perfect play date

Today there was no school, so the kids and I have been home all day. We've also got a fifth kid around here somewhere since his parents work and this poor kid would have waited quietly in the garage all day for his parents to come home had I not intervened. I know. I'm a saint.

The worst part of babysitting isn't that the kids wander off and you don't see them all day. No. It's not that there's an extra kid to feed. It's not that it gets any weirder around here, because that's really not even possible.

The worst part is the debriefing. You know it, I know it. To avoid judgment from other parents, you've got to make sure that you and the extra kid have your stories straight. Usually kids are pretty good at figuring it out, especially if you lean a little towards intimidation. Because really, there's nobody around to help him. You've got him on his own. You know you've got about an hour until he's picked up, and you need to lay down a few specific details that he can remember and repeat in a natural way.

Take today's extra kid. His name's Gabe. Pretty well behaved, quiet enough, gets along with all the other kids in the house. Eight hours with him is a piece of cake. It's nice to not have to report bad behavior and fighting when the parents come back. But still, there's work to be done.

I set up for our chat. A plate of cookies, some chocolate milk. I call the kid in.

"Hey Gabe, come here a sec." He wanders in, eyes all curious and inquisitive. Mitchell follows closely behind. "No Mitch, not you." He protests, "but Mommy...." "No!" I snap. "Mommy and Gabe need to have a little visit. We talked about this." Mitchell's little face drops. He sees the plate of cookies and reaches for one "Can I have a...." I slap his hand away. "No! These are for Gabe!" Mitchell starts to complain about Gabe getting a dozen cookies while he gets none, but a stern look from me sends him scurrying away.

Gabe sits. He takes a cookie. He takes a bite. It's delicious. Perfect.

"So Gabe," I say sweetly, "how was your day here?"
"It was good!" he responded, before taking a big slurp of chocolate milk. This is perfect. Sweet snacks always help. Especially with boy children.
"What was your favourite part of the day?" I prompt.
He thinks for a second before answering. "Playing the Wii for hours!" he says excitedly.
"No," I said. "Wrong answer."

He looks confused. I slide the plate of cookies out of reach.
"Gabe, honey," I say gently. "That's not your favourite part of the day, because it never happened."
"But I did! And Mitchell was awesome and let me play his level...."
I sigh. "You're not listening. Never happened. You want to know what I think?"
He nods.
"I think the favourite part is when you and Mitchell practiced the math flashcards."
"But I nev...."
"And you did wonderfully! Remember? You can now multiply all the way up to the 6 times tables. That's pretty awesome for a seven year old."
"What are times tables?"
"Times tables are what you did for an hour after lunch. Right?" I motion to offer him another cookie.
"Well, I guess I do like math," he says, uncertainly. I give him another cookie.
"How do you like the cookies?" I ask.
"They're super good! Way better than the ones my dad makes."
"Well, that's sort of a given," I respond. "Do you remember what we had for lunch?" I ask casually.
"Kraft Dinner!" I feel bad, given how excited he is about remembering.
"No, honey, we don't eat kraft dinner for lunch here."
"But you made us..."
"Nope."
"And I covered it in ketch...."
"You really didn't. Ketchup's full of salt and sugar. We didn't eat that, did we?"
"Well," he hesitates. "I guess .... not?"
"Good boy," I say, sliding him another cookie. "Alright, you seem to have forgotten a few things, probably because you were so focused on math and sight words, but if you really think about it, you'll remember having garden salad with grilled chicken breast."
"But I don't like..."
"Yes you do. It's amazing."
"But then my mom will make me eat it at home!"
"Your mom will understand if you like my salad better than hers."
"Oh. Okay."
"What games did you guys play?"
"Stab the zombies!"
"Um, no."
"No?"
"No. You played Memory, and Monopoly, and word games right?"
I wave the cookies.
"Okay?"
"And what new word did Tennyson teach you today?"
"Shithead?"
"No! Tennyson doesn't use those words!"
"But Mitchell was being a shithead!"
"Gabe!"
"He says it's not a swear!"
"Gabe, it's a swear. Tennyson taught you onomatopoeia. Right?"
"But I don't know what that...."
"Google it."

He looks a little worried. I know he's just really concentrating on getting the story straight. He's a good kid, he'll get it.

"Also," I continue, "remember how nice Elliot was when you two were playing ponies and you fell off the couch and bumped your head on the floor and she comforted you?"
Gabe looks a little incredulous. "I don't play ponies, she was trying to steal my DS from me and pushed me off the couch!"
"Gabe, I know maybe that's how you think you remember it, but we didn't even play DS today, and Elliot certainly wouldn't push you off the couch! But I guess if she really did, I could always leave her at an orphanage..."
"No!" says Gabe. "She didn't push me off the couch. She's great. Please let her stay!"

I pour some more chocolate milk in his glass and give him a hug. "I'm really glad you came to play with us today, Gabe!" I say.

He hugs me back and mumbles something incoherent, which sounded a lot like "Me too, I want to come back every day!" and not all those other things.

And that, people, is how you stage the perfect play date. 

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