The trouble with toddlers

Story by Sarah Clower

Illustration by Cliff Thomas

The older my son gets, the more I miss when he was little. That saying that the days are long, but the years are short is so true when you are the parent of little ones. So any time I’m feeling nostalgic for Raff’s toddler years, I like to remind myself of how exhausting younger children can be by babysitting for my friends.

My friend Christine has the most adorable little girl, Opal. She’s a two-and-half-year old bundle of energy and delight. And a whole lot of sass.

Christine stays home with Opal during the day while her husband works, but to help make ends meet, Christine has a waitressing job in the evenings when her husband gets home from work and can watch their daughter. Because of their work schedules and the scarcity of willing babysitters, the couple doesn’t get many chances for a date night.

The last time I had Christine in my salon chair, she was lamenting about this very thing. So I happily offered to babysit Opal on a weekend. She thanked me and assured me she would be taking me up on the offer.

A few weeks later, Christine called and explained that it was her and her husband’s anniversary, and they were really wanting to spend an entire day celebrating. She said she wasn’t ready to leave Opal with someone overnight, but asked if I could keep her from an early morning until about 10 p.m. or so. I said I would be happy to and we made the arrangements.

The next weekend, I got up before the sun and made sure my house was toddler ready. My own child was still soundly sleeping but was also excited to have a tiny guest in the house. I was still enjoying my morning coffee when the doorbell rang. I welcomed Christine and her husband in and greeted a sleepy eyed Opal as well. The couple gave me all the necessary info and supplies while I assured them that we would make it just fine. They kissed Opal goodbye and reminded her they would be seeing her later that evening.

I had so many fun activities planned for the day that I could hardly stand it. I went ahead and woke Raff up and started making breakfast.

After we all ate, I got Opal changed into an adorable fall outfit that I couldn’t help but to buy for her, and we headed out to a pumpkin patch and corn maze. I just knew Opal would have a blast. Raff was excited, too, and I had agreed to pick up one of his friends on the way.

About an hour later, we made it to the pumpkin patch. The boys parted ways with Opal and me and made their way to the corn maze and other activities for older kids. Opal took a little train ride, we snapped some pictures with some friendly scarecrows, and picked out a pumpkin for her that was bigger than she was but that she insisted we get.

I looked down at my watch… how had we done all of that in only an hour? It was definitely going to be a long day. I did my best to stifle a yawn. Do they serve coffee at pumpkin patches? I thought to myself.

Opal started towards the part of the patch that had the corn maze and older kid activities. I tried to redirect her but she would have none of it. I finally decided it would be fine as long as she stayed right beside me. Carrying her was not an option, she insisted on being down to run around and explore.

As we approached the corn maze, I noticed a visually impaired man and his family. A guide dog’s leash was in one hand and a black walking stick in the other. Opal made a beeline for the man and his dog, and I lunged to grab her outstretched hand. I assumed she wanted to pet the sweet looking doggo, but I knew that petting service animals without permission is a no-no. Unfortunately my aim wasn’t quite right because she was not going after the dog. I narrowly missed her hand as — to my shock and horror — she quickly swiped the blind man’s walking stick.

“Hey!” The man said, his head turning around in bewilderment.

“I’m so sorry!” I said “I’ll be right back with your stick!” I shouted as I took off after Opal, who was running as fast as her chubby toddler legs would carry her towards the corn maze.

While I was running to catch Opal, I heard other people shouting all around me:

“That kid stole that blind man’s walking stick!”

“That lady just stole from a blind man!”

“Kids today have no shame or morals! Parents don’t teach their kids anything! Much less, not to steal! Shame on that lady!”

The last shout came from an elderly woman, and just as I was starting to break a sweat from trying to catch Opal (how in the world was this toddler this fast?) I felt my blood pressure rise another notch out of anger!

“This is not my kid!” I shouted toward the ol’ coot. “I’m just babysitting and I’m trying to get the stick back!” I yelled again.

“How is this kid so fast?” I yelled, realizing I was still shouting, but this time to myself. Before I could get close enough to grab her, Opal darted around the first piles of hay bales and corn stalks that marked the entry to the corn maze.

Thankfully, I spotted Raff and his friend.

“Raff!” I shouted. “Help me catch Opal!” Raff stared at me oddly. I yelled at him again. “She took a blind man’s walking stick!” It was then I realized how out of breath I was. I turned the corner and Opal had disappeared.

“Opal? Where are you, sweetie?” I said sweetly, even though I was fuming. No answer.

I heard Raff and his friend run up behind me cackling with laughter. “She did what?” Raff asked. I rolled my eyes. “You heard me! And I can’t catch her! You’re faster than me, and that child is abnormally swift on those tiny feet,” I said, sweating even harder.

Raff and his friend ran through the maze ahead of me, as I was still trying to catch my breath and come to terms with how out of shape I was. A few seconds later, I heard a high-pitched scream then Raff say “I gotcha! OWWW!” I ran even faster, and as I rounded a corner, I came face to face with Raff, who was holding his forearm. “She bit me!” he exclaimed. I inwardly let out a scream of frustration and grabbed a hold of the metal wire that was binding the corn stalks to the hay bales and started climbing.

“What are you doing?” Raff asked, shocked.

“I’m climbing up here so I can get a better view of her. I’m going to scout and tell you which way to run.” He nodded seriously, like I had just given him a very important mission to accomplish.

“Turn left! Now right! She’s right up ahead! Left again! Left one more time! Now go right!” I yelled as I was running atop the bales of hay. I heard another scream, then heard Raff say to his friend “I got her but you hold her head so she doesn’t bite me again!”

I caught up with them and jumped down from the hay bales. I pried the walking stick from Opal’s fingers as she was kicking and screaming, still being subdued by the boys.

With my other hand I got Opal by the waist and took her from the boys and walked to where I could see the blind man and his family, who was now surrounded by concerned fellow pumpkin patchers. I walked up and handed him his stick back, ignoring the fact that I had a wriggling ball of anger tucked under one arm.

“I’m so sorry, sir, I am babysitting a friend’s child for her and I had no idea she would do that.” I looked at the lady who had made me mad earlier. “And if this were my child, I would be spanking him all the way to the car, thank you very much, but it’s not.”

“Yes she would be, and she hits hard!” Raff said, coming up behind me.

I gave the lady one more evil-eyed glare and stomped off towards my car, more exhausted than I cared to admit.

Hours later, when Christine and her husband came to pick up Hussein Bolt’s protege, Christine asked if everything went ok. I started to assure her that, of course, it did when Raff interjected.

“Well, yeah, except for the part where she stole a blind man’s walking stick at the pumpkin patch and we had to form a search party and then she bit me!“ He held out his arm to show where tiny teeth marks could still be seen. “And then we went to lunch and she took her ice cream cone into the Chick-fil-a play area after we told her not to and put it in some kid’s face, and then she took a marker to our dog ChaCha and drew all over her while my mom was busy cleaning up the glitter glue that she put all over the rug.” Raff said, motioning over to my white chihuahua, who sat looking half traumatized in her dog bed and now had purple and pink marker drawn wildly all over her.

I sheepishly looked back at Christine. I couldn’t deny all that Raff had said, but I felt awful that I hadn’t been able to keep a better eye on her daughter.

Christine suddenly turned towards her husband and said “See? She does this to other people too!” She turned back towards me. “He thinks I’ve been making up all these crazy stories about all these naughty things she does, and then when I go to work she’s a perfect angel for him and he doesn’t understand why I’m so overwhelmed at the end of the day. I don’t know anyone else that has a kid like this! Now we won’t ever be able to go out again because no one will ever babysit twice!” she wailed.

And then it hit me. Opal was Raff 2.0. Some of the wild things he did came flooding back to my brain, stirring up some old PPTSD. (Parenting Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.)

I hugged Christine and assured her that even though I was exhausted, I would definitely babysit for her again.

“This kid has nothing on Raff, and next time we go out for coffee I’ll tell you about all the things he did. You’ll feel better because you’ll realize that if I’m not in an insane asylum, you won’t be either.”

The days are long, but the years are short.