Bridging the Gap: Kids these days!

Naomi Gardom 4 May 2014

You don’t have to spend your Gap Year wrestling tigers in Borneo to encounter the most terrifying predators in the world. With supernatural senses, razor-sharp teeth and, most dangerous of all, the ability to lure in prey, it is a wonder that the governments of this world have allowed them to survive this long. I am referring, of course, to toddlers.

I inherited a number of babysitting gigs at the beginning of this year from friends who were off to uni. Naturally, I was delighted: my experience of the art of child-minding had always consisted of getting paid to sit on someone else’s sofa, drinking tea, and watching reruns of QI on Dave. A doddle, I thought. So, as the requests for a babysitter on Friday night and a child-minder for Saturday morning flooded in, I committed myself enthusiastically. ‘My poor friends,’ I thought, ‘giving up their nascent careers in the world’s easiest job, all for the sake of a degree!’

 When I turned up for my first day’s child-minding, still ignorant of the true import of my decision, the child’s mother talked me through the various procedures – emergency phone numbers, spare pants in case of an accident etc. – and finished her spiel with the words ‘But you look like a sensible girl; I’m sure you’ll cope. Bye!’

‘Stop!’ I wanted to yell, ‘Cope with what?!’ But it was too late…

The most advanced predators on planet earth.         Credit: Bob Brotchie

The truth is that children, especially toddlers, are deeply frightening and unaccountable creatures. By the age of three, they have developed the ability to harbour deep and complex desires (e.g. to walk only on the curb  or to consume the items of their lunch in order of increasing redness), but they mostly lack the ability to communicate these desires coherently. Thus, they fall back on the primeval instincts of their ancestors, and tend to bawl, scream, bite and kick in response to any perceived attempt to frustrate these desires. What I also discovered on that first terrifying morning is that appeals to common sense and plain reasoning are useless. ‘Child,’ I would attempt to say, ‘there is simply no point sitting down and crying because the cat has run from your sticky advances. Your screams will not tempt her back. You gain nothing by this course of action.’ But to no avail.

Eight months wiser, I have begun to develop a few helpful skills. One breakthrough came when I realised that fulfilment of one desire did a lot to repair the frustration of another. Bribery is your greatest friend – the promise of a single Haribo is enough to tempt a three year old through a meal of spinach. A carefully placed reading of ‘Topsy and Tim go on an aeroplane’ became an indispensable feature of some trips to the park, when the idea of getting back in the buggy and going home was just unbearable for my young charge.

Now that I have overcome my fears, I am able to find amusement in the time I spend child-minding. One kid, in the course of a game of trains, began to oink.

Why are you doing that?’ I asked.

I am being a pig,’ was the response.

Why are you being a pig? I thought we were playing trains.’ I ventured.

It’s because I don’t LIKE having my face painted!

Of course. How silly of me not to guess.

Best of all, of course, are the questions. The same child, later that day, was chatting to me about his nursery school. Quite unexpectedly, he leant over and whispered to me ‘Naomi, why do some children turn into swans?’

Any ideas? I went with ‘By magic.’ and left it at that.

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