Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Creating Chaos

You know what’s weird? When you run into one of the girls who used to babysit for your kids and she has a husband, a beautiful home just down the street from you, and FOUR KIDS OF HER OWN! I don’t know, there’s just something about that that seems strange to me.

Unnatural.

Like time marched on, and I was its latest victim.

But, you know, I don’t envy her, that sweet babysitter of mine. I really don’t. She had four kids in four years, can you just imagine?! That’s just too much for my heart to handle.

I don’t do anything that fast. I have about 50 half-finished cross stitch projects from the past 20 years tucked away in a chest just to prove it. They’ll be half-finished antiques pretty soon.

I would feel sorry for her, but I don’t feel that either. She is the most beautiful, competent, put-together mother I’ve ever seen. She actually wanted all those kids in such a short time. When you ask her about it, or look askance at her brood of tiny little kids running around, she just laughs and says something like, “Yeah, it’s crazy. But we like it.”

So on Monday, when I met dear, calm Elizabeth on the street as I was walking my dog to pick up Maggie at piano lessons, I was not a bit surprised to see two of the boys on bikes and the two youngest sitting in a wagon. They were all happily walking/riding to the end of the street to wait for their dad who would be coming home from work any minute.

We stopped to talk a bit, and even though I knew I’d be late to pick up Maggie, I couldn’t help gawking at her brood of beautiful little children, amazed that these were the product of my former babysitter. How could she already have more kids than me, I wondered as I tried to act normal. We chatted about her kids, my kids, summer, the rising price of diapers (to which I couldn’t add a thing to the conversation).

I, always amazed at the differences in people and always ready to point them out, asked her how she was managing with the four-under-five business. “Do they nap at the same time?” I gaped.

“Yes, thankfully they do,” she replied. “But we’re always ready for Daddy to come home at 5:00. That’s why we usually walk down here to meet him.”

Ahh, finally, some honesty. I knew it couldn’t all be honky-dorey in that house. Surely she must have her moments of chaos. Like when the oldest, all of four-and-a-half, throws the eight-month-old down the laundry chute just for kicks. Or when the middle two decide to play fencing with sticks in the back yard and one gets his eardrum poked through. Or when the toddler decided to take a jar of peanut butter to the walls of the basement. The normal, everyday chaos. Not that I’d know anything of that.

As we were talking, I couldn’t help notice her youngest, a darling little girl who was a blessed addition to the family after three boys. This sweet pea, all of eight months old, was sitting so still, looking so clean in her little pink dress, just staring up at me with the sweetest blue eyes you’ve ever seen. She probably never gives her mother a moment of trouble.

Suddenly, my dog, Thunder, who is the friendliest, over-eager, never-met-a-stranger yellow lab you’ve ever seen, became curious about the young girl sitting in the wagon. She had been sitting, just looking at the baby, but as her curiosity took hold, she moved in a little and took a big sniff, right near the baby’s face. And maybe just a tiny little lick. Wouldn’t you know it, the baby started to cry. Not really cry so much as scream.

Suddenly the neat, tidy, clean little girl was dripping with tears and snot, screaming for her mother to get her out of that wagon and away, far away, from that big, slobbery dog. As her mother bent over to pick her up, the toddler, who was strapped in facing his sister, wanted a piece of the action and started his own scream fest.

Before I knew it, my poor former babysitter had two screaming, crying, inconsolable children in her arms. And Thunder was starting to get agitated, thinking that this was all part of the game they were playing together. She lunged toward the crying kids one more time before her choke collar snapped and I yelled, “Sit!”

And I’m getting embarrassed. More and more embarrassed by the minute.

I was in an awkward situation. I wanted to help, maybe take the baby from her or something since she now had one child on each hip and four little arms wrapped tightly around her neck, but I knew that wouldn’t work. She’d probably cry even harder. There was just nothing I could do but say I was sorry (oh my, was I ever sorry!) and get that big, hairy monster away from her kids.

As Thunder and I headed on down the block, I turned around once to see Elizabeth just standing there with the two kids still clinging to her neck and the two older boys just watching in bewilderment from their bikes. We picked up the pace a little as we headed off to collect Maggie.

As I returned home, Maggie in tow, I walked past Elizabeth’s house just as her husband was pulling in from work. Elizabeth and the kids were nowhere to be seen. They were probably inside, recovering. With cold compresses on their foreheads.

I felt absolutely terrible for disrupting her perfectly sane afternoon. And embarrassed that my dog had a big part to play in that—my big, loveable pup who wouldn’t hurt a flea.

But then I realized . . . Elizabeth took care of my kids when they were her kids’ ages. She’s been well-trained to handle chaos.

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