I don’t know what made me think of this particular memory today, but I can’t seem to get it out of my head so I figured I’d write it down to share it with you…
My mother met my father as a late teen while she was babysitting for her next door neighbors’ kids. Those neighbors happened to be my father’s brother, wife and their children, Yvonne and Jason. My dad stopped by one night, met my mother and alas! They fell in love. A few years later, after my parents were married and my brother and I were born, Yvonne then in turn babysat for me. Later on in when I became of appropriate babysitting age, I babysat for Yvonne’s children, and so the cycle goes. (Someday, if I ever have any children of my own, Yvonne's kids will babysit for my kids.)
I think I started babysitting for the kids when Alexia (now 16) was about three years old, and Tyler (now 14) was about one, and I continued on in that fashion up until about four years ago. I would have kept right on regularly babysitting for them (and sometimes I still do in a pinch) but I was getting older, had a “real” job, and had moved further away than was convenient to travel for a night of babysitting. Not to mention that the kids were getting older, and didn’t really require a babysitter quite so often. All told, I probably spent about eight years babysitting them at least one night every couple of weeks so that my cousin Yvonne and her husband Ted could escape the rigors of parenthood and enjoy the company of adults for the night. I don’t even think the kids knew we were related up until a couple of years ago, they just assumed every family invited their babysitter to Christmas Dinner. I think during those eight years, I learned more about children and parenting than I could have ever learned elsewhere save for having children of my own.
One hot summer’s night in about August of 2001 I was babysitting the kids for the evening. We were having one of those hot, humid, New England Summer’s where your legs stuck to the leather interior in your car and the only thing you could do to cool down was literally drape yourself over your air conditioner if you were fortunate enough to have one. Just the act of standing still caused beads of sweat to run down your back, and news reporters across the airwaves warned the elderly of heatstroke. That particular night, putting the kids to sleep was a nightmare as they just could not get comfortable in their beds. The air in the house was heavy and stagnant, and all the portable fans by their bedside did was blow warm air at their faces. They were hot, cranky and miserable. Never mind that at bedtime - 8:00 p.m. - the sun was still up, meaning these kids just did NOT want to go to bed. My twenty year old impatient self, on the other hand, was simply hoping that their sheer act of fighting to stay awake would be enough to drive them to exhaustion.
All in all I probably spent the better part of an hour going from one room to the next. Tucking Tyler in, reading Alexia a bedtime story (or better yet, HER pointing out that I had skipped a page), fetching a glass of water, rubbing their backs, getting cool, damp, cloths for their foreheads, etc. I’d be tucking Tyler in and from the next room I’d hear Alexia kicking off the sheets and yelling “Jeeeennn!!! Can you come rub my baaacckkk” in her adorable, low pitched, scratchy voice that my boyfriend refers to as her “Aunt Sue Voice”. Meaning that he thinks she sounds exactly like his great Aunt Sue did; Aunt Sue who smoked two packs a day of Camel Unfiltered until the day she died, God rest her soul. She was such a precocious kid, and played the role of Big Sister to the hilt. There was no better big sister than Alexia. When Tyler was a baby just learning to speak, she was the only one who could understand him and she did all of the talking for him, like a mini translator.
Tyler: (something illegible)
Me: Alexia, what is Tyler saying?
Alexia: He said he has to go pee, and also he wants you to buy him a new Barbie.
Anyway, back to this particular night… The kids are getting more and more restless, I’m getting more and more frustrated and then to compound matters, I see a flash in the sky signaling lightening is on the horizon. This massive streak of brightness in the sky of course did not go unnoticed by the kids either and they both looked up at me from my perch between their doorways wide eyed as if to say “Well that does it Jenn, we’re definitely not going to sleep now! Too a-scared!!” So I did what any reasonable babysitter would do in my situation. I let them sleep together for safety in mom's bed, because by the time their parents got home and realized that they had to move two sleepy, sweaty, kids into their own beds I would officially be off the clock and on my way out for the night.
As I’m tucking the kids into mom’s bed, fetching water from their rooms, arranging their fans on either side of the bed, etc. etc. etc. Alexia looks up at me with her big, brown eyes and asks me in her Aunt Sue voice if the weather men predicted a thunderstorm tonight. For the first time I realize she’s really genuinely scared of the lightening. It was a little curious for me to see her in that state because as you know, not only does the role of Big Sister come with it’s perks such as getting the bigger room, and final decision over which movie to watch etc., it also has it’s responsibilities such as being The Brave One. In all of her eight years on this planet, I had never seen Alexia show such vulnerability. By this time, Tyler is pretty much “over it” and already snuggled up on “Dad’s Side” of the bed with his multitude of stuffed animals and plastic trucks to keep him safe. (Yes, plastic trucks on a water-bed… again, not my problem).
I realized that in order to soothe Alexia to sleep, I had to take this opportunity as “A Teachable Moment”. I was not going to simply dismiss her fears and tell her to relax it was only lightening. This kid was genuinely concerned for the safety and well being of herself and her brother, and it was my responsibility as her babysitter and big cousin to calm her fears to ensure a good night sleep for all of us. So I sit down next to her, tuck her bangs behind her ear and tell her that there’s nothing to be afraid of because it’s not NORMAL lightening.
“What do you mean, not normal lightening?” She asks, dumbfounded at such a thing as 'not real lightening'.
So I start slowly, thinking of the best way to describe heat lightening to a kid such as Alexia. She was a smart kid, and if she even SENSED a lie, she'd call me out and we'd be back at square one. “Alexia, do you know how it was really, really hot out today?"
“Yes, Jenn. I know it was WICKED hot! We played in the pool like all day long!?” She says, kicking the sheets off her legs once again.
So I continue, “Well when it gets really, really hot out like it did today, sometimes the earth doesn’t know what to do with all the heat so it takes all of the energy and makes a big, huge flash in the sky just to release all that pent up heat” I use my hands to illustrate this 'big ball of hotness' all the while wishing I paid more attention in biology in high school.
Alexia contemplates this for a minute...“So will it hurt me Jenn?”, she asks.
I smile because I can't help it. “No sweetie, it’s not like real lightening from a thunderstorm… its heat lightening. They call it a heat flash”
All of a sudden, something changed in Alexia’s face. A flicker of understanding shone in her deep brown eyes, and big smile broke out on her face. She clapped her hands together and exclaimed “oh I GET it now Jenn! A heat flash! My Gammie gets those!!!"
At this point I’m trying to fully digest that my adorably precocious baby cousin just told me that her grandmother got hot flashes just like the sky did, that I’m biting the inside of my lip so hard to keep from laughing that I think I drew blood. I mumble a quick, "Yep Sweetie, just like the ones that Gammie gets" and did what I could to make it out of the room as quickly as possible. I finished tucking her into bed, (Tyler was already sound asleep), and shut the light behind me. "Just leave the door open a crack Jenn!” Alexia yelled behind me. I made it all the way down the stairs before I broke out in a fit of hysterical laughter so hard that I literally had tears streaming down my face.
I waited until Yvonne and Ted got home to share the story with them, and like me they laughed until they cried. Even now, almost a decade later it is still one of my favorite Tales of Babysitting stories. Some things seriously just cannot be made up and are, as they say, absolutely priceless.
The Most Unusual Pet You Will See Today
12 minutes ago