All kids under the age of 5 are fluent in the art of chaos and confusion. They create events tailor-made to bring entire houses, classrooms, and carpool groups to their collective knees. Once they reach 8 or 9, they become elite counter-intelligence agents. They learn to read your psyche quickly and can negotiate a myriad of perks and allowances. But, the “5 and Under” gang is just pure brute force. En masse, they’re less effective because they haven’t yet learned the art of gang warfare, but alone, they are worthy opponents.
I know all this because I was a private nanny. The kids in my care were 7 months, 4 years, and 9 years old. The 7 month old loved me. That’s how babies survive: being cute makes the big person give you food and keep you safe from risk. The 9 year old and I had an alliance — she learned early on that testing me resulted in the loss of her Kindle (this was a while ago, obvs), banishment to her room (although it was and still is a kick-ass bedroom and would be a place of refuge for me…not so much when you’re 9 and banished), and denial of all things chocolate. Working WITH me got her the aforementioned chocolate, a charged Kindle, and extra episodes of Wizards of Waverly Place on Netflix.
(You remember WoWP? Before Selena Gomez came out and started dating that Bieber chick?) Man, this was a long time ago.
But, the 4 year old…oh, the 4 year old. He made it clear he wanted me “Fired right outta here.” He had declared he “Hates Wes.” (Wes is not my name, and still isn’t, but it’s as close as he could, or chose to, get.) Once when I put him to bed he said drowsily before slipping off to sleep “I wish you never come here.” I got it, kid. You were the middle child with an older sister that tormented you and parents who worked long hours. I rarely negotiated with him. When I needed him to do something for health or safety reasons I’d follow up my directive with an assurance that “It’s not a choice, buddy.”
Despite my enemy’s reluctance to acquiesce, I won the war in inches. Instead of constantly nagging the little dude to stop doing things like coughing in the baby’s face or lying about washing his hands (the soap was dry, buddy…) I worked on his heart and mind. I helped him form a Guns N’Roses cover band. We did a wicked version of Welcome to the Jungle on pillows. Even the baby joined, he played the stuffed airplane pillow (when he wasn’t puking like a typical rock star, he was pretty good) Once, during an extended solo, the 4 year old hit his ear on the headboard, I assured him it was “a long way to the top if you want to rock and roll.” This was no comfort to him. But the next day, when I announced “we’re gettin’ the band back together, man.” he happily counted off “1,2,3,4,5,6,7!” and it was like we’d never left the stage. I’m pretty sure his ego killed any chance of us making it to the Hall of Fame, but that’s not why we played. Rock and roll is not a choice, buddy.
Another day would start and the cycle began anew. “I hate you, I wish you never come here, let’s get the band back together.”
Update: as of 2017, Selena Gomez is dating The Weekend. The baby of the family rides a bike without training wheels. The 4 year old who “hated” me is 8 now and hugs me tightly every time I see him. The oldest child is 13, taller than me, and an amazing partner in crime. Life moves quickly, love every minute.