It is 2003. I am at a Seattle coffee shop with the two boys I used to nanny for, then 3 and 5; I am ordering them hot chocolates. We find a Magic 8 ball by the cash register.
Annie: Oh, you guys! Check this out – you shake it and ask it a question, and it tells you the answer.
Big Brother [enthusiastically]: Cool! Will I be a spy someday? … YES!
Little Brother [shake shake shake, then holding the ball close to his face, softly whispers]: I love you.
Big Brother: Hey, that’s not a question. Here, let me try – am I going to die soon? Not likely. AWESOME!
Little Brother [shake shake shake, thinking hard, then]: I wish I had a squirrel club.
Big Brother [now angry]: NO. That is NOT a question. A question has to have an answer.
Little Brother [thinking hard, finally the light going on, then tentatively asking]: Um… is mouses bad?
– – – – – – – –
When I took them home that day, I thought it would be cool to continue with the same future-predicting theme. So I took two blocks from their wooden block set, and used a Sharpie to write different answers on each side – sort of a dice they could roll for answers. Little Brother immediately took his and ran to his room.
And when I cracked the door to check on him, he was standing against the wall, and with one giant, dramatic roll of the dice across the floor, he yelled, “DO YOU LIKE EAGLES?”
Have you ever been really afraid of something? Totally terrified that this thing, this event, would be awful and painful and you just didn’t want to experience it… only to find that, when it happened, it wasn’t nearly as bad as you thought it would be?
When I was a nanny, I took the boys to the doctor for their yearly check-up. This particular year, the older boy was due for shots. At 6-years old, the prospect of having a needle shoved into your arm is about as appealing as driving a nail straight into your forehead – and so, understandably, this boy was upset.
This boy was inconsolable. Thrashing with terror. Not screaming, not wailing – shrieking out of absolute anxiety and alarm. No amount of words, wit, or bribery could calm him.
But he needed the shot. And the doctor was busy. So I had no choice but to wrap my entire body around this flailing little boy, and, gripping hard, to restrain him. Despite his maniacal shriek straight into my ear, the needle was in and out of his arm before he even knew it had happened.
And when we told him that it was over, his face relaxed, he stood up, and nonchalantly said, “That didn’t even hurt. Can we go get ice cream?”
A few months ago, I was really, really afraid of something. It stole my sleep, and caused a lot of tears, and kept me constantly on edge. I remember telling my mom, “I wish that it would just happen – that way, I wouldn’t need to be afraid of it anymore.”
Finally, it happened. And it was hard – for about a second. But then, the strangest thing occurred in my heart: I felt so much better, and moved forward. The thing that I was so afraid of was an obstacle, a hurdle, a hiccup in my journey. But once I was over it, the road became open and wide. And little by little, in the strangest ways, my prayer gets answered.
Yesterday marked the release of the long-awaited, long-anticipated fourth chapter in the “Indiana Jones” saga. I probably won’t see it. Not that I have anything against the movie – it’s just that I haven’t been to a movie in months, and haven’t really had the desire.
Have movies lost their magic for me? Maybe so.
But since we’re speaking of Indiana Jones, I bring to you another Annie the Nanny story from the archives of my life.
Little Brother: “Let’s play Indiana Jones!”
Big Brother: “Okay, I’ll be Indiana Jones.”
Little Brother: “No, I’M Indiana Jones!”
Big Brother: “No I AM.”
Little Brother: “NOOOOOOO!!!! I AM!!!!!”
Big Brother: [long pause] [far-off look in his eyes] [wheels turning] “Okay. I have an idea. How about we’re BOTH Indiana Jones. But you call me ‘Indiana Jones’ and I call you ‘Puff Boy.’”
From 2002 until 2005, I was Annie the Nanny for two little boys in Seattle. The first year was a full-time job, and the next two were part-time as I finished school. These little guys were my funny companions, my paper airplane playmates, the reason that I wanted to pull my hair out and the reason that my heart spilled over with love. Even after I finished my stint as their nanny, I continued to see them about once each week. Now that I’m in Nashville, I miss them a lot.
One of their favorite treats was to be told stories – stories made up on the fly, extemporaneously, in real time, with virtually no prep.
In fact, my very first day on the job, it was requested of me to tell a story that integrated the lives of a Red-Tailed Hawk, a Black Widow Spider, and a Hyena. Welcome.
I found that, when telling stories about fictional characters in fantastical scenarios, my mind would tend to go blank, and then I would scramble. Put on the spot, my best character names were drawn directly from prescription drugs: “Captain… Zoloft, and his flunky… Prednisone!” In order to avoid the inevitable panic that would set in on the days when I had absolutely no creative spark, I began to build upon two series of stories; it was easier to make up something on the fly when I had already developed some characters to draw from.
My first series: “Crabs on the Loose.”
It was not about an STD.
My second series: “Annie Queen of Doom.”
“Annie Queen of Doom” starred myself, naturally – cloaked in a black cape and wearing excessive amounts of eyeliner – and two Komodo dragons, named after the boys. These illustrious characters lived on Mt. Distromotry (a fictional term which, very technically, translates to “acid mixed with lava”), next to the Bog of Eternal Stench, where they often battled Emperor Badbum. Emperor Badbum was constantly after the Rainbow Sapphire, buried deep within the bowels of Mt. Distromotry, and so our heroes were always on guard. He was a terrible enemy, but he had one weakness: crying babies. And so when Annie Queen of Doom and her Komodo dragons would march into battle, they would push trams full of wailing infants.
Sometimes I wonder what happened to my creativity.
[Overland Park, KS – 92 degrees outside. Annie, Micah, and Tyler in 1990 Honda Accord; A at wheel, M & T in matching side-by-side car seats on back seat. Cookie crumbs and juice boxes litter floorboards; car reeks of residual dog vomit. Vehicle idling at stoplight, next to large grey Buick.]
Micah: That is a terrible nose.
[A turns her head to the right to see Old Woman in Buick: cropped silver hair, large sunglasses, elephantine schnoz.]
Annie: [stifling laugher] Micah, that’s not very nice.
[A stares straight ahead, laughter tugging at corners of her mouth, mulling over proper response. Knows she must simultaneously validate M’s observation, as well as use situation to teach about manners and benevolence.]
Annie: You’re right. It is a huge nose. But isn’t it great that God gave her a nose to smell with? And how else would she keep those sunglasses on her face?
Annie: You can notice that she has a big nose, and think it in your head. But it’s never nice to tell someone that they have a big nose – it might hurt their feelings.
Micah: [solemnly] Good thing the window was up.
Tyler: [grinning] Good fing!
*May be acted out in the comfort of your own living room.
Once, I was known far and wide as being Annie the Nanny. Annie the GOOD Nanny. Annie the Nanny who could handle anything that came her way, tirelessly cycling through all of the things one does with kids: play, feed, change, wash, play, read, sing, play, love. There was no problem I could not settle, no disaster I could not resolve.
However, after being an unemployed, responsibility-less drifter for close to a month, nothing could quite prepare me for the day that I had to reconvert into a functioning member of society. Especially when I am expected to be responsible the health, safety, and well-being of two little boys.
Jeremy and Ashley, my brother and sister-in-law, are in Colorado for a wedding, and until Monday night have entrusted me with the care of Micah (almost 4) and Tyler (2 1/2). They are unbelievably adorable, achingly charming, and totally precious; even still, they are two boys under the age of 4. And I am EXHAUSTED.
It has only been 2 days, and the entire time I have been asking myself, “Where am I? What’s the date? What am I doing?” I have forgotten to lock my car, to put on deodorant, and to (God forbid) balance my checkbook. My mind is a fog of sippy cups and diapers, Thomas the Tank Engine and Dora the Explorer, blankies and doggies and monkeys. It does not help that Kansas City is bucking the fall trend and holding steady at close to 90 degrees – which automatically makes me cranky – and I have bug bites in places I should not have bug bites. Places that are always clothed. Ex-squeeze me, but HOW DID YOU GET THERE?
Everything takes longer with two little boys in tow. A quick errand? Never. Get two kids, hold two hands, load two car seats, unload two car seats, hold two hands again, and walk the looooong length of 3 parking spots to the destination… all the while inspecting every single stick, rock, tree, and sidewalk crack. Before you know it, 4 hours have passed. In true drill sergeant style, I find myself telling them to march, simply to keep them moving. But I suppose one can only walk so fast when he has an 8″ inseam.
I should admit that I, in my typical over-achieving way, am not content to just baby-sit. No, if I have been Annie the Nanny in the past, I am determined to be Auntie Annie the Kick-Ass Nanny this week.
Hanging out at home? Nope. Union Station in downtown Kansas City to see the trains.
Happy Meals? Try homemade stir-fry.
Reading on the couch? Forget about it – the Kansas City Public Library.
I have been entertaining lengthy conversations about Thomas and Percy and James. I have been bathing two little boys, only to watch them slather themselves in sticky juice. I have been clipping tiny toenails. Building block towers. Singing “He’s Got the Whole World In His Hands”. Again and again and again.
But guys… they’re SO CUTE. I love them so much that my heart feels like it’s going to explode. When Tyler takes a nap, I can’t wait for him to wake up again. I live in breathless expectation to hear what Micah might say next. They give the best hugs and kisses and smiles.
And even though they wear me out, I would not trade this time for anything.