My partner and I, the good aunts that we are, recently agreed to host two of our little nieces overnight while their parents took a night away from all things parental.
We've babysat these nieces several times before; we know, for instance, the trick of putting one of Carney's favorite movies on to make her fall asleep when she's holding vigil for her parents to come home. We're still learning Kaylee's secrets; she's only 14 months old and still figuring out for herself what her secrets are.
But this was the first time we'd babysat them overnight in our house since Carney (now 4) was under a year old. We realized quickly that there's a whole world of things to consider when bringing self-propelled children into one's home that set the experience dramatically apart from babysitting an immobile child or watching a kid in her own home.
For instance, there were the new Crate and Barrel dining room chairs to consider. We'd kept them covered while our housemate was still living with us and her cat, Octane, was prone to random and unfortunately placed vomiting. Once they moved, we took the covers off, but with two small children wielding crayons and markers at our dining room table, I got nervous enough to pull out towels to place under their tiny behinds.
It became glaringly obvious soon afterward, as we ate a hearty feast of pasta (with red sauce) and vegetables, that I am a genius while Kaylee is an unrestrained expressionist artist whose medium of choice is pasta with red sauce.
Carney is much tidier, but not without her spills and mishaps. (Where is the lid to that orange marker?) She's a sweet and pretty easygoing kid when she wants to be, although she's an oldest child, which makes her a natural adversary to my partner and me, both the youngest in our families and slightly allergic to older siblings.
Carney started preschool a few weeks ago and, for her first show and tell, she brought along her favorite stuffed animal — a somewhat tattered little rabbit that she calls Pink Bunny (to be distinguished from the nearly identical Blue Bunny). Carney has had Pink Bunny since her first days on this earth and sleeps with Pink Bunny every night, finds comfort from Pink Bunny when she's upset, and is rightfully hesitant to share Pink Bunny with the wrong sort of individual.
When I say "the wrong sort of individual," naturally one thinks immediately of our dog Edie, a loveable but somewhat crazy little cocker spaniel whose antics are mostly cute but sometimes downright deserving of a stern "BAD DOG." Some readers who are not what we call "dog people" may find it far-fetched to speak of a dog's "hobbies," but I am here to tell you that dogs have hobbies. Edie's include giving kisses, cuddling with her mommies, visiting with her human friends and destroying stuffed animals.
We do encourage the last behavior. Shortly after we acquired Edie in February 2000, I bought a large, smiling stuffed ear of corn, complete with squeaker, to symbolize my Iowa roots and my hopes that Edie would enjoy life in our home.
I imagined Edie carrying it around with her, looking delighted and silly with a giant ear of corn in her mouth, bringing it to bed with her each night and grabbing it before we went on car rides. I imagined something like Carney's love affair with Pink Bunny. The toy cost $8. It felt like a good investment; this would be her first toy with us, and it would last forever.
Or it would last 20 minutes. To our horror and dismay, Edie grabbed the stuffed ear of corn out of my hand and ripped right into it, destuffing it one fluffy puff at a time. Eventually she pulled out the squeaker and started walking around with it in her mouth, occasionally squeaking it at us as we stared in shock at the lifeless remains of the stuffed ear of corn. She carried the empty shell of the toy around for weeks, maybe months. I'm sure it's still around the house somewhere. She got a good run out of that toy in its flattened form, perhaps even approaching eight dollars' worth.
Since then, we've learned not to buy stuffed toys that cost more than a dollar, because they don't stay stuffed for long around Edie. Occasionally when she's being especially feisty, we'll give her a new toy to calm her down (we keep a stash of 50-cent stuffed toys in the closet). It always works; she mellows out as she methodically destroys the toy, and we're left picking up random bits of stuffing for the next few days.
You probably think that some tragic thing happened when Carney and Pink Bunny were at our house. It wouldn't be an unreasonable conclusion. Edie has met Pink Bunny at Carney's house when we've visited there, but has mostly figured out that items on the floor at Carney's house are NOT A TOY (for Edie) and thus off-limits. But this does not hold true at our house, where anything she can get her teeth on is fair game. So that night, when we had a big campout in the guest room, Edie slept on the bed with us while Kaylee inhabited the Pack ‘n' Play and Carney and Pink Bunny hid under the covers on the air mattress on the floor.
When I woke up the next morning to the sound of Edie chewing on something, I panicked and shot upright and pulled her mouth away from its target — which was an itchy spot somewhere on herself. My heart was pounding until I saw Carney, a lump under the blanket, Pink Bunny safely beneath the covers with her.
I knew at that moment that we should have banished Edie from the room for the night; the risks outweighed the benefit of her doggy peace of mind and our enjoyment of her as a bedmate. Pink Bunny's life as we know it was at stake. To put it more accurately, our lives as we know them were at stake; not only would Carney never forgive Edie, but my sister-in-Vermont-law would never forgive us.
We live, we learn. We survived, all of us, including Pink Bunny. Next time, I'm insisting that we lock Pink Bunny in a fireproof steel box for the duration of the visit.
Kristina Campbell and Edie welcome donations of your old unwanted stuffed animals (especially those with squeakers). E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org and check this space often. Alphabet Soup appears biweekly in this magazine.