I looked after my niece and nephew on the weekend for a little bit, my sister's children. "Looking after them" is really a misnomer as my sister was there with me for most of the time, except for a small window when she ran out to the store to buy batteries for my nephew's crib player, aka, 'ocean wonders' or 'jungle wonders' anyway, it may be the wrong moniker for this toy but needless to say: no sleep was happening without it, so it's been promoted to the status of Important, Useful Toy.
As you can probably tell by the content of my blog, I am not a parent. I have not (yet?) experienced that privilege/joy/frustration/life-changing, for lack of a better word 'transformation' for myself. But I do have the 'on the sidelines' viewpoint.
As a non-parent, aka, Aunt (or Godmother) in my case, you tend to be a little bit more hyper-vigliant than the parents. I'll give you an example.
One instance, about a year and a half ago, my sister left me with my niece and nephew (my god children as I call them) for a short, short stint, at her home, during a Saturday afternoon. I arrived, Ms. Mary Poppins, and my sister went out, leaving me with them. Before the door had even shut, they had ascertained the obvious:
1) Auntie was here for the afternoon.
2) Auntie is childless ie, not a parent.
3) There is only one Auntie, and two of us.
We could have squared off, but they had already won, let me tell you.
My niece brought me (and my nephew, who had to be carried, as he wasn't walking yet) up to her room to show me the bounty of toys, dresses, and all acroutments associated with her life. My nephew and I sat on the bed to watch her fashion show of one outfit after another, and I felt all was "under control" and how hard was this? Until my nephew, again, not walking as I mentioned, but crawling like a determined beetle with no sense of direction, started scurrying again. On the bed. Right off the bed, so fast, lightning fast, that I didn't even have time to react. He was off, and fell off, the side, with a loud 'thunk' as his poor little head hit the wall. I didn't even have time to react, to grab him. I just had time to launch myself onto the other side of the bed, where he had fallen, and pick him up, wailing, crying, sobbing.
I was mortified. I had been left to care for my sister's children and look what had happened. I picked my crying nephew up, brought him back onto the bed, cradled him in my arms and gave him a million kisses and told him it was alright. My niece, seeing her brother fall, came running, and gave him a big kiss too. I told her that would help him feel better. Her love means something.
Between the two of us, we calmed him down. He had only a little bump on his forehead, and prior to my sister coming home, I tried to rehearse what in the name of christ I would tell her had happened to her son.
My sister arrived home from running some errands and having some much needed 'alone' time about an hour later. I had the children eating a snack, I guiltily admit the tv was on, but we were having a great time. The door opened, my sister walked in, smelling of fresh air and Jean-Paul Gaultier, and both kids ran to the door to greet her. I wondered how prominent the bump on my nephew's head would be to my sister. I didn't have to obsess--my niece, in that proud way children have, announced immediately "River had a-accident" leaving my sister to look my way, where upon I promptly explained all. She thought it all pretty funny, as she knew my nephew's propensity, even prior to walking, for lightning-quick movement.
The whole experience, I think, left me more paranoid than a parent. Now, when I look after them I try anticipate anything/everything that could be a possible injury for either one of them, I see danger everywhere (really, I do anyway), and I tend to react more strongly than my sister, their parent, to anything that may injure them, or any potential accident situation. It's crazy.
I try to balance this with healthy thoughts about how utterly insane some of the things I did during childhood were (for example, jumping off my moving bike without using the brakes just because I thought I could escape the laws of physics. Ouch. ) Also, all the many injuries I did sustain, while just being a child, made of rubber and glue, seemed to be able to keep healing as fast as I did).
Back to Saturday, and my little sojourn while my sister went to the store. It was right around "bedtime" which meant, to my niece and nephew "Storytime" so it was up to me to make this work.
I chose a book that has been a big hit with my niece for a long number of months, called "The Places You'll Go" by the omniscent children's writer Dr. Seuss. I never fully appreciated him as a child myself, but wow, as an adult...this book pretty much tells a child, in child-like terms, every thing they will ever need to know about life; the ups and the downs, the lonely times, the waiting, the happy things, the joy. The mystery, the sky, the wide long streets, the confusion. And, as I've read this before to my niece, I know the storyline well.
They both love being read to. So my nephew got in his little 'hands on lap' position, sitting right beside me, and my niece sprawled out to listen. I opened the book, and read the first few opening lines, as I've read many many times to my niece, and then I got to the part "with your head full of brains and your shoes full of feet, you're too smart to go down any not-so-good street". And I literally choked up. My voice filled with tears, and I pointed at the pictures to distract them, and they didn't seem to notice, they were into the book. I don't know what it was about those lines, the book, it's very very simple message, but it really affected me in some deep way, and that book does seem to do that to me. I recovered, read the rest of the book, skipping over some of the harder parts so they didn't have to listen to that. After all they're children. They don't have to deal with that today. I stuck to the fun parts, with friendly elephants, balloons, and slides. No need for Auntie to get emotional again. But I did keep one key line with me, to add to my week;
"When things start to happen, don't worry, don't stew;
Just go right along. You'll start happening too".