October 23, 2014 by

Julie and I have had our grandchildren overnight a good number of times. When working as a tag team, we’re old pros at caring for and entertaining Easton (4) and Barrett (3). A recent weekend presented my first opportunity (That’s the proper word for it, isn’t it? “Opportunity?”) to fly solo in caring for the kids. Julie was off to Des Moines to visit family while the boys’ parents, Lauren and Eric, were cultivating sunburns in lazily floating down a river somewhere on the periphery of the metro.

This chronology of events meant that I would be left alone with the kids for a mere 24 hours or so. Protestations of “Are you sure you can handle this?” and “We could always find some other solution to childcare,” had a downright infantilizing effect and called into question the amount of confidence my loved ones had in me. Me!

Did they forget that I’m a big boy? Did they forget that I had a hand in raising three kids of my own? Sure, that was back when The Gipper was in the Whitehouse but, c’mon, can’t a guy get at least a little respect?

If TV sitcoms are any barometer, American families are often led by a stumbling, fumbling oaf. The airwaves are crowded with such buffoons. Put that man in a kitchen with young kids when mom is away, for example, and it’s almost certain to result in a clichéd scene involving flour, eggs, and milk coating every surface of the room. And its inhabitants.

But I’m not that guy…am I?

My plan was a simple one. I would occupy the kids by taking them to the zoo. On the way home we would stick close to the river and stroll across the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge after splashing around in the water feature at the base of that span. Wear ‘em out while having fun. That was the plan.

The zoo was, as always, a magnificent trek spanning all seven continents. We rode the train. We galloped along on the merry-go-round. Slithering reptiles winked at us through alien eyes. An obliging gorilla even flung some feces—always a hit with my doody-obsessed grandkids.

But Easton was flagging fast at the three-hour mark as we made our way back to the car. I felt naps would be in order before we conquered the bridge, so homeward we went. I had no idea as to the extent of Easton’s discomfort until he—without a hint of warning—projectile vomited directly into a basket of fresh laundry that awaited folding. The only good news was that I had very little mess to clean up from the new-ish rug before trudging down to the basement with a putrid load to confront a machine that had every right to mock me with a taunt of “Back so soon?”

After a four-hour nap (Four hours! A new family record!) Easton was magically back to being his old bouncing-off-the-walls self again. There was still plenty of daylight for meandering over the bridge suspended above the swirling eddies of what Barrett calls the “Chocolate River.”

The whole experience reminded me of an old magazine photo feature (Life? Look?) that involved placing the legendary Olympian Jesse Owens in the home of a toddler. His challenge was to ape every movement the small boy made. So the star of the 1936 Olympic Games bounced and crawled and scaled and slithered right alongside the small lad. Until, that is, the greatest athlete on the planet crashed at about the two-hour mark.

So it was with a certain sense of self-satisfaction that I gently laid the kids to bed that night. The doddering old fool that nobody trusted had not only survived, but had thrived—save for a little upchuck—in his assigned duties.

The fact that my bedtime followed only minutes later, even before dusk could yield to a blanket of stars, was completely irrelevant.

Completely.

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