Jenny: Will you watch Diya today in the afternoon please? I need to finish some shopping.
Me: Sure, why not? That would be fun. Some fai-bhanej time. Be there by 2? I’ll bring my laptop. Can wrap up some work while there.
Jenny: Umm…..didi…. are you sure? If you have work, I can ask someone else?
Me: No…not at all. She’s a three-year-old. I’ll manage. Don’t worry.
And that is the day I developed a new found respect for baby-sitters and a perennial terror of three-year old’s.
Jenny had warned me to text her and not ring the bell when I came in. Let sleeping Diya lie, to save some energy.
I followed orders but wondered why it was such a big deal anyways.
I got my instructions on where the milk was, the food, the toys, which channels are ok, which areas in the house are No-Diya zones. What to do if this happens, what to do if that happens.
And I nodded and nodded a little more and smiled and waved and closed the door on a not-so-convinced-she-chose-the-right-sitter Jenny.
The house was quiet. The shades were drawn. The AC was at the perfect temperature. Much quieter than my own place which I shared with four women from four different generations and a constant in-flux of guests coming in and out.
I plugged in my laptop, ruffled the cushions on the sofa, got a glass of water and placed it on the coffee table next to the sofa, checked in on a softly breathing, peacefully sleeping Diya in the next room and sat down, turning the laptop on.
And suddenly, the phone buzzed. Sorry rang….sorry shrieked. Argh!
The song of fire and ice can sound really clanky and dreary on a quiet Friday afternoon in the presence of a sleeping toddler.
I scrambled to receive the call.
“Everything ok?” came my mom’s voice.
“Mom! I just left home. I am literally 500 meters away. Why are you calling?” I snap-whispered back, rolling my eyes. Scared to go and check in the next room if any damage was done.
“Well..you’ve never done this before so was just checking in” pat came the insult.
“I’m 33 and a PhD. Why do you guys think I can’t handle a three-year-old? Anyways…you probably woke her up with your call. Now let me be. And stop doubting me!” rudely, I cut the call off. Turning it into the silent mode.
And just then I saw her, groggy eyed, 2 foot something, hugging the door frame, a tiny fist rubbing her eyes. Her favorite green shawl clutched in the other hand, big black sleepy eyes staring at me, a familiar stranger in her house.
“Mummy” she mumbled…
“I want mummy” a little louder now.
I walk up. Slowly take her hand in mine and pick her up to give her a hug. She’s adorable. She’s always been adorable. Like the cutest kid I’ve ever seen. With her big black eyes and tiny pout and the perfect little nose and baby soft skin.
And she clutched my cheek, her tiny overgrown nails digging deep in my face, threw a perfectly aimed kick on my stomach and yelled so loud, to this day, the physics I learnt fails to describe how such a tiny human can pack that much energy.
All reflexes kicking in, I put her down on the ground again, faster than flash. Rubbing the kick on my stomach and the tiny red claw prints on my face.
She ran around the house. Opening every door she could push, looking under the sink, crawling under the tables, climbing on the sofa and peering behind, her three year old mind fitting her mom in those incredulous corners and niches. All the time, yelling “I want mummy”.
And I kept running behind, no longer having the guts to restrain her. Keeping on saying “Mummy has gone for shopping. She will come back soon. I am here. What do you need. Tell me. Do you want milk? Chocolate?”
And like a tornado, she kept rummaging through the house, pushing around pieces of furniture, overthrowing pillows and cushions, jumping on the bed.
For a fleeting moment I considered calling Jenny and surrendering. But the PhD in me, or the 33-year-old ego, didn’t allow me to give up so easily and the creativity kicked in. Or perhaps not?
I switched on the TV, found the baby-shark video and turned the volume all the way up.
And that did the trick. The yelling stopped. The rummaging stopped. And she gingerly came to the floor in front of the TV. Staring up at the screen. A hint of a smile just beginning to show.
10 minutes into the battle (yes, my babysitting venture was turning into one) and I had already used one of my trump cards. TV time was rationed. Anyways.
I started mimicking the steps the little cartoons were doing on the screen. And now the big black eyes were following me along with the cartoons on the screen. All the while, with the loud baby-shark do do do do do tune reverberating in the small, recently so quiet and inviting room.
And Diya started jumping up and down. Wriggling her little body and clapping, tapping her little feet and following me and the cartoons.
Thank god for TV. Was all I kept thinking as I bounced and did silly dance steps while assessing the damage that was already done around the house. I looked at my flickering laptop screen and finally understood Jenny’s smirk when I had said I’d “just work”.
For the next four minutes the dancing and the high energy jumping continued. The song ended and I took that chance to turn off the TV as I slumped on the ground.
“Babu fia….” Oh how I loved those two words uttered in that incredibly innocent tiny little voice.
“More…”. “Turn baby shark on please..babu fia please.” The big black eyes and the flapping fairy like little eye-lashes could have probably melted the Hitler-Mussolini-Castro together.
But I had my steel armor on today.
“Not now Diya. Let’s get you freshened up and then?”
“Noooooo…..Now”, the little head kept going from side to side.
I held her hand and softly nudged her to the bathroom. Picked up her comb and plonked her on the basin platform in front of the mirror. And kept muttering random phrases like “Diya is a good girl” “Mummy will be back soon” “Mummy will get Diya a new doll” as I gently started combing the thick little head of hair. She kept staring at me in the mirror. Lips slightly apart, intrigued at my nonsense. It felt like I was finally getting through to her, building a camaraderie.
The very false sense of calm before another storm, the naïve me didn’t see coming.
After successfully tying her ruffled hair into a neat ponytail, I turned on the tap to wash her face.
You know those moments in life that you regret just as they unfold, like a slow-mo sequence from Matrix?
Turning the tap was one of those that is now etched in memory forever. For a three-year-old she pretty damn well knew how things worked. As I was wiping her face with the towel, the little sneak quietly pulled the clogging plug and the basin started filling up with water. Really fast. Damn those fancy jets.
And just as I turned to put the napkin back on the rack, plonk! Went her two-foot body into the basin filled with water splashing the entire basin, the hair-dryer next to it, the soaps, the flower vase, all with water. A lot of water. Everywhere. As she giggled and laughed and splashed and played in the water as the tap kept running.
Just one moment and she was all wet. Clothes, the recently plaited hair, nappy.
WET! Nappy! No!
The only deal I had had with Jenny was no nappy changing. I didn’t know the mechanics of it.
I turned off the tap, pulled out the clogging valve. Diya and I each giving the other our most “fierce” look, my frown lines long and clear. Hers tiny curls, like waves on her forehead. As her little hands battled mine to turn the tap on again. “I want more”.
“No”. I said, now, losing all the adoration and fondness. A strange sternness crawling into my voice. She sensed it, my pretend anger, shrouding my feeling of stupidity of having missed the water scenario. I picked her up, keeping sufficient distance between her feet and my stomach and brought her on the floor.
She looked at the open door. I followed her gaze and just as she plunged to get her wet self out to spoil the rest of the house, I ran and shut the door.
Diya :2 Me :1
Game on. I said. As I opened the shelf above the basin to get a fresh dry nappy and a towel.
She kept knocking on the door, fidgeting with the handle, the keyhole, the gap between the door and the floor, the broom next door, as I scanned through youtube tutorials on “how to change a nappy 101”.
I set the phone on the counter, spread a towel on the floor, got another one on Diya’s head and started drying that bundle of energy. Using all the gentle force and patience to keep her still. The video successfully led to a reasonably well tucked powdered and dry nappy tying. Not a skillset I wanted to acquire then or there.
And all the while chatting away in baby talk. Diya in her language, I in mine.
After drying her hair and tying it again, this time, far away from any water source, the bathroom door was finally opened and she zoomed out as if released from a decade long prison sentence.
I stared at the mess in the bathroom, heard a couple of thuds outside and decided to clean later.
A dry and clean Diya, had now pulled a chair and climbed on the kitchen counter tugging away at a shelf-door which was luckily adamantly shut still.
“What do you want from there?” I asked, carrying her down yet again.
“Bad kids don’t get chocolate” I frowned at her as I put her in her high dining chair and tucked her bib around. She frowned back. And it was hard not to laugh at the excellent mimicry.
Secure in her seat, or so I thought, I turned to grab her milk and biscuits just to return to the table to an empty high chair.
As my now, physics challenged brain panicked and was processing what just happened, I heard a snort and giggle from below my knees. The little monkey had slithered out of her chair and was hiding under the dining table.
Amazed and annoyed, I picked her up again, put her in the chair, this time, double checking the straps that would hold her in place.
I placed her milk and biscuits on the tiny table in front of her, got out her favorite unicorn cutlery and waited.
“Finish the milk and biscuits and then you get chocolates”
I scooped up a spoon of the mix from the bowl and held it towards her mouth. Hoping that she’d oblige. But the lips stayed tight shut. No opening for a spoon.
“The monster will come and eat Diya’s chocolates if you don’t drink your milk”
“Monster! Where? I want to see monster. Monster goes Wooo ” she widened her eyes, opened her mouth and raised her hands like claws. I took my chance and plonked the spoon full of food in her mouth.
Unsure of what just happened, she closed it and gulped.
“Chocolate. Babu Fia…Please” and again went the fluttering of tiny eye-lids.
“After milk.” I said and scooped another spoon.
And trick by trick, a story here, a tickle there, a pretend phone call and four bargains later, we were half-ways through the bowl.
When her expression changed. Like she had seen a ghost. And I leaned closer to ask what was wrong and slurp, gurgle, whoosh, came a pool of yellow murky dirty stinking vomit, right on my favorite red top.
Diya 3, Me 1.
I could almost see the lips curl. Revenge for a bowl full of ugly milk and biscuits. This generation wasn’t one to fall for false promises. India had hope.
The almost smile turned into a bucket full of tears and shouts of “I want mummy…”. I had been warned of this and I had my arsenal ready. I wiped her clean with nice smelling wet wipes. Turned on Peppa Pig and handed her the phone as I cleaned the mess. The crying and shouting came to an abrupt end as Peppa Pig went about the screen doing what he does.
I looked at the clock. It hadn’t even been an hour yet and I was drenched in sweat and vomit and water, smelling like a garbage bin and looking like a street urchin. The house in shambles. The kitchen and bathroom a mess.
I made use of the strapped kid and Peppa Pig to straighten up the place a bit. I got her box of toys out in the TV room, checked for all possible objects that could be damaged, put them away and unstrapped the monster, gently taking away the phone from ten very adamant and surprisingly strong fingers.
Fed a little and cleaned a little, she now rushed to the sofa and started jumping up and down as if on a trampoline. For no apparent reason. She was ecstatic. I wanted whatever it was that was making her do that. The energy! The sheer energy baffled me.
I tried to calm her down and point her to the treasure trove of toys in the box. Looking at her collection, I was just plain jealous. And so, while she jumped and giggled and shrieked with laughter for no apparent reason, trampolining off a very expensive sofa set, I started building a string of alphabets on the floor.
Just as I was proudly looking at my artwork, her highness came and started flipping random alphabets. I turned them around and she turned them back. And after fifteen minutes of a failed attempt at orienting the Ps and Ds and Ms and Ns right, we had a string of colorful upturned alphabets and numbers to our credit. Fifteen quiet eventless minutes.
Before the next demands of “Chocolate” and “TV” began.
I looked longingly at my now dark laptop screen and brough out another block game. Hoping that would engage her. She started building. Focused, calm and poised. Like an architect planning their next Mannat or Antilla. And after five minutes of calm designing, I quietly crawled towards my laptop and turned it on. The tiny architect was still making towers defying physics and color-schemes. And patting myself on the back, I began my work.
And I got lost for a while. Responding to emails, winding up presentations, quick IMs.
Till suddenly, a tiny hand slipped down my screen and shocked me back into my baby-sitters role for the afternoon.
“I want to play a game…on here” came the next demand in that evasively cute tiny voice.
“Not now Diya… I am working. My boss will scold me.” I replied, typing away furiously.
“Like mummy scolds Diya? Like that your boss will scold you Babu Fia?” she asked, now coming around, standing next to me, peering into the screen.
“Yes. Like that… Exactly like that. Why don’t you build another building in green? You’re doing it so well. Go on…show me?” I take my eyes off the screen, glance at her artwork in the back and hope.
“It will be so much fun if your boss scolds you.” And with that she broke into peals of laughter.
I stare ahead, trying very hard to not get infected by that very inviting giggly laughter.
“That won’t be fun at all.” I say as I get back to replying to a very threatening email from my manager with the entire team in cc, for a task that was due the previous night.
“Game. Please” and the little bundle of energy started hitting random keys on the keypad. Three-year-olds are incredibly nimble and fast when they want something. And just as I managed to get her very adamant hands off the key-pad, her elbow brushed against the ultra sensitive touch screen and happened to, just so freaking co-incidentally, happened to hit the “Send” button.
And just as I got her hands off the screen, in her attempt to push back, she bumped against the glass of water, I had so thoughtlessly placed near my work laptop. Water splashed all over my laptop and a stream started building up, slowly, over my key-pad and onto the floor.
My mind did, once again, a slow-mo take of an Ekta Kapoor bahu going “Nahiiiii…….” As the pooja thali is slipping from her hand. But sadly, in life there are no re-takes. I quickly unplugged the laptop, expecting a spurt of sparks and a bang and crash as it short circuited. But nothing happened. Not then.
And with a now rolling Diya on the ground, throwing a full-fledged tantrum with demands of “Mummy” “Chocolate” “TV” and “Game”, I very timidly went to “Sent” items on to review the damage that was done, just to confirm that the very threatening email, with my entire team in cc and not one but two levels of management addressed, had a reply saying
Dr. Niharika Ahuja
I stared long and hard at the screen. Wishing it to show a network error, a server error, any error, any sign that mail was not delivered.
But a series of popping pings from my team in the rising crescendo of Diya’s shrieking removed any doubts about the utter and absolute failure of a 33 year old PhD’s abysmal foray into babysitting.
And then, the screen sputtered and the keypad made hissing noises before the system went blank. So laptops do hate water but just not as dramatically as you would think. Hmm… clueless, helpless and utterly defeated I stared at my bedraggled reflection in the now black screen, the stinking wet clothes, the absolutely overturned house, the scattered cushions, the strewn parts of games and the teary eyed angry and hungry three-year-old. Teary eyed with a hint of a glint?
Diya: 5 Me :0
Just then, the door bell rang.
**This was written in part as an exercise at Writeclub Bangalore in the session on “Writing Action”. Hope you had fun. None of this happened 🙂 Diya, stands to be one of the best things that happened to our family and this is pure fiction. Or maybe not all? Think twice before you babysit!