As all working parents know, Day Care professionals need a vacation, too. A paid vacation. So every year, for one week—often two—plus some obscure holidays, working parents must scuffle for alternative child care.
Lucky ones have fully functioning parents within a reasonable drive. Rosemary and Steve: Grandparents to the rescue.
We’ve done it all before. And we did it when we were young, poor, and mostly ignorant about how to do it. How hard could this be?
So each morning at 8:00 AM, Savannah, four years old, and Jackson, twenty-two months old, are deposited at our door step. Rosemary, an early riser, greets them as all loving Nanas do: smiles and cheery hellos. Steve, aka Papa, usually still lounging in bed, is roused by happy screeches and the occasional non-specific whine. A whine like no other. It is very like an ice pick in the ear. A most effective alarm.
Nana offers breakfast and sincere queries to the whiner as to specifics of the problem.
“Do you want juice?…. Eggs…? Toast…? Milk…?”
Each answered with a scurrilous, shrieked, “No!”
I have since been reminded that the first two words a toddler learns are, No! and Mine! They serve as a catch-all answer for any question. They even say no when they mean yes.
For the last twenty or so years I have been sheltered from conversations that have no logic and are unfettered by even the most rudimentary social skills. Our brains are pattern recognition machines. There is no pattern to this noise.
I get up, put on my robe and escape to the bathroom. I muster a happy face and greet the urchins as I pass by. They are happy to see me for five seconds, after which I become an obstacle to their free-range behavior. Every toy is out of the box and under foot in less than a minute. Every toy’s ownership is loudly re-negotiated. I threaten to throw away any small plastic part that my bare feet find.
I lock the bathroom door because whatever I am doing in there is infinitely more interesting than anything going on elsewhere. Jackson is the strongest two year old I remember meeting. He could pop the hook and eye off the bi-fold doors easily if I didn’t put a hand on them as I brush my teeth. I actually think he should join me in there now and then, in the hope that the learn by watching thing that humans are so good at will get him out of diapers sooner.
Dirty diapers. That’s where the women are separated from the men. A grandmother will joyfully ask the little guy if he, “…has poopies in his diaper?”
Whatever the situation, Jackson says, “No!”
Whereupon, Nana grabs him for closer inspection which may involve eye and/or nose verification. Really! Pick up the kid, turn him around and stick one’s nose in the general area. Only mothers and grandmothers are capable.
In my own defense I must tell you that Mrs. Rapson cannot pick up vomit of any kind, or animal accidents, without adding to the mess herself. That’s been my job, manfully accepted, for the duration. But poopies in the diaper, no problem.
The strategy for the next nine hours is to keep them busy. Rosemary has several techniques. Put them in the car and take them shopping. The main benefit being they are restrained in their respective seats.
We also take them on little hikes. Bike paths, woodsy trails, keep them doggies moving. They can walk for about a mile. Any more than that and Jackson sits down. Savannah is more of a trooper, wearing the grandparents out if we let her. If a playground is nearby, a half hour there is good.
Then home for lunch. Jackson is worn out by then, but still objects lustily at the prospect of a nap. He runs to a protected space behind the furniture, falls to the floor in true operatic high drama fashion. Where do they learn that? He wails as if his leg were being sawed off. We have discovered that if Papa picks him up and puts him in the crib, he objects less and I am a hero for a few minutes.
While Jackson naps, Nana and Savannah have some quality time in the pond. Papa listens to the silence, now appreciated so much more since its absence.
Lather, rinse, repeat. For five days.
The German philosopher, Schopenhauer, famously said, “I have long held the opinion that the amount of noise that anyone can bear undisturbed stands in inverse proportion to his mental capacity and may therefore be regarded as a pretty fair measure of it.”
I take this as evidence that one becomes wiser with age. I remember the noise my own two children generated. I survived it for nearly twenty years.
But now, Gentle Reader, after five days I am barely able to think. Each cacophonous outburst jangles my inner peace. There is no escape. Like the cat that knows you are disturbed by her attentions, the children seek me out wherever I might hide. I love them dearly. But is not the most perfect love experienced from afar?
So today as they set off for home at the end of their week with Nana and Papa it was with true happiness that I hugged them goodbye. Post ice cream kissing being generally a messy affair.
Hello, darkness, my old friend.
Steve Rapson is a concert guitarist, songwriter, and author of The Art of the SoloPerformer: A Field Guide To Stage & Podium. He has released several CD’s of his guitar playing and songwriting.