I’m a little bruised and sore, but I successfully baby-sat two toddlers for an evening. It makes me think I could handle being a father, provided it’s for no more than four hours at a time and the kids come out of the womb potty-trained.
The victims of the baby-sitting were Miles, human, age 4, and Owen, wild beast, age 2. They are the offspring of my friends Monty and Claire (names have been changed), who had a social engagement on Thanksgiving night. Like all legitimate social engagements, this one did not permit children; however, because of the holiday, all of the regular baby-sitters were unwilling or unable to help out.
Enter me. I like hanging out with Miles and Owen — they’re the only friends I have who don’t criticize me — and since their parents had invited me to their huge extended-family dinner earlier that day, I felt like I should reciprocate somehow. Besides, what else was I going to do on Thanksgiving night? My own family’s holiday festivities and their attendant trauma were hundreds of miles away. It was time to create my own tradition of trauma.
The boys were in fine spirits when Mom and Dad left. Miles, who is inquisitive and gentle, wanted to watch “Dinotopia,” a new ABC series about a world where bad actors live among, and are frequently eaten by, cartoons that sort of look like dinosaurs. Owen, who tears through life like a diaper-clad tornado, wanted to watch a video. Which video, exactly, changed every 10 minutes. Each time he would propose a new one, I would say, “We’ll watch that after ‘Dinotopia,'” and he would say, “‘Kay.” Children, I was pleased to realize, are easily manipulated and deceived.
Due to having the attention span of gnats, Miles and Owen would fill the time between cartoon-dinosaur attacks by jumping around the room. It was during one of these periods of monkeyism that I became, apparently, a jungle gym. As I lay on the floor, Miles would walk on me; he reported this to be fun because “you’re so squishy.” Owen, meanwhile, would stand on a chair and dive — I mean DIVE, head-first — onto me. I presume Owen has learned, no doubt by trial and error, that diving head-first onto the floor is unpleasurable. So what material does he believe my chest to be made of that would make it less painful to land on than the floor? At any rate, thus abused by the lads, I received two unfortunate pummelings in the crotchular region — you’d think Miles, being a boy, would know where not to stand on Uncle Eric — and a nasty blow to the mouth when I was unable to deflect kamikaze Owen before he could land, face-first, on my face.
In the past, I have joked about Owen’s demeanor, saying he has bees in his head and the bees are crazy. Baby-sitting him, I came to believe this is literally true. But also, I realized those bees are sharing space with an enormous set of saliva glands. If Owen were harnessed, I suspect he could single-mouthedly produce enough drool to engulf an entire village. (Why you would want to drown a village in drool, I don’t know. I’m just saying you COULD.)
I came away from the night with a greater appreciation for what parents cope with, especially stay-at-home mothers. Whenever I call Claire on the phone, she is out of breath. I could never figure out what, specifically, had been wearing her out, but now I can imagine it perfectly: Owen has been running around naked, refusing to be encumbered by diaper or pants. Or perhaps Miles is bouncing merrily on her midsection, scaling her as though she were a mountain. Maybe both boys, working in harmony, have assembled a nuclear warhead. Anything is possible when you’re dealing with little boys.
A welcome return, in my opinion, to the "Snide Remarks" columns that are about ordinary, everyday things, rather than meaningful issues. I didn't get a chance to mention it, but I hadn't baby-sat anyone since I was about 14. I got the hang of it quickly, though: By the end of the night, I was talking on the phone and eating ice cream like a pro.