Last night, I babysat the Chaos children.
At least, that’s what was supposed to happen. I was there, in the house. I watched them. I didn’t let them kill one another. I fed them. I diapered them. I put them to bed.
Did I take care of them?
I’m not sure.
Last night, I wasn’t a very good babysitter. I wasn’t a very good aunt.
It started well enough. The Munchkin Girl ran to greet me, and smothered me with hugs. She knocked me over and climbed on top of me, using me as her personal jungle gym and giggling wildly when I tickled her stomach. For the first time I can remember, when Kelly and the Computer Guru left, she just said “bye!” and went back to clinging to my legs as I tried to start dinner.
The Monkey Boy was more upset over mommy and daddy leaving, until he found out that I was making macaroni and cheese. He then hopped back up the stairs to play his computer game, periodically shouting down “Bobbi…Bobbi….BOBBI…. you need to make macaroni for dinner, okay?”
So I did. And things were okay right up until dinner. As the macaroni timer beeped, I received an e-mail.
I shouldn’t have read it. I knew when I got it that it wasn’t going to be good. Call it a sixth sense. I just knew that the contents of that e-mail were going to change my evening. But I read it anyway.
The news was bad. A friend of mine – someone I care for very much – had tried to get in touch with me the previous evening. I was out, and the message didn’t seem urgent, so I didn’t think to worry about responding briefly. I assumed that we’d get in contact at some point the next day. What I didn’t know then was that this friend was considering self-harm, hoping maybe to put an end to things. I didn’t know that my friend would go through with any plans like that. If I had, I certainly would have responded differently.
My friend was okay, but disappointed about having survived the evening. My friend was upset with me.
And me? I found myself in a house that wasn’t my own – the sole care provider for two blissfully clueless children – and having a small breakdown.
Anger. Anger that it had happened. Anger that I hadn’t seen it coming. Anger that promises were broken. Frustration. Guilt. Sadness. Tears. Fear.
I launched into solution mode, but my hands shook so badly I could barely hold the phone. I was consumed with thoughts of “what if…”
Meanwhile, the Monkey Boy ate his macaroni and tried to tell me something about digestion. Munch spit milk all over the table. She dumped macaroni on the floor. Monkey told me, “Bobbi…Bobbi…Bobbi…BOBBI BOBBI BOBBI…. *Munch dropped her macaroni on the floor.”
She probably could have hurled the macaroni at me, and I wouldn’t have noticed. I was starting the barrage of phone calls I would make in the next hour. Text messages to my friend, who wanted nothing to do with me. Calls to our mutual friends – unable to form complete sentences on the phone as I explained the situation. Calls that felt like betrayals, sharing secrets, trying to make sure that the people who needed to know what was happening knew what was happening.
“Bobbi…Bobbi…BOBBI! I’m full.”
“Okay. Stop eating then.”
It went on for awhile. I let the Munch out of her high chair. Monkey called down from upstairs, “Bobbi…Bobbi…BOBBI…I have an idea… let’s go outside!”
I told him fine. We’d go outside. He had to find his shoes. And his sister’s shoes. And put them on.
“But Bobbi…Bobbi… we’re not wearing shoes. We’re wearing sandals.”
And then, in my fear and frustration and anger, I snapped. I turned, and shouted, “I don’t care WHAT you wear. Just FIND your shoes and put them on!”
I immediately felt guilty.
Outside, it wasn’t much better. The Monkey Boy has a new obsession with sticks. He plays with them perilously close to Munch. My nerves were already fried, and I felt like I spent the entire time barking commands.
“DON’T play so close to your sister!”
“LEAVE HER ALONE!”
“IF YOU TOUCH YOUR SISTER WITH THAT STICK, I’M GOING TO TAKE IT AWAY.”
Finally resorting to the kind of commands I use with The Cooper Puppy.
It got dark. We went inside. I bathed the Munch and put her to bed. And then I found the Monkey playing in his room. Watching him, I felt waves of guilt. My anger and fear at a situation that had nothing to do with him had led me to behave badly. Where I’m usually patient, innovative, and even-tempered with the children, I was short-sighted and short-fused.
And the kid really hadn’t done anything.
In fact, compared to some nights, he was an angel.
So I cried. And then I apologized.
“I’m sorry I was angry earlier. It wasn’t your fault. You didn’t do anything wrong.”
“I know. I was just trying to *unintelligible something about buzz lightyear, I think*”
“I know. Bobbi was just upset and she was naughty because of it.”
“Why you upset?”
Why? So many reasons. None of which a four-year-old should understand.
“Well, my friend is really sick. And that made me sad.”
“Oh. Why is your friend sick?”
I wish I knew. If I did, I could be more help. If I knew why, I could take away that pain.
“I don’t know Monkey. Sometimes people just get sick. You wanna go brush your teeth now?”
The teeth were brushed. Hugs were given. We read a book about the body and Monkey explained to me the intricacies of how germs work. I told him I loved him and put him to bed.
In the long run, he probably won’t remember this night. He’s more likely to remember the fun we’ve had. He won’t ever know how bad I feel about losing my temper with him. He’s probably already forgiven me.
Did I take care of the children last night?
I’m not sure. But in a lot of ways, they took care of me – with hugs and kisses and sticky fingers, reminding me that there’s always hope.
Last night, I was a bad auntie. But we survived it. And maybe today will be better for all of us.