least, it doesn’t occur to our friends’ child that jellybeans are edible.

The sheep may not be the best toy for toilet training, but it makes our friends’ child happy. Last Saturday night, we unfortunately discovered a toy that terrifies him: a plastic wind-up toy shaped as a nun.

We wound up the nun and let her go, expecting the same happy reaction as the pooping sheep. The nun started to walk and then sparks flew out of her mouth. We hadn’t remembered this feature of the toy, but it probably now gives our friends’ child nightmares.

He was traumatized by the sparking nun. He wouldn’t go back into the same room as the wind-up toy, even after we hid it. He wouldn’t play with his beloved trains (and the track we’d built in the living room). He rejected taking bath even though he loves the water.

In desperation, we offered him access to all that we’d hidden from him — the DVD player, Mr. WholeHog’s wall of CDs, and the plants on the back deck but he didn’t take the bait.

He wanted only to be held, to be carried outside and back inside, and then to read a few pages of a book about trains. And then to do it all over again: outside, inside, reading, outside, inside, reading. And he wanted it all from me.

Mr. WholeHog and I stared at each other over the top of the child’s blonde head as I read to him. We knew we had ruined our friends’ child, we didn’t need to say it. He’d never be the same. He’d have a life of problems with nuns. Our friends would never forgive us.

When our friends returned, though, they brushed off our fears. He reacts the same way to the vacuum, they said. They hinted that our guilt and fear were just hallmarks of the parenting experience.

The next day the child was, of course, fine. He smiled and laughed with us. He talked and played with his trains. He napped and told us he dreamt about choo-choos, not nuns.

But although the child was back to normal, I was suffering. My arms ached for days, my biceps knotted from carrying him up our block and back again, back into the house and out again.

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