I was probably 18 years old the first time I was asked to babysit. I graciously agreed to watch a young girl and her little brother for an evening while their parents went out. All I had to do was feed them a pre-made dinner, entertain them for a few hours, and make sure they didn’t die in some sort of horrible accident.
I nearly failed on every count. My cooking skills were so poor that I had to ask the children advice on how to reheat their dinner. And I had no clue how to entertain a child. I became quite desperate very early in the evening and came up with this idea to take the bored little children on a walk down the shoulder of a major road to a bridge over a stream. I showed them how you could lean out over the guardrail and drop leaves into the river, and I gave a tiny speech about how you could go to the other side of the bridge and see who’s leaves came through first. They were so excited about this idea that after dropping their first leaves they immediately turned and bolted out in front of a car that had to slam on its breaks and swerve into oncoming traffic to miss them.
When their parents finally arrived home that evening, the two children were jumping on their beds literally screaming at the top of their lungs tearing apart everything they could get there hands on. I was sitting with my back against the door making sure they at least didn’t escape from the room and run shrieking into the woods where they would never be seen again.
I wasn’t asked to babysit them ever again.
That was a long time ago. The other day some friends of ours asked us to watch their children for an evening. We graciously agreed. Their girls are close in age to our own, so it was a perfect match. And what once had been torture was a casual second nature. Feeding children is easy. Entertaining them with jokes and games is cake. And even when the youngest girl came into the room crying because she missed her mother, it was no big deal. Mostly because Andrea was there to gather her up into her arms and comfort her.
I sat in a large chair, scratching my rough bearded chin thoughtfully, wearing a button up shirt, smiling at her from across the room.
The girl furrowed her eyes back at me. We considered each other for a long moment.
“Annabella,” I said finally. “Did you know, that a long long time ago, long before you were born, I babysat your mother and uncle Mathew?”
Her eyes grew wide as she struggled to comprehend the ancient creature she was sitting in the same room with. A mythical ageless man, a hundred years old? A thousand?
I grinned and leaned back in my chair, turning my head to look at the ceiling as I recalled the distant memories. “Things did not turn out quite so peacefully with them.” I said quietly. I looked up the stairs towards the girl’s bedroom where a bubble of laughter had just burst softly in the night. “But that was a long time ago…”
I closed my eyes and exhaled a long deflating breath. My fragile bones sunk deeper into the chair like an old king disappearing beneath the dusts of a long forgotten kingdom. Wisdom lazily taking up guard where youth once stood straight backed and clumsy. I saw myself for a moment through the eyes of the little girl and watched as I slowly faded into a forest of tired old men.