I have had a revelation:
Living with children is NOT the same as babysitting.
Oh sure, I knew this on some level already – but lately it’s become that much more clear. When you babysit, the kids are excited to see you because you are new and different from their parents. No one talks back, because you’re the “cool” one – besides, there’s nothing to talk back over. You’re not really enforcing any rules anyway*. You watch movies or play games or build living room-wrecking forts to pass the time, and everyone wants to participate because it’s a total novelty. Dinners are a simple affair of microwaveable processed foods or take out, and before you go home* at the end of the night, you get paid.
*Wink, wink – don’t tell your parents!
**“Go home” being the operative words here.
Babysitting is AWESOME.
Living with children, on the other hand, is exhausting. Especially if you’re not the parent: you’re not really a babysitter, but you don’t really have any authority either. As a matter of fact, if you were the babysitter you would have more authority because the parents would be out of the picture entirely for a set period of time and would have adamantly admonished the children prior to their departure that you were “in charge” and they had better be “on their best behavior”.
Ah, what I would give to have the authority of a 12-year old girl at this point.
In my living situation, I think I was a novelty for about 2 weeks, and now I’m just “around”. Playing games* is sometimes like pulling teeth, but I’m reluctant to suggest watching movies, because while I may not be the parent I am invested in the children’s general mental well-being so I don’t want to be responsible for turning their impressionable young minds to mush.
*Games that are NOT Mass Effect or SkyRim.
No one really talks back, but there’s a level of patience in day-to-day management of kids (little AND big) that requires you to summon a Buddha-like Zen face at any given time. It’s a series of the same questions, phrases, conversations and requests that causes you to repeat an internal mantra about 37 times a day: I am the adult, I am the adult, I AM the adult – just so you can remind yourself not to stoop to their level.
And on that note, you’d like to think that you will have all the right, kind, thoughtful responses for everyone at all times, even in your most exasperated moments, but sometimes you really just want to say, “I know you are, but what am I?”*
*This is where the repetition of a different mantra comes in: I will be an adult, I will be an adult, I WILL be an adult.
I’m loath to suggest any of the living room-wrecking forts that were once my signature time-passing babysitting tactics, because I am now the one that has to clean them up. Oh sure, I could ask the kids to help with the cleanup when we’re done – but I’m still mostly in the category of “cool partial-parent/guardian/adult figure person” and I choose to err on the side of staying cool by not asking*.
*I’m so well aware of how this tactic is going to bite me in my “cool” butt later.
Dinners are more fun than they used to be when I was single* because now I’m cooking for an appreciative family and am honing a lifelong skill of mastering the kitchen at the same time**, but clean-up for five is definitely less fun than clean-up for one, which makes cooking less appealing to begin with. Also, brinner*** is a novelty when you’re the babysitter, but when you’re the live-in adult, you are very aware of: a) giving the kids the impression that carb-laden sugary meals are acceptable nutrition, and more importantly, b) massive meltdowns caused by aforementioned sugar just before bedtime.
*I’ve just realized that, as a single adult, I was eating every night as though I had a babysitter – simple, microwaveable foods and take out. It was so great.
**Well, I’m getting there anyway.
***Brinner = breakfast for dinner, a processed food-laden meal in which pretty much every component can be microwaved.
And when the meltdowns happen, you can’t “go home” – you are home. No parents return from their night out to take over; no magic meltdown fairy arrives with a real, tiny unicorn to mesmerize the over-sugared little ones into blissful sleep. No, you are the one serving up glasses of water with a side of guilt to an out-of-sorts kid way past bedtime and kicking yourself for not putting just a little more effort into meal planning that evening. And when you finally fall exhausted into bed, it is without a dime to show for your myriad efforts of the day.
But I’ve also learned that, on the upside, living with children is considerably more rewarding than babysitting. You get way more insight into their lives, because they know you well enough to tell you things (and still think you’re cool enough to maybe share more than they would with their parents). And while you don’t get to “go home”, you get to stay home and be there to share all the other aspects of daily life with kids: jokes during meals, impromptu games of Jenga, movie nights with popcorn and the silly little interactions and routines that are only developed when people spend time – daily time – together.
It makes me realize that after the 16th knock-knock joke, the 82nd pointless interruption, a sink full of dirty dishes and an explosion of socks all over the house, it’s worth it to be home at the end of the day – because home is where a family lives. So when I’m tempted to respond with the age-old “I know you are, but what am I?”, I remind myself that I am the adult – not the babysitter, but someone way cooler.