When you live abroad as an expatriate, you tend to look out for your own (read: other English speakers, people who love Skippy, etc.) more than you might at home. On a hockey team, with our transient lives and rink-based commonality, this is doubly true. So, when the couple from Ontario that lives downstairs from us asks us to babysit for a few hours so they can have a bit of a date, we naturally say yes.
This might not seem like a big deal when a mere outsider observes. Dave and I are both responsible adults with a basic knowledge of CPR, some rudimentary understanding of child psychology and the capabilities of dialing 9-1-1 (or 1-1-2 here in Germany). Dave would be quick to point out that he even passed the Red Cross Babysitter Course about 15 years ago. So technically, I would never suggest that any parent should hesitate to leave their child with us on the grounds of concern over well-being. If I were writing an advertisement for Dave and Lane’s babysitting service, our slogan would be “We can definitely keep your child alive for a few hours, and possibly even an entire day.”
The catch comes when you realize that we both tend to become very confused and disoriented by children. I have a hard time distinguishing a 4-year old from a 9-year old. Dave has no idea what they are saying if they use any vocabulary that could be considered ‘baby talk.’ So we generally do a lot of nodding, smiling and brow-furrowing while dealing with kids of all ages.
Our charge for the evening, Ava, seemed to know all our weak points. She would scream “Watch me!” and then proceed to jump up and down/run in a circle/shake her booty/shout the first three letters of the ABC’s and then look to us for a proper reaction. We’d nod and say “Well done!”, which never seemed to fully satisfy her. She’d grab a pretzel off the table, jam it in her mouth, and eat it as fast as possible with her face 2 feet from Dave’s. He’d say “Is that pretzel good?” She’d laugh hysterically as if he were her own personal Jerry Seinfeld. And this cycle would repeat.
Since meeting us Ava has determined, since we sleep in a room together like her parents (a girl named “Mommy” and a boy named “Daddy”), that Dave must be my daddy. No amount of explaining can convince her otherwise. So last night when she saw a picture of us getting married, she asked (understandably) “Why did you marry your daddy?” How can I answer this question without creeping myself out? In fact it wouldn’t matter, because every answer we give to any question she asks is followed up with “Why?” This is repeated several times until I literally have no choice to but answer the dismissive “Because it just is.” I’m sorry to admit it, but it turns out I don’t have all the answers.
Luckily for us, Ava is a really good 3-year old. She likes to talk, dance and scream/sing, but she is also easily convinced to play games that have to do with laying down or cuddling up with blankets quietly. In fact, her favorite activity of the evening turned out not to be reading “Green Eggs and Ham” (although Dave enjoyed the trip down memory lane) or watching “Charlotte’s Web” (not the vintage animated 1973 version, but the electronically aided 2006 live version with that creepy child actress as Fern). Instead she preferred to pretend Dave was a baby and ever-so-meticulously tuck him in…over and over again. Dave was tired, so he didn’t protest.
Overall, the night was a success. By the time the parents got home, Ava didn’t want us to leave. That probably has less to do with how awesome we are and more to do with the fact that we don’t have the backbones that her parents have and 3-year olds have a keen sense for that kind of thing. Truth be told, we were exhausted, spent after only 3 hours of answering all the “why’s?”, reading and re-reading the same books and properly acknowledging all the special dances. What does this say for our future parenting? Probably that we need some work, a few books, choice words of advice and as much caffeine as we can find. Until then, procreate and remember that we are available to practice our future-parenting on your existing children!