There’s nothing quite so rewarding to the parent of a teenager than watching that teen baby-sit younger children.
My daughter, Hannah, had a few regular baby-sitting gigs this summer. Lucky for her, the clients were fantastic, their kids well-behaved and just the right amount of precocious to keep things interesting.
After a recent job, Hannah returned home shaking her head like a middle-aged soccer mom and muttering, “That boy.”
“What do you mean?” I asked, and she related the story:
The kids’ mother had left Hannah with three instructions: Have them read for at least 30 minutes; make sure they pick up their toys; and have them clean their rooms.
It was nearly 3 p.m. and their mother was expected home by 4. The younger child, a boy, had read and picked up toys but hadn’t yet straightened his room. Ever the people-pleasing rule follower, Hannah could not envision telling the mom that her kids hadn’t completed their tasks or that her baby-sitting had fallen short of expectations.
Hannah told the boy he needed to clean his room – “because your mom said so” – and when he finished they’d have some popcorn and watch a movie.
“Wait,” the youngster argued. “Did Mom say I had to clean my room, or did she say I should?”
“She said you had to,” Hannah told him.
He went upstairs and shut his bedroom door, and for the next several minutes Hannah heard toys and clothes being thrown into drawers, closet doors slamming and the boy grumbling. Several minutes later, he emerged.
“Come up here,” he called to Hannah, “and see if this is good enough for you!”
I snorted at this, envisioning my daughter stifling laughter as she climbed the stairs.
I recalled heading upstairs one afternoon years ago after sending my son, then 5 or 6, to his room as punishment for some now-forgotten transgression and finding a note on the chalkboard easel that said, “Dear Mom, I don’t like you anymore. Love, Jack.”
Now Hannah, like me, was shaking her head and saying, “That boy.”
It’s fun when my daughter baby-sits in our house, too – smelling Kraft mac and cheese with cut-up hot dogs on the stove, watching “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory” on DVD, hearing the pop-o-matic bubble pop-pop-pop during Trouble marathons (“OK, best of three … no wait, best of seven …”) while I read or finish housework.
And occasionally, there’s the sweet sound of redemption.
I was washing dishes and singing a tune from “Les Miserables” recently when Hannah rolled her eyes and sighed, as usual. Her young charge at the time, 9-year-old Olivia, piped up.
“You know, Hannah,” she said. “I don’t really mind your mom’s singing.”
Ha-ha! I shouted and raised my soapy fist. Finally a child who appreciates my musical talents!
“Yeah? Easy for you to say,” Hannah told her. “You don’t have to live with it.”