Tuesday, January 31, 2012

get with the imaginary program, john!

when my brothers and sisters and i were much younger, and my parents decided to cut costs (since our family was a tiny catholic army), my sister cathy and i were sometimes left in charge of the brood. actually, this became the norm, rather than the exception when some baby-sitters would sit around doing nothing and cathy and i ended up taking care of the little ones, cooking food, changing diapers, soothing siblings who missed mom and dad, and breaking up fights. so, mom and dad decided that they would finally start taking advantage of having so many kids, and we'd be left in charge on saturdays while mom worked with dad at his office.

i say "we" because though i was the oldest, cathy and i were a team of babysitters. we were sort of like mallory and jessi from the babysitter's club. we were just junior babysitters, so we would team up to divide and conquer the children. cathy was more of the rule enforcer, as i recall, and i don't know exactly what i did. orchestrate elaborate games of court? in these games, i donned my dad's dental school graduation robe, grabbed a pair of my mom's more conservative heels and presided over the living room, seated at our coffee table with a meat hammer as my gavel. this game was less than satisfying because i routinely had to stop and feed lines to the "witnesses," and really, what fun is a game of court when you have to be the prosecutor, the defense attorney, the judge and mostly every witness too?

junior baby-sitters at work play.

when court got old, we played games of church. a very progressive catholic, i played the role of the female priest. cathy and i would painstakingly count out the correct number of graham crackers and the requisite amount of grape juice so we could celebrate the holy eucharist. if chris or marty got fidgety during a long-winded homily, may god have mercy on their souls! my lecture would take a new track, focusing on the members of the small congregation who couldn't even give up 10 minutes of their time to listen to god's word.

perhaps our all-time favorite make believe game was "babies." it did not need a more detailed description than that. in the land of "babies," dolls were real people, little siblings were our children and we were married to rich and accomplished imaginary husbands. cathy lived with her husband in an estate otherwise known as the front porch. i lived in the plush digs of the back deck. chris lived up near the apple tree. the game transcended many years, and we added players (cousins) depending on who was around and when. sometimes the locations of our homes moved, and once we even set up shop in the woods, where i enlisted the help of all our siblings in clearing a path to a circle of trees. after we had spent all day weeding the path and adding stones to make it look like a tiny driveway, i announced that i was too tired and was done with the game for the day. my heartbroken sister just wanted to actually play after going to all that trouble.

it's funny how games of make believe remain so etched in your memory, even now, 20 years later. how any one of us can answer the name of the doll who had diaper pins attaching his legs to his body (since they had fallen off after years of play)... ummm, his name was michael and he had hip dysplasia from the time he was an infant, duh. how we all recall fondly the elaborate baptism ceremony we conducted for our doll children, enlisting mom's help to make appetizers and cake and wrapping up real gifts to open during the after-party. how we all know that the beach is actually a creek on the southeastern portion of my parents property and "stephanie's house" is a foxhole under a circle of trees up in the woods. and how the single most successful way to get someone to admit to having done something wrong was the epic, "it's good if you did it, but did you?"
baby michael pictured in background, right. this picture was taken sometime post-hip operation.

i am not quite sure why judges and prosecutors haven't stumbled upon this age-old confession mechanism, but when the secret gets out, you better wait for it. cathy and i were skilled in the art of interrogating our younger siblings, and if one of them had done something wrong, we could expertly extract the confession with a simple series of questions designed to break the defenses of the offender. allow me to explain.

let's say that by chance or wayward broomsticks one of my brothers had managed to break one of the wildlife plates displayed on the shelf in the dining room. upon surveying the scene of broken wildlife pieces, cathy and i knew that we needed to get to the bottom of the catastrophe and, as good junior babysitters, report to my parents upon their return. and so we would descend upon the likely culprits and ask whether anyone knew anything about the broken plate. no one would 'fess up to the deed so easily, so sometimes we'd have to take the kids off, perhaps one-by-one, to question them more thoroughly. "yes, ummm, chris, you know that pheasant plate? yeah, that's the one. well, did you break it? it's okay if you did. actually, it's really good if you did it, but did you break it?"

always best to follow up an interrogation with ice cream.

after a few pointed questions, the guilty party would admit to what he or she had done, and it was one for the history books as we all got back to our regularly scheduled imaginary games. or maybe back to cathy's list of cleaning tasks to be completed before mom and dad returned home. or maybe we'd sneak in a fuzzy episode of rikki lake or the golden girls. or pretend we were gymnasts as we performed daring stunts on the balance beam picnic table.

i was thinking about this tactic the other day and wishing that it worked that well in present day. "john, did you leave all those stray nails on the floor of the basement? if you did, that's great. that's actually what i wanted you to do. that's good, but did you?" of course, john's defenses haven't been broken down by years and years of assaults by junior babysitters. he simply looks up at me with that bird-ate-the-canary type look and says "nope," as if anyone would believe that. infuriating, i tell you!

gone are the days when i had a whole army of little siblings to do my bidding. gone are the days when a captive audience fixated on my every word! gone are the days when my ideas were widely regarded as the bee's knees.

now every idea is met with a "that sounds like a complete waste of a saturday" or a "yes, dear, i'm listening," while he secretly watches ESPN highlights on the television behind me. well, husband i got some news for you! once upon a time, i was judge, a prosecutor, a defense attorney, a star witness, a priest, a mother to world famous model twins, a grandmother, a private investigator, an avid traveler, the owner of several palatial estates, a lifeguard, a talkshow host, an interior designer, a landscaper, a cashier, a swim lessons teacher, and a babysitter. i really do know best.

so anyway, that frame that got broken? you know the one. did you break it? i mean, it's good if you did... but did you?

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