I recently started babysitting for an Australian family here on the island and I’ve been at their house a lot this week. The girl, who I’ll call Thing 1, is 3 years old and the boy, Thing 2, is 18 months. Thing 1’s little Aussie accent kills me every time she asks me for a “biscuit” (a cookie) or tells me that her “nappie” (diaper, she wears one during naps) is wet. They love to go out “scooting” (on their scooters, obviously. I had to have that one explained to me and I don’t think we have a word for that in American English), but Thing 1’s favorite thing is to wear my “thongs” (flip flops! The first time she asked if she could wear them I had to stop and really think about what she was pointing to before I started laughing.)
Thing 1 has the Hungry, Hungry Caterpillar memorized, and I love when she and her brother sit in the floor together and she names the foods that he points to. Precious beyond words. But then ten minutes later she steals his truck and he bonks her on the head and the atmosphere changes dramatically. (Reminds me of me and my brother, actually, and I can practically see my mother laughing as she reads this.)
Which brings me to the Top Ten things I’ve learned about toddlers and about living with toddlers in the last 48 hours.
1. We can watch the same movie every day for a week and it doesn’t get old. In fact, if I sit on the couch with them but play Solitaire on my iPad because I’ve seen Ice Age twice this week already, Thing 1 tells me to “turn that thing off and pay attention!” (I mean, Ice Age, come on! If we’re going to watch something over and over at least let it be a good Disney movie so I can be hilariously entertaining by singing all the songs in different voices.)
2. I’ve watched infants who spit up their baby food and older kids who are completely independent, but the ages in between are impossible to feed. How do you get a child to eat anything when they are old enough to insist on feeding themselves but young enough that they refuse to sit still and eat what you give them? As their father said to me last night, “We’ve resorted to just feeding Thing 2 like he’s a caged animal.”
3. The smallest things can avoid a temper tantrum. Producing a second toy, helping one cook in the pretend kitchen while the other sets the tiny table, or even twirling around in circles and making funny noises can make them forget why they were about to start screaming. But once the screaming starts full blast, I am still at a complete loss on how to stop it. (If they were my kids I’d snatch them up and swat them. But they aren’t, so I can’t.)
4. Parents should never be home at the same time as the babysitter. First of all, it makes me feel like I’m completely incompetent because nothing I do works and Dad has to come out of his office to help; and secondly, the kids know you’re there and don’t want anything to do with me. Or they intentionally work to make me look incompetent, I haven’t really figured out which.
5. The most well-behaved angels during the day can still turn into toy-stealing, sister-bonking, pushing, crying, tattling creatures at about 30 minutes to bedtime.
6. Little kids sleep a lot. Two-hour afternoon naps and then bedtime at 7 for Thing 2 and 7:30 for Thing 1. I haven’t stayed with them in the morning yet, but I’m sort of hoping they take morning naps too because tomorrow (Thursday, so probably as you are reading this) I’ll be here from 7:30 a.m. to lunchtime. I’m sure naptimes are when parents actually get things done, but I’m scared to do anything for fear of waking them up!
7. They will never want to do what you want to do. If I want to play with the kitchen, they want to race cars across the living room floor. If I want to build a tower, they want to have a tea party. Etc etc.
8. Thing 1 will antagonize her brother for no reason at all. Simply to do it, I suppose. (Which, again, I probably still do to my brother.)
9. But then they can turn around and be such sweet siblings. Thing 1 will run to take Dog to Thing 2 when he forgets it. Thing 2 will retrieve a ball that rolled away from Thing 1 and give it back. They will hug and snuggle and Thing 2 will sit in Thing 1’s lap and it’s all very adorable. Until the next change in the winds….
10. There really is no good way to have multiple children. If they are too close together they cause more chaos; farther apart makes one able to help watch the other. BUT, too far apart means they don’t nap at the same times and you don’t get this lovely block of silence in the middle of your day, and it takes you longer to have them all (and then, on the flip side, to get them all out of the house).
I’ve been around lots of children and I’m pretty good with them, but I suppose you can never be expected to know how to handle everything until you have them for yourself.
Do you have any suggestions on how to entertain small children inside the house? Ways to calm screaming meltdowns? What about just funny words your kids made up when they were little?