It's Saturday afternoon. I lie on the couch, channel changer in one hand, a bag of chips in the other with a can of bean dip perched precariously on my naval. I'm pondering important questions like, whether the dropping of the Hiroshima bomb was necessary in light of recent disclosures about Japanese war plans in response to the Soviet Union's entry into the Pacific Ocean conflagration. (Actually,I'm trying to decide whether Kirk or Pickard is the better Star Fleet commander). The phone rings. I sweep the receiver off the hook and reel it in by the cord.
"Lo," I gurgle.
"Uh, Maury. You're going to kill me. ," my brother explains. "It's . . . well . . . Denise has this work thing and -uh- we need a sitter for the boys."
They must be desperate. My daily experience with children is limited to driving past a daycare center on my way to work. I'm probably more qualified to be an air traffic controller than a babysitter for two boys. I'm tempted to feign a seizure. Instead, I begin creating scar tissue on my face with the bean dip developing my "bad accident" alibi. Sensing reluctance, my brother resorts to dirty tactics.
"But, if you have big plans . . . I know you came home for the weekend to relax. And, I guess, Denise doesn't need a promotion."
It's the guilt trip.
"Um-sure." The words come out like a hairball.
On my drive to the house, I enjoy optimistic visions of leading the two small lads to enlightenment under my firm but guiding hand. Fifteen years hence I envision the boys and I sitting on a quiet dock, fishing poles in hand, smoking cigars, sipping beer and perusing back issues of Playboy (for the articles of course).
I arrive at my brother's house before six. My sister-in-law has that perfumed smell of Saturday night that I remember as a child meant liberation from parents. My brother steps over a Tonka truck, four Hot Wheels and his two year old, Kory, to point out numbers, bottles and formulas. He taps charts, graphs, lists and schedules like a marine commander planning an invasion. He and his wife take turns apologizing and thanking me. I wave it off like it's no big deal. As I pick up one year old Konner and walk them to the door, I'm feeling generous.
"You kids go out and have a great time. Hell, stay out till seven-thirty if you want."
"Thanks Maury, We'll be back around midnight."
Midnight! That's six hours. About twice the length of a marathon. I try to protest, but Konner has a hold of my lower lip. The door shuts and the Kory shoots through the room like a mouse. He has his work cut out. After all, there's a house to destroy, siblings to torture, and a babysitter to disobey.
Konner and I stare at each other. Then the terrible truth hits him. "Mommy's gone and I'm here. This is a rotten deal." His face tightens like he ate a sour grape before launching into a scream. I try talking to him. "Doo, doo, there, there, googy, googy." Evidently, I've said something insulting in baby lingo because Konner coils like a spring and lets out another scream. This one is sustained like an aria. I try rocking. Nothing works. I try walking. Nothing works. I show him pictures. Nothing works. I turn to my adult instincts for guidance. What do adults do when they are upset?
The bottle works like a charm. Konner grunts with pleasure as his lips tug on the nipple. His tiny pink hands grab at the air until he pokes himself in the eye.
I check on brother Korey. He's around the corner in the dining room babbling to himself and examining the roots of the plant he's just unpotted. The room is a broken ankle waiting to happen. It's clear the boy has a promising future as an Ergonomic engineer. Anything that was once outside his grasp has been brought down to floor level for fingertip convenience. Plants, centerpieces, pictures, and small appliances mingle with golf balls, marbles and Tinkertoys.
"NO!" I say.
"No," Korey repeats with a wide grin.
"Don't!" I intone.
"Don't," he mimics as he scrunches his face into an expression that says this is a fun game.
Determined to restore order I charge across the room turning my ankle on what was once a napkin holder from the dining room table. I yell and Korey learns his first curse. I pluck him from the rubble as a scream rises from his throat. In the next room, Konner answers and the din grows into a chorus. I collapse on the couch in despair. Somewhere in my haze and confusion, I find an answer. Of course! The VCR! I scramble to the T.V. quickly eliminating the N.F.L films and Monty Python as possible candidate films. Finally, after a brief exercise in censorship, I slide "the Lion King" into the machine with miraculous results.
A hush falls over the room. Korey is on his stomach drinking in the blue flickering light, his mouth open like a bird waiting to be fed. Konner is nestled in his baby chair cooing in contentment.
Before the Lion King is over, I've repotted two plants, rearranged the dining room table, wiped the counters and sprained my ankle two more times. Exhausted, I fall into the E-Z Boy and lift Konner onto my lap. I exhale deeply.
Suddenly, there is a smell. Almost good at first, like an oven preheating. I look at Konner. He grimaces like a power lifter then relaxes with the smile of an artist at work. This is the moment of truth. The diaper change.
Konner is on the table. I open the little plastic package at arms length with the caution of a member of the bomb squad. My head snaps back in surprise. The prodigious load is perhaps half the size of the child. His legs pumping like a frog, he somehow gets a hold of my hair and threatens to pull me into his creation.
Compared to this, the Exxon Valdez was an easy clean up. I go through half a box of Handi-wipes making sure every fold of fat is clean. Except for putting it on backwards, the operation is a success.
The children are yet too small to engage in the bedtime negotiations that made me famous as a child. Instead, they fall asleep without a fuss. And not a moment too soon. Their parents are home early. As they enter, they eye the room suspiciously looking for traces of struggle. They nod disbelieving as I tell them it was a piece of cake. My brother sees me to the door expessing his thanks as Denise checks on the children.
Outside in the dark, as I drive home I think about my parents, who with four children and one income created a safe and loving home. They are unsung heros. I wonder at my brother, his wife, and the home they have created with the love we learned, and I realize, that indeed we stand on the shoulders of giants. What's more, despite daily problems of job, love and money and headlines of murder, rape and war, it's through everyday things like diapers, bottles and love that we are sustained.