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Babysitting by a non-parent

I’m 32… sorry, 33 (just had a birthday – it’s taking some getting used to. I still feel like I’m a teenager) and am now starting to enter the phase of my life where people call me “Madam” in shops and are labelling my prescriptions with “Mrs” even though nobody has been brave enough, as of yet, to take on that challenge. I haven’t changed my beauty routine so apart from the bags under my eyes (Prada) through chronic lack of sleep, I can only assume this is a reaction to the obvious wisdom in my eyes. I’m now seemingly a mature lady (haha, penis! *giggle*)

It’s also definitely probably this same wisdom that meant a friend of mine recently turned to me for help and asked me to look after her 11 year old son for four days (the boy). For some reason, I look like a responsible adult and as such I very responsibly said I’d help out. This is despite the fact that I’m pretty sure I have undiagnosed Tourette’s and have managed to swear at some point in front of her son nearly every time I’ve spent time with them to the point where he now feels comfortable to correct me and pull me up on it. I have never babysat anybody for more than one night at a time and when I have it’s been my niece, when she was a baby so couldn’t talk back. Having now said yes to my friend, this realisation comes screaming to the forefront and I also vow to see more of my beautiful niece off the back of this. My niece is about to turn six. Well done me.

I leave work and hightail it up to my new charge’s high school, parking outside of the school gates and texting him to let him know I’m there. He arrives shortly after, having been to rugby and having played in a winning game. It’s about a 45 minute drive from his school to my house and I’m pretty sure he hasn’t taken a breath all the way home, despite stopping off briefly at the shops to get some cereal (Krave’s are his favourite but they are very sugary so he thinks he should opt instead for Cheerios), some shampoo, body wash and after a short discussion, we opt for pizza for tea. I asked him what pizza he wanted and he immediately says “Margaret and Rita.” I’ve heard of Goodfellas, but not these birds – wtf is he on about? After realising he’s confused me, he lets me know this is an in joke with his family and what he’s asking for is a “Margarita” pizza. Immediately I feel stupid for being confused by an 11 year old when the answer is actually very simple. Clearly I’m going to need some practice in speaking his language.

Once we get home, I start the tea and show him his room with an en-suite, showing him how to use the bath and show etc. I mention about having a bath, but this seems to go largely ignored so I leave that for now, on the basis that I don’t like doing bathroom stuff in a new house I’ve just been to and also we’re starving. During tea, I’m running through the list of ‘what a responsible parent would ask’ questions with him: “Have you got any homework to do?” “Do you need to take anything in particular with you to school tomorrow?” “Have you got any after school clubs tomorrow?” etc. etc. while he shows me how many ways there are to die on this game he has on his phone. I mention the bath again before bed, but it’s still not happening so I admit temporary defeat whilst simultaneously racking my brain as to how often I had baths when I was 11. He asks to watch cartoons so I hand over the remote control, much to the bewilderment of my other half. I think he was confused because he doesn’t know what it looks like, as I never let him have it. We start watching something I’ve never seen before on Cartoon Network and I mention cartoons that used to be around when I was his age like Rocko’s Modern Life, Beavis and Butthead and Ren and Stimpy etc. He’s heard of none of them. I suddenly remember EXACTLY how old I am and feel 103 instead. I have no idea what it is that we did watch, all I know is I did laugh out loud and whatever it is, was immediately saved and series linked on my Sky box. That’s my weekend sorted.

In the morning he helps himself to breakfast and is pretty much self-sufficient in terms of getting himself ready although my other half is about just in case he needs any help. I’d mentioned the night before that we’d leave at 8am so I could drop him off at school on my way to work and that’s when I’d come downstairs. I’d heard my other half asking him to get dressed at 7.30am so I thought I had this sussed until I landed downstairs at 8am as promised and he’s still sat on the sofa in his jammies. I think it’s comedienne Victoria Wood who explains that right up until 8.45 she’s “lovely mummy” all happy and smiley but as soon as it turns 8.45 she turns into an irate screaming banshee. That’s an accurate description of me at that time. Must have scared the bejesus out of him because he was off the sofa, dressed and ready to go with his bag within 3 minutes. I’m momentarily envious of these skills and then I remember he’s a boy. We toddle off to school and I get him there with 5 minutes grace for him to walk up the drive and I make my way to work. During the day I’d arranged to pick up a fireplace from the opposite direction to where I live. It’s an absolute bargain and I think this is a great idea until the boy and I get there and it becomes obvious the damn thing won’t fit in my car. Faced with an hour long drive back to the house, I have no option (as far as I’m concerned) to jam the fireplace in the back of the car and drive home with the roof on my convertible down. In the dark. In the rain. In October. With the boy in the front seat. By the time we arrived home on this night, he was virtually huddled in the car foot well snogging the car heater from under the dashboard. Parenting fail #1. I’m already feeling pretty crappy about this and busily start organising our tea when we get in, when the boy wanders into the kitchen and asks if he can have a snack. Absolutely! I have a quick look round and offer crisps, muffins or cookies. The boy asks if he can have a piece of fruit. Bollocks, we don’t have any fruit. How is he even a proper child if he wants fruit anyway?! Parenting fail #2. How am I even an adult? Also, the boy only drinks water. Cheap date, but I was trying to get my fix of fizzy pop at that age by drinking soda stream syrups neat. Suddenly, I start wondering if I’m the weird one. I try and distract him with a bath again but he’s still having none of it so he wanders off with a cookie to watch TV whilst tea cooks. Whilst the food’s in the oven I suggest a bath again but the suggestion is met with the same enthusiasm I’ve had on this so far – nil. I’m now fully obsessed by the fact that I think he should have a bath and googling at what age a child should legally be allowed a say in this matter.

We spend the next morning in the car going through the list of homework and what subjects he has that day and somehow I end up in a conversation using basic German which I’m trying to desperately remember from my high school days. Being in the car, even with the radio on and me as a captive audience means, again that the boy has to chatter non-stop. Except, the conversations aren’t nonsense, they’re like real in depth thought provoking conversations about how my dash cam works etc. and based on a news item on the radio, what the difference is between murder and manslaughter. After I’ve nearly driven into about three different other drivers in really bad foggy and rainy weather because my mind’s going a mile a minute to contemplate these large issues and topics, I have to ask him to stop. Again, I feel very guilty about this. Parenting fail #3. We arrive at school and off he trots for another day where someone else can take a turn at answering alllll of the questions he has. Good luck teachers, you’ll earn your salaries today.

By the time I pick him up from school after his after school drama practice, I’ve resolved that he is having a bath when he gets home as he’s flying to see his dad in the UK the next night and while I can rationalise him being smelly by choice in our house (not that I’m sure he even smells, I think I’ve just convinced myself he must because of reasons and rugby), I’m not about to send him to his dad without a bath and rocking up on the doorstep looking like an orphaned extra from a local production of Annie. We get through the door and I grab two bubble bath bottles and tell him he’s having a bath, but he can choose between red or blue bubble bath. I’m a genius *fanfare*, put me in the UN now, the world doesn’t stand a chance, MUHAHAHAHAHA! He picks red and dutifully goes for his bath. All is well in the world. Triumphant, once he emerges from his bathroom, I ask him what he wants for tea, again choosing between chicken, vegetables and mash or lasagne. He opts for the chicken but says he wants the veg raw. What kind of trick is this? I start quizzing him because I’m trying to work out if he’s pulling my leg or not at this stage.  I’m trying to work out if by raw, he means “al dente” but doesn’t know the correct way to say it. Nope, clearly I’m over complicating the situation, he just wants his veg cold and raw so that’s what he gets. I feel like this is somehow totally wrong and I’m going to be on the local news next week for child abuse and used as a poster ‘parent’ for the next NSPCC advert. When he finishes his tea, he clears his own plate to the kitchen and comes back into the lounge to watch TV. I ask him if he enjoyed his tea and he replies happily chatting about the veg and the mash, but says he didn’t like the sauce. I asked him if he liked the chicken, he answers, “what chicken?” Crap, he didn’t even realise there was any meat on the plate and he’s already cleared his plate into the bin and put it on the side ready for the dishwasher. Parenting fail #4, with early victory of the bath quickly eclipsed.

The next night, I dropped him off at the airport and waited with him until he went through to departures as an unaccompanied minor and then further waited until the plane had taken off. Apparently, that’s the rule because you’re not allowed to abandon children at the airport – Who knew?!

After he’d gone through to departures and between the time his plane was due to take off, I reflected on the four days I’d spent babysitting and came to a few conclusions:

  • The boy is a beautifully behaved, extremely well mannered, thoughtful and intelligent soul and the week could have been a hell of a lot worse
  • Parenting is hard. Major kudos (and alcohol) to all those that do it every day
  • I think I could maybe possibly do the parenting thing (no definites. I totally get takesie backsies on this) but I’d definitely want someone alongside and in it with me doing the same job i.e. a husband because I’m pretty sure the boy went easy on us and I feel, especially after the conversations in the car, that I’d need to ‘tag someone else in’ when I get home.
  • I definitely did the right thing by not being a teacher or nursery nurse worker
  • I still don’t know why I was so obsessed with him having a bath

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