(originally published on Trying My Breast on August 16, 2018)
If you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time (as in, if you’ve read the title or byline), you may have the [accurate] impression that I don’t pride myself on being the best parent. In general, Taylor, Bo, and I are muddling through babyhood together, and if Bo falls against a table at Snooze and gets a black eye, well, that will teach me to bring a six-month-old to a hip breakfast place. (See picture of baby with baby shiner.)
Who knew that Snooze could be such a dangerous place?
The best thing about being a bad mom is that I’m not expected to do any of the time- and money-intensive things that *good* parents have to do: reading to their kids, dressing them in clothes other than pajamas, taking flattering pictures of them, etc. Truly, I can’t overstate the freedom with which this dearth of expectations provides me. Instead of going to the park, we go to the front yard, where I deadhead my hail-massacred petunia crop. (Never try to grow anything in Colorado.) Instead of going to that play-place at the mall, we crawl amongst the countless pillows on our couch. And instead of going to the zoo… well, so we actually did end up going to the zoo.
You see, stronger than my desire to have no commitments on my calendar (very strong) is my inability to say no (extremely strong). I will say yes to virtually anything asked of me. In the case of this tale, it was last-minute nannying for the neighbor kids.
Let’s call these kiddos Hansel (8) and Gretel (4). They’re our nextdoor neighbors, and I’ve known them for basically all of Gretel’s life. Their mom, Stasia, had enrolled them in gymnastics camp for the final week of summer, only to discover the night before camp was set to start that the promised slots did not, in fact, actually exist. Desperate times call for desperate measures, so Stasia turned to me. And that is how I received a text Monday afternoon asking if I could possibly nanny Hansel and Gretel for the following three days.
I said yes, obviously. I really struggle with the word “no”.
Tuesday and Wednesday passed predominately without incident. (That’s a bit of a generalization, but a necessary one for the sake of brevity.) So our story picks up Thursday morning, just after Bo and I have arrived at Stasia’s house and realized that I have accidentally volunteered to take an eight-year-old, a four-year-old, and a six-month-old to the zoo. Immediately. As in, leaving within fifteen minutes.
Now, I know that some of you are thinking, “Only three kids? And two of them can walk? That’s nothing. I deal with more than that on a daily basis!” To which I would say, “Wow! I applaud you, and you probably fall in the category of ‘good parents’ addressed earlier in this post.” (Let’s briefly revisit that I do not.)
Others of you are surely wondering, “How do you ‘accidentally’ volunteer to take three kids to the zoo?” It’s quite easy, really. It goes like this:
Stasia: “Maybe you could bring the kids to the zoo! We have an annual pass.”
Me: “Yeah!” (as in, “I acknowledge the fact of your annual pass.”)
Stasia: “Awesome! Here is the card. You’ll need to give them my phone number and address. You also need to go right now, before it gets too hot.”
And still others of you might be musing, “Sounds like fun! I love the zoo!” If this is you, I gently suggest that you refrain from reading the rest of this post. It is anti-zoo in general, and anti-Denver-Zoo in particular.
The plan was to leave posthaste so as to beat the heat / get parking / time up with the baby’s nap / not have to buy $32 zoo pizza for lunch / put this trial behind us as soon as possible. Shortly after Stasia’s departure, we set off in my mid-size SUV, the three kids crammed like sardines in the backseat, alternatively complaining or targeting me with the silent treatment. Of course, I made a wrong turn (let me refer you back to The Story That Started It All for a description of me as a driver), so the half-hour drive somehow stretched to almost twice that. In the last ten minutes of our odyssey, I realized that I hadn’t remembered to ask Stasia for the kid’s sunglasses. Maybe I’ll just buy them some sunglasses there, I thought. How much would they cost at the zoo? $15 per pair? I’d pay that.
We pulled into the parking lot and found a spot after only about a mile of driving. I parked, cracked the windows, and put up the car’s old metallic sunshade, which I think in a different life might have been one of those deafening compostable SunChips bags. A glance in the rearview mirror revealed Hansel and Gretel each covering their ears and glowering at me. It feels good to be appreciated.
Extracting all the kids from the car, I discovered that Bo, in a clearly intentional effort to subvert my desires and resist naptime at the zoo, had already fallen asleep. I woke him, lathered him up with sunscreen, secured a sun hat on him, and stuck him in the front carrier, where he promptly began to squirm and wail. It wasn’t all bad, though; in retrieving Bo, I had found his sunglasses in the backseat, which meant that I would only have to buy new sunglasses for Hansel.
Shepherding our little gang into the shade, I said to Gretel, “We don’t have your sunglasses with us, so I’m going to have you wear the baby’s sunglasses instead.”
“What color are they?” the strongly-opinionated four-year-old asked.
“They’re blue, which is my favorite color and your mom’s favorite color.” (Both accurate statements, by the way.)
Then she said, “I do not think that I would like to wear the baby’s sunglasses.” And that was how it started.
Oh, that I would have heard the warning in that simple statement. Instead, still naively holding to my $15 budget for shades, I said, “Well, I’m sorry, but you’ll have to wear them, because I don’t have others for you.” I finished up Hansel’s ghostly transformation via mineral sunscreen, then reached for Gretel to repeat the process.
Only, she wouldn’t turn back to me. A sinking feeling settled in my unfed gut. (How did I forget to eat breakfast this morning?) I circled the girl, hoping beyond hope that she was merely fixated on some minivan in the middle distance of the parking lot. But no, it was as I had feared. Tears streamed down her face as if I had slapped her. Her eyes were screwed shut in abject horror at the prospect of — gasp — blue sunglasses. I considered what to do. Maybe she won’t need sunglasses today, and I can just let this slide? I thought desperately. I glanced up to the sky and was immediately blinded by the brilliance of the sun and the startling blue of the cloudless heavens. Delightful. I turned back to the sobbing child before me.
“I’m really sorry Gretel, but you’ll need to wear the baby’s sunglasses, at least until we can buy you some new ones in the gift shop.” From where we were, I couldn’t even see the gift shop, so I couldn’t estimate how long we would be out in the sun along the way. “And Hansel, I’ll actually need you to wear my sunglasses as we walk over.” I handed the boy my oversized glasses, which (ironically) are pink, Gretel’s favorite color. He sullenly (but obediently!) donned the shades, which in combined area were a little over half the size of his face. My sunglass budget now hovered somewhere between $20 and $25 per pair.
I finished smearing sunscreen into Gretel’s tear-soaked face (not an easy task, it should be noted), then affixed her with the dreaded blue sunglasses. They actually fit her pretty well, and yet promptly triggered a fresh wave of sobs, now coupled with long, desperate cries of, “Mooooommmmyyyyyyy!” Don’t you wish that I could nanny your child, too? My budget ticked up towards $40.
Had I not had my own child writhing on my chest at the time, I would have scooped Gretel up onto my hip and carried her to the gift shop, heaving sobs and all. However, as things stood, I needed her to walk on her own, and for that, she would need to calm down enough to, well, open her eyes.
In my defense, I don’t have a ton of experience in this realm. My son can’t be reasoned with, so I don’t have to be reasonable. I cast about in my memory for something that would work here. Having seen this done in TV shows, I said, “Gretel, if you don’t stop crying, the zoo won’t let us in.” (Note: This is a bold-faced lie. The zoo will let in children in any state of distress or mania, so long as they are accompanied by a guardian who is equipped to spend money on the inordinately priced goods which these extortion dens peddle.) “Do you still want to go to the zoo? If so, you’ll need to calm down.” I gently pushed the glasses back onto her face, since she had *subtly* pulled them askew.
Unfortunately for me, Gretel was so overcome by emotion that she was unable to answer. Hansel joined in the discussion, saying, “Gretel, if you don’t stop crying, we’ll have to go home.”
Some of you may see where this is going. I did not. I instructed Gretel, “Hold up one finger if you still want to go to the zoo, and two fingers if you want to get back in the car and go home.” Sure enough, two fingers shot up. I glanced over at Hansel, who — even under the massive sunglasses — looked stricken.
“Um,” I backpedaled. “We’re going to the zoo anyway. Come on sweetie.” And with that, I grabbed her hand and set off to buy $60 sunglasses.
Have you ever tried to hold a child’s hand when they do not want to hold yours? I had not. What I didn’t realize was how easy it is for them to slip their little fingers through adult fingers. Still crying, “MOOOOOMMMYYYY! MOOOOOOMMMMMYYYYY!” Gretel pulled out of my grasp twice and made a break for the street, which thankfully was car-free both times.
“Gretel!” I snapped at her. “You can cry, but you CANNOT run into the street. Come on and walk!” Now wiser to her plotting, I grasped her around the wrist and had to pull her along behind me, thus ensuring that I appeared both insane and domineering (not inaccurate).
“Gretel, Mommy can’t hear you,” Hansel helpfully added.
I stumbled into the gift shop ready to drop two Benjamins on these shades. “Dear God, please say you have kids’ sunglasses,” I gasped in spoken prayer. The terrified clerk gestured to my salvation, and I half-dragged Hansel and Gretel (both of whom had shed their borrowed glasses upon entering the store) over to the tower of shades.
Tears still streamed from Gretel’s eyes, but I almost instantly located the solution. “Gretel, what about these? They are pink and butterfly-shaped, with purple sparkly butterflies on them.” Every little girl’s dream. She nodded in assent, and I turned to Hansel.
“All right, Hansel, have you picked out a pair?” I queried, knowing from the two pairs resting loosely in his hands that, in fact, he had not. This kid is notoriously indecisive. I allowed him several minutes to decide, then grabbed the pair to which he seemed the most drawn and went to pay.
“Are you a zoo member?” Am I ever! I slapped down my borrowed membership card in response. “Great! You get 10% off. That’ll be $19.24.” WUT. I had been prepared to pay ten times that. Nearly weeping with relief, I slid my card and handed the kids their new glasses. We exited the gift shop and went to the membership entrance.
After getting the “Caregiver Pass” (which really overstated my role that day), I led the kids into the zoo, at which point I had a horrible realization — NONE OF US wanted to be there. Hansel looked at me aimlessly, and Gretel was still sobbing intermittently and muttering, “Mommy. Mommy.” Bo had, thankfully, fallen asleep. Surely I could turn this trip around, right?
“Which way do you want to go?”
“Do you like the monkeys?”
“What about if we go see the giraffes?”
“Is there anything you particularly want to see?”
I shrugged and directed us toward the giraffes, where Gretel pointedly turned away so that she couldn’t see them. Hansel stared at them impassively for about a minute before moving on. The zebras and big cat enclosures (no actual big cats in sight) got the same treatment.
Finally, Hansel asked, “How long do you think we’ll be here?”
Whoa, don’t be so enthusiastic now. “I was hoping we’d leave right around noon, which would be about two hours here. Does that sound good?”
I barely suppressed an eye roll. “Super!”
We walked past numerous exhibits that held no interest for the kids until we discovered a small splash pad / stream area. Hansel, a little engineer in the making, quickly set about building a series of dams in the stream. Gretel splashed around and watched her brother, eventually forgetting my unforgivable sins of earlier. I made bad small talk with other moms and nannies, unable to fit into either group because, for the time being, I was a member of both.
Eventually, I figured we should see some actual animals, so the kids and I trooped over to the reptile house, where Bo promptly woke up and began loudly expressing his hunger. Feeling his diaper, I realized he also needed a change. The reptile house, however, is a maze out of my nightmares, and it was probably ten or fifteen minutes before we could find the bathrooms (thankfully equipped with a changing table). We wandered around a bit more before having to ask for help in finding the exit.
If the kids had been lackluster at the outset, they were now positively wilting. Here, I thought, was finally my time to shine. In a rare moment of mom-spiration, I had grabbed a handful of Larabars on the way out of the house that morning. I steered the kids toward a patio of tables that were rapidly filling as lunchtime approached.
Once we secured a table, I tossed the bars down as though they were a trump card in Cards Against Humanity. (Ah, the college days.) Holly: 1. Mom Life: 0.
Then Gretel chimed in.“I don’t like any of those flavors.”
Hansel picked up two of the Larabars and started slowly looking back and forth between them. “I don’t know which one to choose.”
Ahem. Holly: 0. Mom Life: 2.
I mediated an amicable solution among Hansel and the two Larabars in question, and Gretel grudgingly started nibbling on the blueberry-muffin-inspired bar. Maybe this zoo endeavor could still be considered a win after all! Bar sunglasses, I had remembered the important things: seatbelts, sunscreen, snacks…
I made a show of looking for the water bottles that I knew I hadn’t packed. The kids weren’t impressed. I didn’t know where the closest water fountain was, and didn’t think Hansel and Gretel would be up for an indefinitely long trek to find free water. So, I caved. “Alrighty, it looks like we’ll have to go buy water!”
We trooped into the adjoining restaurant / shakedown stand, where we stood in line for just long enough that Hansel couldn’t decide between water and coconut water. (About two minutes.) I paid the equivalent of seven coconuts for the two drinks, then watched in delight as the kids each took two sips of their drinks, then declared their satiety.
And with that, I decided our zoo adventure was over. “Are you guys ready to go back to the car?”
It was difficult to deal with such pep and verve.
The walk back to the car was a miasma of sweat, grumbled complaints, and suppressed tears. The kids were pretty tired too. We piled into the car and headed back to Golden. Gretel chattered eagerly about the new sunglasses, animatedly describing minute details of each pair to a taciturn Hansel.
A few minutes into the drive, I asked the kids, “What do you want to eat?”
“I don’t know,” came the chorused reply.
“What about pizza?”
I briefly entertained the thought of bringing the gaggle of kids into a sit-down restaurant, then discarded the idea in favor of not dying. (Again, if you regularly bring three or more kids into a sit-down pizza place, I applaud you.) A frozen pizza would involve going into a grocery store, an equally perilous and even more tantalizing place for younguns. Finally, I had an epiphany: Papa Murphy’s!
For those of you who might not know, Papa Murphy’s is a take-home pizza franchise whose target audience is mothers/nannies on the way home from the zoo, or in a broader sense, busy and exhausted parents who want both the convenience and relief of not cooking and the comfort and ease of eating at home.
We tumbled into the Papa Murphy’s, which thankfully was almost empty. Gretel bashfully posed in her sunglasses for the only other customer. Bursting with originality, I ordered the pizza advertised in the front window, and in a rare moment of decisiveness, Hansel asked, “Can we get the cheesy bread too?”
Yes. Let’s get one for each of us. Anything to get us home.
I turned back to the cashier. “And one of these too please?”
When we arrived home in our neighborhood, I discovered that the kids’ house was all locked up, and unbeknownst to me, the front door access code had changed with a new doorknob. Relocating our crew to my house, I baked the cheesy bread and the pizza, then watched as the former was devoured and the latter, neglected. (Note: My twenty-one-year-old brother-in-law ended up demolishing the leftovers.)
There we were: we had bravely battled our way through the zoo ordeal, returned home, and even eaten! Surely this day was almost over, right?
Alas. Three remaining hours still joined our motley gang together. Thankfully, they were spent in chummy camaraderie, as I “oversaw” Gretel’s coloring and Hansel’s origami. We eventually retired to the living room and watched Netflix’s “Magic School Bus” reboot. Admittedly, the quality of my experience markedly improved as Hansel identified and critiqued the show’s logical inconsistencies.
Finally, it was time to pass the kiddos back to more adept care. Met by their father upon his return from work, Hansel and Gretel joyously threw themselves into his arms, effusively demonstrating their long-held desire for rescue from me. Caught up in the fervor, he declared, “Wow! What did you guys do today?”
Running to retrieve the shades from the table, Gretel brandished both pairs, declaring, “We got new sunglasses today!”
Glancing at me, their father asked, “Oh, where did you get those?”
Here, finally, was my moment of glory. Hansel and Gretel would extol my virtues in taking them to the zoo, feeding them pizza, and watching TV with them. Only, hopefully it would sound more virtuous than that.
Heedless of my internal exultation, Gretel artlessly professed, “Um… I don’t remember.”
I’m sure you don’t, Gretel. I’m sure you don’t.