The other night something happened that I knew was eventually coming and have dreaded for many years—I suddenly had to babysit my grandkids—all by myself.
First of all, I have to say that I love my grandkids. There is nothing in the world I cherish more than these three kids. If I don’t see them for a couple of days, I get antsy. But the one given was that whenever they were around, there was always someone else responsible for keeping them under control.
Then it happened:
- My daughter (mother of the kids) and her husband wanted to go out to celebrate their 8th anniversary. Something they probably hadn’t done (go out that is) since their 7th anniversary.
- At the same time, that evening my wife was in charge of the cookie sale at church and couldn’t find anyone to fill in for her.
- My other daughter works evenings and couldn’t take the kids.
That left me.
I was told that all I had to do was watch them from 4:45 pm to 6:15 pm when my wife could take over. There was one glitch, the two girls Katie and Leah—ages four and six—were going to a birthday party at a trampoline center. I would watch the boy, Mikey—age two—from 5 pm to 6 pm and then load him up and go pick up the girls at 6 pm. Sounds pretty simple—yea right.
I went over to my daughter’s house in plenty of time for them to get a 5 o’clock dinner reservation. They left and it is just my grandson and I. Remarkably, it went well. No crying, no bathroom mishaps (thank God). We looked at his favorite book about different types of trucks (he looks at it about 50 times each day) and everything was fine.
I watched the clock and at precisely 5:45 pm, I get ready to pick up the girls. At precisely 5:46 pm, Mikey takes a header onto the floor as he leaps from the couch to an ottoman (his own version of a trampoline). My mind immediately splits down the middle. What if he hurt himself and we need to go to the emergency room is working through one side of my mind. On the other side, I’m thinking what if my granddaughters don’t have anyone to pick them up at this trampoline center and we never see them again.
Mikey cries, but I check him out and nothing seems out of place—eyes are wet, but pupils are not dilated—nose is normal, snotty, but no bleeding—all teeth (how many teeth is a two-year-old supposed to have?) seem to be intact. I get Mikey an ice pack for his forehead and in 15 seconds he stops crying and is back to normal. I load him into the van (I’m driving my daughter’s van because it is the only family car that can hold three kids with car seats) and, after a short ordeal of figuring out how to hook up his seat harness, we take off.
We’re only a few minutes late, but that’s fine because I don’t have far to go. I get closer to the trampoline center, suddenly I’m in a massive traffic snarl. People are exiting from some event at one of the local universities and, as is standard procedure in Spokane, when traffic gets congested, you just hit the gas. It doesn’t matter that traffic (me) on the main street has the right of way. In this city, you have the right to enter from the side street if you just have the guts to push the nose of your car in front any car in your way. It didn’t help that everyone was headed to the same intersection that had a very long and complicated set of signals.
Time ticks away and I go from calm, to nervous, to pre-panic. But suddenly, the path opens, I make a left turn, and I’m moving again. In a couple of minutes, I can see the huge, cement, industrial-like building that now houses some sort of nightly extravaganza for children of all ages. There is no parking lot, just a big, totally dark field where cars are randomly left wherever the driver decided to pull the keys out. Now it starts to rain.
While walking through the puddles to the building, I find out just how short the footsteps of a two-year-old can be and how, when we reached the stairway at the entrance, it might as well have been a boot camp obstacle course. We finally enter the building and I am amazed by its massive interior. I see where long lines of kids are waiting to pay to get in. Even though I knew I was risking some sort of altercation, I chose to go around the ticket booth. I just figured they wouldn’t expect a soaking wet, gray-haired, old man with a two-year-old in tow was trying to sneak in. I have no idea where the trampoline/birthday parties take place.
It’s a maze—a maze filled with kids of every age all having a great, totally unsupervised time. My charge and I head into the heart of the chaos and finally, in the very rear of the building I find the trampolines. With three parties going, it takes a bit to find the right one and locate my targets. I’m semi-panicked at being late, but when I find the girls there response is, “Can we jump just a little bit longer?”
My standard response to this kind of inquiry is always, “We’ll just once. Then we have to go.” This avoids tears and the gnashing of teeth and usually gets them headed in the right direction. We locate socks, shoes, jackets, and birthday party prizes and head out. As they say, “Just like herding cats.”
We finally get loaded up (“I want to do the buckle myself. I can too do it.”), are heading out, when in unison from the backseat say, “We’re hungry.” “You were just at a birthday party, didn’t you get any cake or something?” “Yea, but that was a long time ago.”
Then I remember, my wife had made me take a bag of miniature pizzas to the house “in case they are hungry” (remarkable how people who know what they are doing think ahead). So I figure we’re good. “We’ll get something at home.” They are suddenly quiet, pondering their next move.
We get going and I look at the gas gauge of my daughter’s van and it’s on empty, no, two notches below empty. I look for a gas station (I’m not about to “go for it” on a night like this) in an unfamiliar neighborhood. I find one and after what I have gone through, easily ignore the drug dealers hanging around the dimly lit, Gas-Is-Not-Our-Only-Business station.
The interior of the van smells damp and sweaty as we get back on the road. They ask, “Are we going to eat?” “Yes, when we get home we’ll have pizza.” “But we had pizza at the party. We don’t want pizza.”
It’s then that I find out what a bunch of little con artists they are. While I was pumping gas, they planned it all out. “McDonalds has chicken nuggets,” says Leah. Katie chimes in, “Yea, we can get a Happy Meal.” Mikey only speaks in two or three word sentences, but the girls translate, “Mikey wants a Happy Meal too.”
At first I’m a bit reluctant and begin to think this night is never going to end so I bluff. “There aren’t any McDonalds on the way home.” I immediately find out even the youngest one knows this is a lie. They all know McDonalds is everywhere.
I capitulate. We get in the Happy Meal line behind all those cars from the traffic jam (at least it seems that way). Finally, the gal on the speaker asks, “What would you like tonight?” I respond, “Three Happy Meals.” “Sir, there are several different Happy Meals.” “What?” In that moment, I learned that there is an entire culture built around this particular meal. It is actually a bit more complicated than ordering a Caesar Salad, Beef Wellington, and Baked Alaska in a fancy restaurant.
It goes like this. “Sir, hamburger or chicken nuggets.” “Kids.” All chime in “Chicken nuggets.” Well that’s not so bad. Next, “Fries, yogurt, or apple slices.” The confusion starts. “Fries, no, yogurt.” “What kind of yogurt?” “Mom doesn’t like us to have fries.” “Mikey wants apple slices.” “No he doesn’t.” The cars behind us start to honk, but we’ve just moved on to the selection of drinks. “Milk, chocolate milk, apple juice?” “Do they have cranberry juice?” “Mikey wants apple juice.” “Not if he’s having apple slices.” “What toys do they have?” Finally, “Sir, that will be $16.72 at the window.” The plastic bucket this meal comes in has skulls on it. I don’t know if it’s because it’s nearly Halloween or it’s signaling “Danger, Danger.”
By now it’s 7:30 pm. I’m over an hour behind schedule and I realize as soon as my cell phone rings, that people are probably beginning to panic. I have to pull over to answer my phone (an unusual behavior in Spokane), but it stops ringing. I see it was my wife so I call her. “Where are you?” “Don’t ask.” “We’ll I just finished getting the pizzas baked, so hurry up.” “Great!”
- Even though I’m 5.5 times older than all of them put together don’t get cocky and think I have an advantage.
- Always bring snacks so we never have to stop anywhere—ever.
- Make sure I am out of town on my daughter’s anniversary next year.
- “Happy Meals” really are happy meals.