Warning: Totally vanilla post today. You’re warned.
As longtime readers of Governing Ana (should) know, I have a soft spot for children. Nothing makes me happier than the smiles, kisses, and sweetness of a little girl or boy who instantly decides I am his or her new best friend for life. Adults judge (see yesterday’s post), but children demand very little.
I took care of a little girl yesterday (I’ll call her Emma), and I was a bit worried considering I’ve only met her a few times and that was a few months ago. When I’ve seen her in public she’s been timid, uncertain of herself, and reluctant to join in. We did form an instant friendship over a few finger puppets I’d brought with me, and she did let me take her out of her car seat and hold her hand while we walked toward a building. But to have a near-stranger come to her house and put her to bed is a very different thing (for a child) than to play for a few moments with Mom and Grandma close by. I brought a few surprises with me just in case, and I asked a million questions to make sure I would be prepared.
Can we say totally unnecessary? 😀 As I drove up to their house, Emma waved to me from the garage. By the time I entered the house, she was tucked into the couch nursing a scraped knee and elbow. Apparently, she’d been so eager to run out to me that she’d fallen down. Unfazed, she danced around me and told me she was a kitty cat. My friend and I went over all of the details for the night, and she barely got a goodbye before she left.
“I’m going,” she said. Emma turned to me and started chattering about making stars on paper. By this time, she had brought out stuffed animals, a toy cupcake decorating kit, her artwork, and assorted odds and ends to pile in front of me with explanations and invitations to play. My friend turned to me and gave a wry smile. “And don’t let the door hit you on the way out, eh?”
“Give a hug and kiss goodbye,” I told Emma, and she did. Then we looked at each other and it occurred to Emma that she had a real, live grownup whose sole purpose was to entertain her. I swear I could see the lightbulb going off inside her head.
“Look at me!” she cried. She flopped onto the hardwood floor and spun around in a circle. She tucked her legs up and paddled herself backward like a crab, and then she spread her arms and legs out in sweeping motions. “I’m making a snow angel!”
I chatted with her about snow, Olaf, Frozen, Elsa, and the song about building a snowman. Then she crawled around on all fours.
“I’m a kitty!”
“What does a kitty say?”
“Meow! Meow, meow, meow.” She dashed over to me and handed me a cupcake to decorate. “I want a kitty treat.” So I took off one of the wooden candles and gave it to her.
“Let’s pretend this is a kitty treat.”
“Meow!” She took it with her, set it on the floor, and picked up a floppy pink piece of fabric and wires. “Look!” She tried to give it to me, and I saw it was a hamper or tent of some kind.
“Do you want me to set it up?”
“Sure!” That was her favorite word of the day. “Sure!” It’s not a word I’ve often heard from children her age, so it cracked me up every time she said it. I popped the tent, just big enough for her to crawl inside and sit up.
“Ana,” she said. “It’s too windy.” I was hesitant to turn off the ceiling fan because it was hot already.
“It’s okay, honey,” I told her. “If we turn off the fan, we’ll be too hot.” She good-naturedly crawled back into her tent, and I realized what she’d been trying to tell me. “Oh! You mean the wind from the fan blows your flap in?”
“Here, why don’t we turn your tent around so the flap faces the other way?’
I giggled as she struggled to move the big-for-her tent, but she was trying so hard I didn’t have the heart to stop her and do it myself. Over dinner, she told me at first she’d had enough to eat but then came back. She took a piece of a biscuit out of my hands and put it into her mouth. I gasped, covered my mouth in horror, and asked her in a tone of terror, “Did you take my biscuit?” She squealed and nodded yes. “Are you going to…chew that biscuit?” She nodded again. “Are you going to eat that biscuit?”
“Yes yes yes!” Biscuit crumbs flew out of her mouth as she spoke. I laughed, wiped her face, and told her to finish eating. After a moment, she swallowed and showed me her empty mouth.
“Do it again!” she begged, and I got her to eat an entire child-sized biscuit that way. As I cleaned up from dinner, a tiny sweet voice piped up from the floor.
“Can I help?”
Why would anyone turn down a child’s request to learn how to become a capable, responsible, and self-sufficient adult? I thought hard what she could do. I’d already held her up so she could push buttons on the microwave, but with all of my allergies I couldn’t touch the dish soap to wash the dishes.
“Do you want to put the dishes into the sink to soak?”
So I brought over a chair, helped her stand on it, and circled an arm around her so she wouldn’t fall. I doubt she’d ever been allowed to do that before, and she wobbled as if she didn’t know whether she could stand up. After a while, I got sore from leaning over and straddled the chair to hold her waist. She took the dishwashing sponge and picked it up, squeezing water and soap onto the dinner dishes. I made up silly songs for the dishes to sing as they got washed, and she giggled.
“Do it again!”
“What does the red bowl say when it takes a bath, Emma?”
“The red bowl says yippee, yippee…it’s so happy to take a bath it shouts yippee! What does the white bowl say?”
“The white bowl says hooray, hooray…it’s so happy to take a bath it shouts hooray!”
After about half an hour, I had to tell her to stop. “It’s time for you to take a bath, Emma, so how about if you get to wash dishes for two minutes and then we’ll go take a bath?”
“Okay.” She took the sponge and squeezed it to create more bubbles. “I don’t want to stop playing!”
“Not now,” I reassured her. “In two minutes, remember? You get to play for two whole minutes, and then we’ll take a bath.”
“Okay,” she agreed. About five minutes later (so I’m a sucker), I reminded her. “One more minute left, and then it’s bathtime.”
“Okay.” And when I announced dishwashing time was over, she held up her arms to get lifted to the ground. In the bathtub, she giggled at me as I quizzed her about her favorite foods.
“Do you like pizza?”
“Really? You don’t like pizza?”
“Do you like macaroni and cheese?”
“Do you like beans?”
A pause. “No!”
This went on for a good five minutes, and I was running out of food names. Then…”Do you like green beans?”
“No!” She gave me a funny look. “I already told you I don’t like beans!”
I laughed, and by that time she was finally ready to get out. “Ana, I’m cold.” Imagine that. She insisted the slightly warm bathwater was too hot, so I ran cold water to make it perfectly tepid…half an hour earlier. Cold? Never! Her little fingers were like ice, so I wrapped her in a big towel and helped her into her nightgown. I don’t think one bit of bubblegum flavored toothpaste made it back into the sink, and she wanted water after rinsing with fluoride. That kind of defeats the purpose of the fluoride, but I gave her the water.
“Do you want a bedtime story?”
We read three books, and I turned out the light. “Do you want me to sing to you?” She nodded. “Which one?”
I sang to her, stroking her hair away from her forehead and closing my eyes to give her calm, peace, and sleepiness. When I got up to leave, she popped upright. “Don’t go.” So I sat back down and rested my hand on her head so she would know I was there. She kept fighting sleep, and I kept trying to stay awake (I’d had ninety minutes of sleep the night before). Finally, I pulled up a patch of floor next to her bed and lay down using her plush cushion as a pillow. It was comfortable, but of course I got a tickle in my throat. I held two coughs in, but it made my eyes tear up. I couldn’t find a tissue, so I got up to sneak out or get a tissue, depending on how genuinely she was asleep.
“I’m not going anywhere,” I promised her. “I need a tissue, and I’ll be right back.”
“Leave it open,” she begged as I went to the door.
“I promise. See?”
When I went back in, I decided I’d enjoy some quiet time in the dark and get some rest. Before I knew it, her deep breaths told me she was asleep.