During my high school years I lived next door to a family with three boys (Matthew, Adam, Tyler) and wound up being a somewhat ideal babysitting option for their parents (Doug and Marlene). Since I didn’t tend to engage in much extra-curricular activities beyond the time I spent in my Sensei’s dojos I was often home and open to bringing my homework over with me if Doug and Marlene suddenly felt an urge to see a movie or step out with friends.
I got along with the boys quite well, becoming an honorary fourth brother for a few years. I could answer questions on everything from comic books to the melodramas of high school life and I was also, thanks to the above mentioned dojo time, fully versed in various methods of low risk but ‘fun ride’ horseplay. And due to my stealthy use of the many doors in their house during games of hide-and-seek I had them somewhat convinced I was concealing superpowers for a stint.
They were great kids and I had a blast popping over a couple times a week to keep an eye on them, or simply be in the house while their parents went out after the crew was already asleep. I had been playing my role as the itinerant fourth sibling for several months before Doug and Marlene took the plunge and had me take a longer shift, one which involved putting the crew to bed.
The boys had a few years between them. Matthew was about nine, Adam seven, and Tyler was about three and a half. I was only given one truly specific instruction, Tyler was to go to bed a half hour earlier than his brothers. They warned me this was a bit of a struggle lately as Tyler had not only graduated out of diapers but also recently graduated out of his crib and onto the top bunk in the room he now shared with Adam.
The described resistance to an earlier bed-time was easy enough to understand. He was a big enough boy now to sleep in the same room and same kind of bed as his brother. Why couldn’t he have the same bed-time as well? Since it was going to be the first time a babysitter was putting him to bed we all agreed it was likely I would be given a bit of a hard time but I assured them I could handle it and they headed out for the night with a couple smiles of pre-apology not unlike the smiles they gave me the first time Tyler gifted me with a full diaper during one of my visits.
The evening passed with the usual games, stories, and goofing around. When the vaunted hour of bed-time arrived Tyler gave his brothers good night hugs and was all smiles through brushing his teeth and changing into his PJs. We got all tucked in on his top bunk, one brief story from a favorite book, and I headed back down stairs to where the other two were watching TV.
It wasn’t too long after I had returned to the couch when we heard the pitter-patter of little feet scooting around upstairs. I didn’t leap to my feet but I did make my way upstairs, played a humoring game of collecting my wriggling little culprit, another brief story and a promise to stay in bed and once more descended back down to the living room.
There was a bit more of a gap before the sound of scooting little feet reappeared. This time no story and more stern tones insisting play time was over and it was now time to go to bed. The resigned nod seemed genuine enough but when I got back downstairs I warned the other two they were likely going to be a bit late getting to bed as I was going to keep them downstairs with me until the scenario had fully played itself out.
I played along with one more round but on the fourth trip upstairs there was no pursuing or humoring. I sat on the lower bunk and waited. Once he realized I wasn’t chasing him Tyler poked his head with a cheeky grin and then darted back out of sight. When I didn’t give chase he looked back in, saw I was still sitting calmly and flat faced on the bottom bunk, took a moment to ponder whether there was still some potential fun to be had then slumped his shoulders and came shuffling back in to the room where he submitted to being re-tucked.
Then I took the stairs off the top bunk effectively stranding him in bed. That is when the wailing started.
It is important to note that I have never been much of a tantrum sort. My parents, bless ’em, instilled in me early on the message that throwing a fit wasn’t the best method for getting what I wanted. As the story goes, the first time I tried to pitch a fit in a department store they informed me they would be in the next isle when I was done and left me there pounding my fists on the floor. The lack of audience and fear of being left behind rendered the tantrum rather moot so I dusted myself off and never bothered with the approach again.
I went on to propose and negotiate for things I wanted, to the point of drawing up ‘legal’ documents spelling out the extra chores I would do over whatever period of time and such but that’s another story. The end result, I neither engaged in tantrums nor was I particularly swayed by them.
As I returned to the couch downstairs waves of great tragic wails echoed down behind me. The other boys looked a bit stricken, Matthew in particular as big brother appeared to have the beginnings of a solid ‘peace-maker’ reflex on the way, but I assured them he was fine and would be fine. We were just going to have to wait him out.
The hollering did go on for a decent amount of time but when it started to quiet down I poked my head in to see how he was doing. The sight of me reminded him of my unspeakable crime so he fixed me with a suitable glare and redoubled his efforts. I shrugged in acknowledgement and left him to it. About ten minutes later things got rather quiet so I once again poked my head in to find him sitting there red-faced huffing and puffing.
“Finished?” I gently asked in a genuinely sympathetic tone.
He sat there and pondered it for a second. He was clearly exhausted and for a beat seemed to be asking himself if he in fact had any more in him. A couple of fleeting uncertain glances in my direction and then he appeared to feel he had some final fumes left in the tank so he squared his shoulders and gave forth once more, though this time with much less volume and enthusiasm. I left him to it and informed his brothers it wouldn’t be long now.
Barely five minutes later all was silent and when I went up to check he had worn himself out completely and quite literally fallen over asleep. I tucked him back in, with his favorite stuffed monkey in beside him, smoothed his hair and the last traces of tears from his cheeks, then went back downstairs and sent Matthew and Adam up to bed a full thirty minutes later than they were originally supposed to.
When Doug and Marlene returned home they asked how things had gone and I told them the tale, adding that they would likely get a version from Matthew which would make it sound like I had been sliding bamboo splinters up under Tyler’s finger nails. They chuckled but seemed relieved I appeared none the worse for wear. When I saw Marlene out in the yard the next day she informed me Tyler was just fine and that yes Matthew had spun a somewhat harrowing tale of it for them the next morning.
All three boys were good kids and while Tyler still had a propensity for throwing the occasional tantrum from that day forward he never did it when I was around. Not when I was there for a brief sit, not at bed times, whenever I was around it was a completely tantrum-free environment. It even applied to me simply being in line of sight.
A couple months later I was simply sitting on the back deck in my own yard just quietly reading. There was a whole group of kids playing and running around in their backyard and at one point one of the other kids took the toy Tyler wanted to play with. He opened his mouth and began to wail about it but then caught sight of me, not even looking up from my book but quietly observing in peripheral vision. The wail instantly stopped, he huffed, slumped his shoulders, and trudged off after the group in a slightly dejected stoop.
To my credit, I waited until I was back inside my own house to start laughing.