The other day I was watching my sister Maggie’s kids while she was working. As I and and my nieces and nephew, Michael, Ciara and Bridie, were sitting around the kitchen table shooting the breeze and having a brew – I mean having a snack – my sister Maggie came up from the dungeon she calls her basement office. “How’s everyone’s day going? Are you having fun with Aunt Kath?!” My sister asked her children excitedly as she came into the kitchen, giving each one a big hug and kiss. My day was going fine, THANKS FOR ASKING, MAG! I thought to myself as I got no hug. Maggie sat down and asked little Michael, Ciara and Bridie, “What have you guys been up to?” So far that day we had played in the snow, we’d read stories, played with kinetic sand (which was an absolute pain to clean up I might add). We’d danced to animal freeze dance, we drew pictures, we all ate a pretend breakfast at the kids’ pretend restaurant. (The service was TERRIBLE by the way.) I did so much with these children I thought the Babysitter’s Club was going to call me up and ask me to be their next president (I would have respectfully declined, but it would have been an honor just to have been asked.) But what do these kids answer back when their mother asks what we have been up to?
Ciara: Aunt Kath said we could make a smoothie and we haven’t made a smoothie yet.
Michael: Mom, when can we watch our show? Aunt Kath said we have to wait to watch our show and I want to watch “Octonauts.”
Bridie: **Says nothing.** (Now granted she’s only one, but her silence spoke volumes to me)
Wow. “Are these children serious right now?” I said to my sister, who just sat there and laughed. “Oh, ok, is this the game we’re going to play with Mom?” I said to the kids. “Are these the shots we’re going to take? Ok well I’m at the free throw line right now and I have a LOT of shots to take: not bringing plates to the sink, no please or thank yous, fighting. You know the deal – we make smoothies and watch a show AFTER the toys are cleaned up, and you two have not keep your end of the bargain.”
It’s funny what kids choose to remember or not remember. I babysat for them in November and had to scold the dog ONE TIME for taking food off of the baby’s high chair tray, and ever since then Ciara reminds me every day of that time I called Winston a bad dog. “Aunt Kath, Winston’s not a bad dog; he just doesn’t know any better, so don’t call him a bad dog.” And then she repeats that same phrase to me about 17 times in a row. “Yes Ciara, I know Winston is not a bad dog,” I always say back. But then, since I am an Aries, the Ram, I always have to add in for my own satisfaction, “But as I’ve said before, I don’t regret calling him a bad dog because he WAS being a bad dog that day. So, say all you want, but I regret nothing.” The other day when I came over and she reminded me yet again that Winston was not a bad dog I told her parents that she will probably be sure to have this etched into my headstone when I die. “Loving Aunt… Once called Winston a bad dog and he’s not a bad dog.”
With my sister Maggie having recently gone back to work, she and her husband have been doing the balancing act that many parents do – managing childcare while both working full time on different schedules. It’s a tough act, and some may say they could use a Mary Poppins to come help out. But who needs Mary Poppins when you have someone better – Auntie Kath Poppins? So with my sister back at work I have been spending a lot more time with my nieces and nephew. It has been an absolute joy, and not just because I get to fulfill my lifelong dream of riding around town in a Honda Mini Van with 17 cupholders.
It’s been a lot of fun hanging out with my nieces and nephew, and babysitting them more often has taught me a lot. Here are the top five things I have learned from spending my days with my buddies:
- Moms and Dads do not get enough credit!
I’m not a regular Mom, I’m a cool Godmom, but after watching three children, I have so much more respect for all Moms and Dads. DAY TO DAY TASKS ARE SO MUCH HARDER WITH CHILDREN! As my husband Mike knows, I can’t, for the life of me, seem to be on time for anything, no matter how hard I try. And that is just getting myself somewhere on time. So trying to get myself plus three children anywhere on time has been a challenge. I learned this the hard way when trying to get the kids to their swim class and Ciara to Farm Camp (and yes there is a thing called “Farm Camp”). When I first started watching the kids, I just couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that putting shoes and socks on to go outside took about an hour. And the kids take a really long time too! 😉 Buckling seat belts, packing snacks, extra diapers – going anywhere takes FOREVER. When my sister first trained me on packing for swim class I thought she was packing us up to send us off on a Florida beach vacation there was so much stuff.
Ever since I started babysitting I have gained much more respect for parents that get their children to events on time. To my husband Mike, if you’re reading this, just a suggestion here, but maybe you should be in charge of getting our future children to places on time because you know if I take them we will be late and it will give you anxiety.
To all parents reading this, whether you currently have young children or if your children are grown – I think you all are superheroes.
2. Mental toughness is key.
One day as I was crouched on the floor helping my two year old niece Ciara pull up her pants, her hands on my shoulders, our noses about two inches apart from each other (following COVID protocol of course) I noticed she was looking at my face with a concerned look. Finally, she opens her mouth and asks, “Aunt Kath, you have owies on your face?” What I wanted to say was, “No Ciara, it’s called adult acne, and dermatologists still can’t seem to find a cure SO STOP POINTING OUT MY FLAWS AND JUST LAY OFF, OK? But instead I calmly said, “Yes Ciara, I have owies on my face.” Then she asked, “Why don’t Montag put band aids on your owies, Aunt Kath?” I thought this was quite cute that she legit did not understand why my husband wasn’t putting band aids on my “owies” and almost made up for the terrible insult she just threw at me. Aww, I thought to myself, I guess I can subtract one hour from my “crying into my pillow time” tonight after that comment. But then she started counting the owies on my face so my self-esteem took a real deep dive and I added a few MORE hours to pillow crying.
That was the thanks I got after dealing with everyone’s bodily fluids? You really have to be mentally tough to deal with the whole… bathroom stuff. Auntie Kath Poppins tries to take her mind and her nose to a different place when those things are going on. When I lift one of the kids onto the toilet and I see their facial expressions shift from a smile to a frown, brows furrowed, teeth clenched, body shaking, that’s when I say, “Ok, Aunt Kath’s going to give you a minute. You just yell when you’re done.” And I leave the bathroom for a bit. Then I hear the call and I go in and they are ready for me, already in position like a football player in the three point stance ready to make a play. During these times I may be physically present, but my mind is elsewhere.
3. Repetitiveness is the name of the game.
I’ve learned that children are creatures of habit. They like to read the same books, watch the same shows, and listen to the same songs over and over… and over again. It’s like they purposely want these things embedded into your brain. Some of these children’s shows and stories are just plain weird too. I’m almost embarrassed my nieces and nephews like them.
When playing hide and seek they even like to hide in the same exact spots. Now, I have experience in acting. Not to brag, but In 7th grade I was in the Most Holy Redeemer production of “Newsies” starring as an extra newsie, AND I took ONE semester of acting in high school. So would I call myself a talented actress? Yes. But after a while it is hard to act like you don’t know where they are hiding.
4. They suck the life right out of you.
Children really keep you running around, and they always want what you want. I am always thirsty and need water, so I keep a water bottle with me at all times. I could give the kids 30 water bottles and they would still drink out of mine. The other day I turned around just in time to see my nephew finish taking a big gulp of my water. The afternoon sunlight was coming through the window so I could see all the backwash drift down into my water bottle just perfectly as he set it back on the table. It was really a beautiful sight to see. Also, do you ever want to stop and eat something? Well, kids don’t let you do that either. They could have a feast in front of them and if you take out one scrap for yourself to eat in a corner they will be on you in a millisecond, crawling on your lap stealing the food from your mouth. Each day I come home from babysitting, I basically collapse on the couch and say, “Ahhhh Mikkkkkeeeeeeeeee I’m so tired. Want to watch an episode of Breaking Bad?” Again, Moms and Dads do not get enough credit – they never get to rest.
5. Children are hilarious and will always leave you with a smile.
Having the opportunity to look after my nieces and nephew has really been awesome. They bring such joy and happiness to my life and each day have me laughing. They are “my buddies” and I’ve greatly enjoyed being able to spend more time with them. I think Dunkin has seen an increase in my coffee buying habits though, but this has been a win for everyone as Aunt Kath always brings the kids donuts when she gets her Dunkin. Already the kids have taught me so much, and my appreciation for all parents has grown exponentially! But I think overall, the most important thing I’ve learned so far is that Winston is in fact a good dog.