There we were standing with our backs to the wall wondering how we are ever going to clean this mess up. She had told us right before she left, “The most important rule when babysitting Neven is you cannot, I repeat, cannot let him watch “’Thomas the Tank Engine’”. That’s easy enough, right? Wrong.
It all started about a month earlier, when a new couple at our church approached me and my boyfriend Ryan at the afternoon luncheon. It was a normal conversation that all of a sudden took a turn for the worst. You see, though we’ve been dating almost a year, we don’t really talk about our “future plans” all that much. So when Mr. and Mrs. Harrison brought up the idea of us raising children together-the conversation got awkward. They went on and on about how important communication beforehand is to childrearing, and how some of the best learning experiences happen hands on. As we were politely smiling and nodding, we didn’t realize that they had just trapped us into babysitting their two boys for Valentine’s day, just 3 short weeks away. They thanked us time and time again and gave Ryan their contact information.
When we arrived to their beautifully trimmed front yard, I grabbed Ryan’s elbow and pulled him close to me, “You know you don’t have to do this if you don’t want to,” I said. “I can take care of them by myself.” Ryan gave me the look I’ve come to know and love that seems to say “I’ve got you babe” and we bzzt the doorbell.
Mrs. Harrison quickly gave us the simple directions to her two blond haired angels. “The baby will go down for the night in about an hour-just microwave this bottle of formula and rock him until he stops crying. His older brother can just play until 8:00 and then read him a story, say a prayer, and tuck him in bed. Neven cannot watch Tomas the Tank Engine and if he has trouble breathing, just give him his inhaler.” Oh, okay, got it! She awkwardly repeated the line about the trains and I smiled at her and said “No Thomas, no way.” After giving me a polite chuckle her and her husband kissed their blondies and off they went.
As soon as the door shut, Neven began wailing, howling, and screaming, at the top of his lungs for his parents; we didn’t know what to do! We tried calming him down, tried making him laugh, bribing him with food, games, money, power, anything! But nothing worked, he started wheezing and gasping for air, I ran to the counter drawer where the inhaler was and stuck it between his snot covered lips, Tsss, huuuuu. Tsss huuuuu. The breathing started up again, and the screaming was still going strong. Ryan looked at me and told me to take the baby upstairs and get him to fall asleep so we only have one screamer to worry about. I nodded and rushed the diapered one upstairs to feed and rock him. I could still hear the screaming over the “Bedtime Beethoven” we had chosen, and wondered if Neven was ever going stop crying. Halfway through the bottle I realized there were no more screams, I couldn’t even hear muffled sobs. What was Ryan doing? I heard the T.V. playing and realized that just as all of humanity, Neven too had a weak spot. I put the baby down, turned up the monitor and skipped downstairs.
“He biffed and bashed his bumpers” said Sir Topam Hat, “you are a very useful engine Tomas!”
I stopped dead in my tracks.
Ryan, is that what I think it is?
Ryan, is that Thomas the Tank Engine?!
Ryan moved Neven off his lap and stood and walked over to me. “It was the only thing he would stop crying for. The ONLY thing. Betty, I’m pretty sure his mom would prefer Thomas over suffocation by snot.” For the first time since his parents left, Neven looked peaceful, and I thought Ryan had to be right. What’s the big idea?
So I sat down beside Ryan on the massive leather couch and he put his arm around me and we quietly talked about our weekend plans and his grandparent surprise anniversary party. It couldn’t have been more than 2 minutes when we realized that Neven was no longer sitting right beside us. “Neven!” we cried, “come back and watch Thomas.” We heard his little voice squeal behind the kitchen door, “Thomas makes me happy!” We smiled at each other, knowing we had done the right thing and wondering what on earth his mother was so upset about.
We got up to follow him in the kitchen and when we opened the door, we couldn’t believe what we saw. Neven stood atop the kitchen table completely naked covered head to toe in chunky peanut butter. He had a jar of mustard in his hand and peanut butter in his hair, his eyes, between his toes, across his stomach and in many other unfortunate places. He had somehow also taken a bag a Fruit Loops and exploded them across the kitchen. To finish it off, he had plugged the sink and filled it up with all the canola oil he could find. For some reason, he found 3 bottles. Neven had won; Thomas makes him very happy. Just at that moment, we heard a car pull into the driveway; the Harrisons were home early.