November 6, 2013

BYRNE | Five Adventures in Childcare

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Ever since I’ve been old enough to be left home alone, I have been babysitting every child I know. Neighbors, family friends, cousins, friends of cousins, friends of cousins of friends; if I know a human person under the age of 10, I’ve probably babysat him or her. Last summer, during the week I worked at a summer camp with 10 and 11-year-olds, and on the weekends I nannied for a family with two children under the age of three. I had some pretty interesting experiences, and I heard some things that I never thought I’d hear come out of another human being’s mouth. Here are a few of my top moments.

1.“Knock-knock.” – “Who’s there?” – “Strawberry.” – “Strawberry who?” – “STRAWBERRY I’M GOING TO EAT YOUR FACE.” This is a real joke told by a real other member of our species. I can’t explain what the joke is, or even if it is a joke. Could just be a poorly formulated threat. The choice of strawberry is bold, considering the prevalence of oranges and bananas in the traditional knock-knock jokes of our generation. Maybe this joke is simply leaps and bounds ahead of anything I could ever conceive of. In that case, kudos to the three-year-old who came up with it.

2.Kids at camp love feeling my legs: Going into this summer, I thought that since I’d be working with kids, I wouldn’t have to look great every day, which was a relief. It’s really hard to look good when you have to wake up at 6AM to take the subway to get on a bus with 50 screaming children. However, as it turns out, children, at least these New York City children, were acutely aware of every imperfection in my appearance. Particularly, they were fascinated by the amount of hair on my legs. If I hadn’t shaved in a few days, they would make fun of me for having furry legs. If I had just shaved, they would sit next to me and stroke my legs. Once, a camper said my legs were so smooth they were reflecting the sun like mirrors. I really hope that’s a good thing, and also that it’s not super creepy, coming from a fifth-grader.

3.Me: “Can I have cornrows?” Camper: “No, that’s too hood, you can have braids like Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz.” One of my dearest dreams, throughout childhood, was to have cornrows. Over the summer, a few of the campers had cornrows, and told me all about how they produced and maintained these gloriously tight braids. Their mothers often gave me specific instructions on how to deal with the elaborate hairstyle during swim times, and the whole process just seemed very magical. So, one day, when the kids were braiding my hair, I asked if I could have cornrows. Sadly, I was denied. Apparently, they identified me more with a fictional Kansan than any existing person who could pull off cornrows.

4.Marriage proposals from toddlers: Actually, I’ve received a lot more of these than any logical person might imagine. Once, one of my babysit-ees told me to make a silly face. Then, when I stuck my tongue out while making this face, he quickly leaned forward and licked my tongue. This was immediately followed by him asking me to marry him, which, marks by far the most fast-paced relationship I’ve ever had. On a second occasion, a small boy asked me, “When I’m a old and I’m a dad, can you be the wife?” Which I guess shows a lack of understanding of human reproduction, but is still quite adorable.

5.Harry Potter-themed Activities: Far and away one of my favorite things about children who are growing up now is that they still like Harry Potter. On the first day of camp, my kids played a variation of “Two Truths and Lie” in which they came up with seven statements, one fact from each of the seven Harry Potter books, and I had to guess which one was the lie. Another day, the only way they would change into their bathing suits was if I read them a chapter from the Order of the Phoenix while they did so. They found it outrageous and hilarious that I had to wait months and years for each Harry Potter book and movie to come out, which makes me feel really old. Maybe I’m really immature, or they were all really mature, but I like to think certain opinions (really just regarding Harry Potter) are universal.

I absolutely love working with children, mostly because they’re so ridiculous, and I love being ridiculous with them. A three-year-old once told me that I was a ten on the scale of silliness, which is one of the greatest compliments I’ve ever received. And if I can never have cornrows, so be it; as long as I live in a world where any fruit can be a part of knock-knock jokes, I’ll survive.