During what we now grandly call my "starter marriage," we wore our then-teenage daughter completely out. She had come into the family with an already one-year-old brother, and two more foster brothers almost literally around the corner. As she matured we started giving her more and more opportunities to babysit until, finally, she was literally our on-call sitter. If Mom and Dad decided they needed to go somewhere, we just took it for granted that our daughter was ready to step in and watch the kids.
Flash forward about fifteen years, and we're finally in a position once again to have a teenager available to babysit for Mom and Dad for an occasional short date or shopping trip. Jelly stepped up to the plate this week for the first time so that Mrs. Woody and I could go to the movies and see "The Sorcerer's Apprentice." (Not bad. Completely predictable but nicely done. A few nods to the Fantasia version of the story here and there.)
Upon returning home we were delighted to note that a) the house had not burned to the ground, and b) the kids were still speaking to each other. This becomes treacherous ground as the older sibling takes on more responsibility and walks that strait path between being a helpful junior home exec on the one hand, and a tyrant-in-training on the other.
Back in the day, yours truly held no delusions about being a helpful anything where his siblings were concerned. I was a full-fledged tyrant until about the time baby sister appeared on the scene. She was the first one who would benefit from my new, more mellow approach to life. Whereas with my other siblings, and particularly my brother, I would simply handle any conflict with a balled-up fist, at least with the baby I was more likely to put it through some cheap paneling on the wall.
Jelly, on the other hand, has inherited more of her mother's genes than mine. At least where older-sibling issues are concerned she has, and that's a good thing. It means that, while they occasionally still get into it like a couple of sparring cats, for the most part they handle their own conflicts in a far more diplomatic way than I ever did at that age.
It's another one of those milestones that remind parents just how fast their kids grow up. I'd say it's not fair, but, heck, I've been waiting for this day for quite awhile now. About thirteen years, in fact. Cute as she was from the moment she was born, my fatherly instinct to have ready-to-order babysitters in the house kicked in at about the third diaper I changed. When Doodle came along, that instinct intensified. Now that moment has arrived, and I like it. I like the idea that we can leave our daughters alone for limited amounts of time while Mommy and Daddy have some adult time together. Alone.
There is, of course, the bittersweet angle as well. The girls are growing, as I've mentioned before, far too quickly. Our phone answering message still has a five-year-old Jelly's voice announcing, "We can't answer the phone right now. Please leave us a mes... sage." That hesitation in "mes... sage" is vintage Jelly, and it's far too cute to ever discard willingly. Now she's the secretary for her Beehive class and actually uses the phone more than her telecomm-challenged father. Likewise Doodle, who is nearly 11, is not truly in need of a babysitter at this point. She looks after herself just fine, and in another era would likely have been left alone by her parents as I frequently was at that age.
As a parent, however, I worry. Worry is part of the Master Plan, isn't it? I worry for my kids as my parents worried for me, and their parents worried for them. There's always something. It might be whispers and then shouts of war. It might be drugs and radical culture. It may be that predators abound that lure innocent children into worse-than-death experiences. Whatever the cause, the worry is essentially the same: how can I ever hope to keep my babies safe? What can I, as a parent, do that would ensure they live a long and prosperous life?
The answer is that we continue to do what we have been doing to prepare them for life. Keep praying. Keep talking. Keep understanding. Keep it up.
Lather, rinse, repeat.
Jelly's working up a pretty good head of lather these days. Here's to many more repeats.