Issue 37

My Best Friend's Baby


                One consequence of being a parent is that other parents call you when they need someone to baby sit for them in a pinch.  It’s what scientist call a symbiotic relationship; I watched your kid, you’re gonna watch mine.  There’s a delicate balance to maintain in this kind of relationship.  Invariably the call to watch someone else’s baby comes Friday afternoon just as I’m about to make big plans for the weekend...Who am I kidding?  The only way I make big plans for the weekend is if I call them before they call me.

                “We’re going out of town for two days,” my best friend says over the phone.  “Can you watch Molly for us?”

                I smile to myself.  My best friend’s baby is his dog.

                “We’ll take good care of her,” I say with all the gravity I can muster.  My friend is one of those people who doesn’t have any human children of his own but who is willing to watch mine.  In fact, he actually thanks me when I “let” him watch Skylar.  That’s why I’m not printing his name.  I don’t want any unscrupulous parents cutting in on my Good Thing until I’ve milked it dry.

                Other than Molly has four legs and a tail sharper and deadlier than a Ginsu knife, an outside observer would hardly be able to tell that this wasn’t your garden-variety baby-handoff.  First, he drops her off with her own toys and food.  We parents seem to think we have to account for every moment of entertainment and nourishment while we’re gone.  Second come the rules.  “No canned food with her kibble and don’t feed her at the table.”  This illustrates the wonderful tolerance parents have for each other.  No judgment is made about whether or not I’ve screwed up my “kids” by feeding them at the table, but I’m certainly not to take that risk with his “child”.  I negotiate to find my limits.

                “Can I give her cookies?”

                My best friend briefly considers this.  I have done right in consulting him first.  “Okay,” he allows.

                The third stage is the long goodbye.  And, just like a baby, Molly doesn’t understand a word he says to her.  “I’ll be back soon,” he says as he walks out the front door.  A baby would barely wait until the door shut before starting into a four-hour crying fit.  Molly sits and stares at the door without moving until dinner.

                “Are you hungry?” I ask her.

                She stares at the drab pellets I offer her. I can see that Molly would rather have something other than the same dinner she’s had four hundred and fifty-seven times before.  While I eat, she watches with longing boxer eyes as I give handouts to my two dogs but none to her. I am tempted to give her, no, I promised, I tell myself.  So I grab my almost empty plate, put a few bits of meat on it, and lay it down on the floor in the other room.  “I’m not feeding her at the table,” I explain to Rebecca.  After all, the important thing about stand-in parenting is following the rules as closely as you can.

                Molly, it turns out, is not the sweet, behaved young darling we’ve always seen at my best friend’s house.  She doesn’t listen at all, jumps on the kitchen door, and loves to rough-house at 2am.  Once she saw where all the cookies came from, she stood vigil there until she was able to attract Skylar’s attention and show him which drawer she wanted him to open.  As Skylar opened the drawer, he squealed with delight and proceeded to throw cookies across the kitchen.  This became his obsession.  Every time he found himself on the kitchen floor, he motored over to the drawer and began to empty it.  And every time Molly was right there with him.

                Finally, Mom, Molly’s other parent, arrives to take her home.  She says the obligatory, “I hope she wasn’t any trouble,” and I answer, just as obligatorily, “No, none at all.”

                Mom looks at the full food jar.  “She wasn’t hungry, was she?”

                “I guess she missed you,” I say.

                The truth is, you just can’t tell parents what’s really happened while they were away.  They don’t really want to know that their baby ate forty-plus cookies in two days, because if I told them that, then I’d have to also tell them that it was their baby who was the one who egged my baby into learning how to make a supreme mess that resulted in that forty-cookie debauch.

                It’s times like these when I wonder what they’re not telling me about what Skylar does when I not around.

                I’m most thankful I won’t ever find out.



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